Introduction by Ava Chen
"The Light Saga" by Vivdia Boiko
In “The Light Saga,” Vivdia Boiko uses striking and visceral language to convey the terror of the war raging in Ukraine. There is a timeless quality to Boiko’s prose; in its common urgency, thoughtful interweaving of the past with the present and future, and its eternal determination, lulling but unblinking.
Catastrophes often do not come with warning; a reality that Boiko profoundly shows, recalling childhood and recent memories in scenes ranging from her home’s couch to a safe apartment in Ternopil. She employs repeated and powerful contrasts between the peaceful and the catastrophic, the achingly familiar with the strange. A prime example of such a juxtaposition: “Some of these nights the russian army shells 20 civilian houses in a neighboring town and I sleep right through it.” The sometimes wistful, always purposeful and unadorned language strikes in its rawness. Boiko connects intimately with the reader in moving moments of introspection, such as when crossing into Poland, the speaker thinks, “Let the car spin with the snowflakes. Get out quickly. Silently. Never really become refugees.” Here, there is no room for luxury, literal nor verbal, an urgency that Boiko represents rhetorically with short, breathless sentences.
“The Light Saga” also offers important insight into the emotional agency and persevering hope among the despair of such events. Boiko’s last line: “I am here to feel it. To wake up to a new day,” ends the piece looking ahead, bruised but firm. When catastrophic events don’t kill you, you still exist to face whatever comes next. Boiko’s protagonist, along with fellow Ukrainians, will keep surviving, keep resisting, in any and every way they can. Such messaging encompasses the unique heart of creative pieces that bare real-life events like Boiko’s. With its incisive storytelling and concise prose, “The Light Saga” draws you in, grips you tight, and doesn’t let go.
"The Light Saga"
1. When I was little and had nightmares about the darkness, I used to lie on the couch at night and watch reality TV at the lowest volume. I had to stay awake until sunrise. Then, it was the easiest thing to fall asleep. The first night after the full-scale invasion it was scary to fall asleep again. We really didn’t know what to do yet. No smartphone apps notifying us of air raids, no civil training, no articles about which basements can count as bomb shelters and which ones can’t. What we knew is that the TV was on all day and that you shouldn’t fall asleep. You could miss the warnings and the losses. We decided to take turns on guard. I would be awake until 4AM, and then mom would switch with me because I had a work shift at 10AM. Somewhen on the couch I am 13 and watching Cake Boss. Somewhen on the couch I am 20 and watching a news marathon. Somewhere in the shadows of our apartment, there are monsters with sunken eyes from the nightmares. Somewhere behind the residential buildings and the early spring forest, there are explosions and bursts of gunfire.
2. It turned out the blackout measures in our apartment in Kyiv were absolute shit. The difference is so noticeable the first night we spend at the country house: no busy city lights around. All of us are on the porch: winter jackets, antsy hands. The house stands like a dark mystical structure. The field, the trees, and the sky merge in shades of black. Mom's friend anxiously points at a crack of light through the bottom of the window blind as if that line can signal to russian* planes: PEOPLE HERE. There are two cats right at our feet trying to do their March business. Everybody moves slowly so as not to accidentally step on them and hear more screaming. Mom's friend fumbles with a lighter, and after four attempts, she lights her cigarette. For a moment, orange and yellow pour on us. My parents and their friends have rosy cheeks from the cold, hard lines around their eyes from stress, and awkward smiles on their faces because the cats are relentless. The light in the black makes me feel like a fire alarm. Somebody asks, "Do you think the migratory birds know?" "They'll be fucking surprised." Some of those nights the russian army shells 20 civilian houses in a neighboring town and I sleep right through it.
3. We don't plan to spend the night in Ternopil on our way to the border but we have to. The eight of us barge into a one-room apartment, probably under 30 square meters. Somebody called an ex-colleague just an hour ago — this is her parents' place. They left blankets, water, warm soup, and a 3-liter jar of homemade honey. We eat and whine and marvel at how lucky we are. This apartment is the most beautiful place to me. It is so familiar; there are lacy white curtains on crappy windows, a carpet somewhere from the east, an oilcloth on the kitchen table, and of course, at least six beaded icons of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. In the dark and cramped room, the beads of the icons glimmer a bit in the moonlight. I think I stopped praying when I was 11. These days I sometimes put my palms together near my chest, without thinking. It's a comfort. I stay silent, though. I have nothing to say to God.
4. We cross into Poland at 4 AM after spending 21 hours at the border. I can’t drive, so I am just supposed to keep Mom awake at the wheel. It’s her first time driving abroad alone. Dad usually drives us, but he has to stay in Ukraine. Against the night’s deep blue, the smooth road stretches ahead. Fairytale snow glowing from roadside lanterns gently flies into the windshield. It all looks like a TV screen saver. My little sister sleeps in the back seat while I desperately try to keep my burning eyes open. Mom blinks slowly. There is nothing in the world but the small piece of the road ahead and the distinct smell of cold, and I think, I can just stop here. I can close my eyes and let my mom and sister sleep, and we can skip the hard part. Let the car spin with the snowflakes. Get out quickly. Silently. Never really become refugees.
5. There are little stars in the room where the hosts let me stay, just like the ones I had long ago in my childhood bedroom. To ward off the nightmares. My mom and little sister are in separate rooms; clean, comfortable, fed, tired, and safe. I turn off the lamp, even though I don't plan to go to bed. I feel less shaky with the lack of light. Dark is the same in many places, so I imagine myself in another room at another time. The stars glow a weak, fluorescent green. The nightmare is so much scarier and more persistent than ever before yet the Earth still spins. In this alien bed with an achingly familiar darkness, loss creeps up, not as definite but a question—a flicker of changing light, and I am there to feel it. To wake up to a new day.
*Ukrainians do not capitalize “russia” or “russians” as a response to the imperialist language russia pushes (“the Ukraine,” “Ukraine war”)
Content Editor: Alexandra Tan
Blog Writer/Editor: Ava Chen
Interview with the Author, Vivdia Boiko
Sopa-Pop. https://www.redbubble.com/i/sticker/Melting-Clock-by-Sopa-Pop/26147709.EJUG5. Accessed 25 June 2023.
Global Fund For Children. 8 March 2022. https://globalfundforchildren.org/story/protecting-children-with-disabilities-amid-the-war-in-ukraine/. Accessed 25 June 2023.