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"Train Car”

Introduction by Renee Chen

"Train Car" by Vita Grinechko

 

Introduction

What is war? When it comes to war, we tend to think of the big picture. The statistics, the politics. What often falls to the wayside are the people affected. Too often, the stories of individuals are suppressed, and we become desensitized to the numbers we see.


“Train Car” by Vita Grinechko provides a contrast to this. Grinechko wrote about her own first-hand experience with war. We read about how she goes through various parts of Ukraine to get to safety, and the obstacles she faces along the way. “Train Car” is written chronologically, and Grinechko meticulously documents her journey with time stamps and dates, making it all the more personal.


Written in first person, the piece captures her emotions: the turbulence of waiting for the train, the small joys of the companionship with her classmate. The piece not only shows the wider scope of the war through the character’s perspectives, but how it affects her and the people around her.


It also displays that helping others during the war was not a one-person effort. There were various people aiding Grinechko along the way, from the train conductors, to the emotional support she got from staying in touch with her family. We can’t help but grow attached to Grinechko,  her friends, and her family as we root for them to get to safety.


 

Art by Ayah al-Masyabi

"Train Car"

Feb 26, 2022

9:25. I left for Kyiv on February 10. It was hard for my parents to let me go, but I really love Kyiv, so they had to. When I arrived, I got to meet some friends I hadn't seen in a long time. I wanted to move to Kyiv and stay there. But now I'm in a train car with my roommate from the hostel. Her name is Lena. We've been sitting here for four hours. She can't go to her parents in Dnipro (1). She's trying to get to the west of Ukraine, she has some acquaintances there. We got seats on the train thanks to auntie Maria. She's one of the conductors here. Auntie has to get some bedclothes in Lviv (2) and take them to Ivano-Frankivsk (3). In Lviv, our car was detached from the train. They're supposed to reconnect it to one that's headed to Ivano-Frankivsk.


10:24. Within the past couple of hours, sirens announcing air raids were sounded twice. The first time we went looking for a bomb shelter, we couldn’t find any. We stayed in the train car the other time.


11:19. Had breakfast. We got treated to some dumplings, boiled eggs, bread, and orange-flavored water. I'm on the internet. Chatting with everyone I can. Trying to stay connected.


11:22. Valia, a girl I know from uni, says she can't fall asleep because of the silence. It's never this quiet where she lives. There's a lot of noise in her city and a railway station nearby. Now there's nobody out on the streets, no cars either. It's silent.


12:16. We're going to a supermarket. They detached the train car from the rest of the train, so we can come and go. Mom called. She asked me to buy grains to make food for the dogs and some lemons because Annie's sick. We live on the outskirts. There aren't any buses going to the city now, and there's nothing left in the stores nearby. Poor Annie. She's my little sister. I'm the oldest of us three. Annie's 15 and Sonia's 9. Annie is the sweetest person I know. When she was 3, I made up a whole world for her. All of our toys lived there. They all had names too. Later on, I also made up a school for her. Before she started actual school, I had already taught her to read, count, and multiply a bit. We even learned some English, though I wasn't that good at it myself. And then there was the time we came up with our own periodic table. It had nothing to do with real science, but it was our own table, and we called it 'The Anta Table': the two first letters of her name, the two last ones of mine. I hope she gets well soon.Mom told me that Roma, an acquaintance of hers, was killed in Kyiv.


14:21. We went to a supermarket. Got some food. The shelves where grains used to be are all empty. Some medicines are already out of stock. On the way back to our train car, we walked past a park. The sirens were going off. Back in the train car, we learned that Vasyl and Andrii, our conductors, had some kind of fight. Feeling even more uneasy.


14:47. The sirens were sounded again. We're scared. Staying in the car.


17:14. Managed to get some sleep. Vasyl and auntie Maria went to get the sheets and blankets. I tried to call home. Mom didn't answer, then Dad picked up. He says Mom's asleep. I talked to Annie, she seems alright.


17:18. Got a call from an unknown number just now. I didn't pick up. Another siren.


17:42. Turns out it was Godfather calling. He might be able to pick us up in Frankivsk tomorrow and take us back home. I'm thinking of writing down Mom's number on my hand. Just in case.


18:02. Made Lena and myself sandwiches with cheese spread, regular cheese and salami that Auntie brought. We're eating.


18:05. Another siren.


18:08. Turned out it was announcing the end of an air raid, not the start.


18:43. We're going to sleep. Grandma called. She says there's no shelling at home, but Mom is crying.


19:33. Can't fall asleep. Vasyl keeps talking about something.


19:57. Sirens.


20:45. Sirens.


22:07. Woke up to a call from Mom. She says Godfather will pick me up tomorrow. Our car started moving. Auntie doesn't know where it's going. Probably the railway station.


22:42. Not moving anymore. There are voices outside. I tried listening but couldn't hear what they were saying. Auntie's in the car with us, she's asleep.



Feb 27, 2022


6:48. We're still here. We were supposed to leave at 5.


8:16. Auntie made some calls. Nobody knows when our train's going to arrive or where it is. I called Mom. She says Godfather went to church and he's coming back after 11. Maybe it'll be clear by then where our train is and when he can pick us up.


8:34. The train that was supposed to come for us got shelled.


10:03. Wrote down the most important phone numbers on a piece of newspaper. Charging my phone from Lena's power bank.


10:16. Mom called. She said the army wants to take Bodia, my cousin, to the front. I spent my whole childhood with him and Annie. I'm sad.


10:25. They're saying there were no passengers in the train that was shelled, only the conductors. I don't know if they're okay.


11:05. They're saying Russian tanks are heading for Lutsk (4) and Lviv. Nobody knows if that's true or not.


11:37. The train that was shelled left Kyiv an hour ago. They detached the damaged car and should arrive to Lviv in the evening. We're supposed to get connected to it. Waiting.


11:52. Vasyl came back from the station. He said they could get us on a bus. We decided to stay in the train car. Auntie Maria says that once we arrive to Frankivsk, she's not going anywhere else. We just have to get there and that's it.


12:35. There was a girl walking past our car just now. She was acting suspicious. They say some people paint marks in the cities for Russian missiles to target. So everyone seems suspicious right now. I can't explain it. I think it's subconscious. There's like a barrier in my head hiding me from the whole world. I feel like everything and everyone could be dangerous right now. Auntie says it's all fine.


12:49. A train going from Kyiv to Ivano-Frankivsk arrived. We didn't get attached to it, there was no such order. Waiting for our train.


13:00. Had lunch. It was fried eggs with salo (5), Korean carrots (6), and beetroot salad.


14:49. Talked with auntie Maria about what we were doing when the invasion started.


15:32. Peeled some potatoes, carrots, and onions. Going to make soup. There is a portable electric stove in the train car. We can cook on it. I ate an apple. It's snowing outside.


17:32. Talked about the war and everything that's happening. The news say Putin (7) wants to launch a nuclear strike. I'm scared. If that really happens, it's all going to be over. We're about to have dinner.


17:37. Lena saw on the news that there's a drone above the train station. We'll keep watch. There was a man with a dog outside just now. Seemed suspicious. I watched him, he passed by our car and kept walking. It's snowing again.


17:48. The man's coming back, now with three dogs and two other people. They all have an odd walk, it's like they're hypnotized. Can't see their faces, they have their hoods up. Then again, it is snowing. So let's say that explains it.


17:58. Charging my phone.


18:21. That man walked past the car again, no dogs with him. He saw that I was taking a picture of him, and he turned around and went the other way. He then came back with a dog and kept walking.


18:40. Air raid alerts in Kyiv, Kharkiv (8), Dnipro.


18:51. I can hear sirens in the distance. There's an alert in Brovary (9) too. We're going to sleep.


19:25. Had a video call with Godmother and Volodia. Godmother lives in Switzerland. Volodia is her ex-husband, he's lived in England for many years now.


19:33. Sirens. And in Kyiv too.


19:54. Another siren. This one's probably about the end of the alert.


20:05. Took a video of our train car for Annie. She says it's like a house. Lena got a call from her parents. They're in a bomb shelter: air raid alert in Dnipro. Another one in Kyiv.


20:15. Watched Zelenskyy's video (10) He spoke about his conversation with Lukashenko (11) and possible negotiations with the occupiers.


20:18. Vasyl says our train is on the outskirts of Lviv already. We're going to have tea.


20:42. Drank tea and talked about politics. Some empty train arrived. Our car's being taken to a railway station.


20:46. Moving further down the railroad.


20:54. Talking about Putin. Auntie Maria and Andrii say his eyes are stone-cold and he's got the devil inside of him telling Russians that the whole world is against Russia. Everyone's scared because he's threatening nuclear weapons.


20:56. Still moving. We're supposed to get connected to the power car. We're worried if we're really going to be picked up.


21:19. Maybe the train that was meant to take us has already left. We're scared.


21:49. It has. Now we're supposed to get connected to a different train. That one should arrive in two hours.


22:00. I lived in a hostel when I came to Kyiv. A lot of people lived there, actually. There were people from other countries who came to study in Kyiv, too. I made friends with a girl from Poltava called Lilia and a guy from India called Apur. We always sat in the kitchen together, drinking tea with sweets and talking. It was a great time.


When the invasion started, we had to pack our things really quickly. I had a large suitcase, a small suitcase and two bags. I left the big suitcase in the hostel. I fit all the necessary things into the small one, and the two bags.


22:10. Texted Taras, the guy I was staying with at the hostel in Kyiv. I asked him to keep an eye on my suitcase. He sent me a picture of it and said everyone's leaving the hostel, and all the stuff is being left locked inside, including my suitcase. There's no way to deliver it to me.


23:42. Woke up because the car started moving again.


23:44. They finally attached us to the train.



Feb 28, 2022


00:04. Departing.


1:50. Woke up. It was cold, so I put on my jacket. We're still on the way. Going back to sleep.


2:25. Just checked the map, we're in Ivano-Frankivsk already.


7:04. Woke up. Called Mom. She's going to tell Godfather that we're in the city. Washed my face, brushed my hair. Lena called her acquaintances too; they should come pick her up around 9 AM.


7:32. Everyone's calm, waiting for the curfew to end. I read the news.


7:48. Saw Lena off to the car that came for her. 


7:54. Rewatched the video I took yesterday. It's going to be one of the warmest memories of my whole life. An unbelievable place with unbelievable people who make this evacuation car so calm and cozy. I felt safe in here. It was full of life.


8:21. Sitting in the train car. Everyone's gone somewhere. 4% battery on my phone.


8:23. Called Godfather; he should be on his way to pick me up soon.


8:43. Andrii left a couple of minutes ago. He's going home, to Kolomyya.


9:06. We've left the train car.

.


Footnotes:

  1. Dnipro - city in Ukraine on both banks of the Dnipro River, the administrative center of the Dnipro region.

  2. Lviv - regional center in Western Ukraine, one of the largest cities in Ukraine.

  3. Ivano-Frankivsk - city in Western Ukraine, a regional center.

  4. Lutsk - city in Western Ukraine, a regional center, the administrative center of the Volyn region.

  5. Salo - pib subcutaneous fat. In Ukraine and other countries, it is part of traditional national cuisine.

  6. Korean carrots - a salad of thinly sliced carrots with a dressing of vegetable oil, garlic and a mixture of seasonings.

  7. Vladimir Putin is the president of the aggressor country, russia.

  8. Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine, a regional center in the northeast of Ukraine, and the administrative center of the Kharkiv region.

  9. Brovary is a city near Kyiv.

  10. Volodymyr Zelenskyy - President of Ukraine.

  11. Alexander Lukashenko is the self-proclaimed president of Belarus.


Translators: Alice Haida

Content Editor: Renee Chen

Blog Writer/Editor: Sarah Parmet


 

Interview with Vita Grinechko





 

Image Credits


Photos by Vita Grinechko.

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