254 EURO

War is also when you are scolded for being in a good mood.


Last night I had a nightmare. In it, my dad was murdered in my rented apartment. He was killed in such a gruesome way that doctors refused to take his body to the morgue. That’s why, like at the beginning of the war, I went to live in the office building again. And in the gay church, which is practically outlawed in Ukraine.

I tried to fall asleep immediately, refusing to live in such an ugly reality. But when I started to drift off, I realized I wanted to escape not from reality, but from the nightmare. It’s worth mentioning that I don’t have a dad. Just as I don’t have a homeland.

When discussing war, we talk about Ukraine and Russia, forgetting that the state is a myth that exists only as long as people believe in it. And we forget about people.

Today, many are more concerned about the fate of the state than the fate of its people, which is both shameful and frightening. Logic suggests that the fate of the state will determine the destinies of millions of people, so the fate of the state should take priority. But the nuance of reality suggests otherwise; what’s good for the state isn’t always good for the individual.

Let me show you an example that recently occurred in a Ukrainian mining town, my hometown. The town has been occupied by the Russian army for 2 years now. Finally, one of my friends decided to emigrate. She left through Crimea to Russia, and from there to Turkey. Eventually, she decided to settle in Lithuania. However, she didn’t like it there and decided to return. But she wasn’t allowed back home. Not having obtained a Russian passport in 2 years meant she didn’t support the new government, so she was denied entry.

A huge number of people got Russian passports in territories under occupation. My other buddies did it but that one girl refused. War devalues everything, but we must still realize that emigration is difficult and traumatic, and not suitable for everyone. It’s important to understand I’m not claiming that emigration is harder than war; I’m asserting that it’s also difficult. And so, many choose to live under shelling just to avoid the hardships of emigration. To adapt, many have to get Russian passports if they want to work.

What? Isn’t a job worth someone’s safety? Recently I read the news that two Ukrainian men were detained for illegally crossing the border. Surprisingly, they were not trying to escape, but to return. They could not find jobs in Europe and after a while went back. Since they left Ukraine by crossing the river, they decided to return the same way, but were caught.

Back to our story. Upon returning to Lithuania, my friend suddenly sent me 254 euros. That same evening, she called me and asked to write a book about her situation. I found it funny, not only her intention but also its realization – 254 euros. Why exactly 254? It turned out to be simple – it was her last bit of spare money, what she had planned to spend on leisure after paying rent and other obligatory expenses.

Naturally, I returned the money to her, promising to tell her story in an upcoming essay. By the time I got around to it, the story had taken a turn: a successful date in Vilnius rendered her problems  insignificant. More proof that home is not just a place on the map but an internal feeling.

I write this again to emphasize that not everything that is good for the state is good for the individual. Many today support Ukraine, but how many think about those living in the occupied territories? What will happen to them if these cities return under Ukraine’s control? The cynicism with which Ukraine regards the guys who left the country suggests that even people who have received Russian passports in the occupied territories will be subject to oppression by the Ukrainian authorities.

Let me remind you that the occupied territories are located in eastern Ukraine, and therefore, the most Russian-speaking cities are located there. In my mining town, there are no Ukrainian-speaking people at all. At least there weren’t while I lived there. The Ukranian liberation of Russian-speaking cities during a period of aggressive Ukrainization is a dangerous matter. It warrants at least public discussion.

What do the Ukrainian authorities do for emigrants? They limit access to consular services. They intimidate us with monthly news about deportation. They call for the closure of integration programs for Ukrainians in the EU. There are endless debates within Ukraine about how many years to imprison those who left. Could the same fate await my dear grandma if Ukraine regains my mining town?

Thinking about this is like waking up again in the office and in the church. And again, everywhere there are corpses, but now they are  strangers’ dads’. The question is not who will win. The question is why people feel bad even when they do win.

It’s been 2 weeks since I received the strange payment of 254 euros, and I’m still thinking about it. I remember Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who sold his fridge to afford to write a novel. Besides the fridge, he also had to sell his radio. And to send the manuscript to the publisher by mail, he pawned his wife’s hairdryer and blender.

When discussing the war in Ukraine, I often talk about the decline of culture as one of the reasons for the war. If writers and artists could more easily find financial support, there would be more works that foster a more critical attitude towards current events. How does this work? Culture shapes values that create a defense against the influence of war propaganda.

For example, a propagandist will never admit to not believing in heroism, but a writer can and should. Are you curious why someone would not believe in heroism? And what’s wrong with heroism in the first place? The thing is, heroism often embodies an attraction to death, which is the opposite of a love for life. In other words: one who finds life more terrifying is less scared of death (you can read more about it in the first essay I wrote for The Left Berlin which is called A Closer Look at Heroism).

Putting such a person on a pedastal in front of society is reckless, but it benefits the state during wartime to push citizens towards reckless actions, such as sacrificing their own lives for a myth. The duty of a writer is to stand on the side of humanity, even knowing that at the moment they may believe the state is their only friend. Remember, to write a novel, one writer already had to sell a hairdryer and a fridge.

But what if the writer doesn’t have their own fridge? Is it worth hoping for support from the state? True art stands on the side of humanity, while the state doesn’t always do the same. That’s why the paths of creativity and the state often diverge, and accordingly, support should be sought not from the state, but from the people. We all know who funds propaganda. Resisting it is often a selfless act of individuals who need your support. Fighters for justice in the capitalist world often find themselves in a weak position, but it’s within our power to change that.

Looking at my friend’s odd gesture, I wonder about the likelihood that she tricked me. What if she knew I would return her money, but her gesture would inspire me to write this essay? Yesterday, I spoke to her on the phone. She laughed but declined to comment.

This piece is a part of  a series, The Mining Boy Notes, published on Mondays and authored by Ilya Kharkow, a writer from Ukraine. For more information about Ilya, see his website. You can support his work by buying him a coffee.