Alisa’s Diary: A personal insight into a war in Eastern Ukraine – Ongoing Project –
My name is Alisa, and I am from Donetsk.
This is one of the first phrases in English I learned when I was in primary school. All my life there was nothing special in introducing myself and my native city. It was yet another place in Eastern Europe, and many people in the West didn’t even know about its existence.
When I introduce myself now, it’s always a little sensation in the US where I currently live. People get surprised, people ask questions, usually the same ones (What is the situation like now? Well, pretty bad, even though it’s not on the news anymore. Is your family still there? Yep, all my family, ahha). Then it becomes a bit awkward, and we switch to the other topic. It’s unsettling to realize that one of the guests at the party is from a war zone. War is somewhere there, in the news, in the parallel universe, and we are here.
That’s ok, it was the same for me too until I was 26, and the war suddenly happened to me. At the moment I was just a normal middle-class young specialist. I worked in the paper, I used to go to a bar with my friends on Fridays, I had my favorite yoga studio. Then… You won’t believe how quickly your life turns upside down. First you drive back from a weekend trip and run into a convoy of tanks. Then a first bombing happens, and you panic, try to get out of your neighborhood and end up in the middle of the combat with rifles pointed at you. Then you find yourself lying on the ground under shelling and thinking about what’s your body going to look like if you are hit, because you’ve already seen pictures of those corpses blown inside-out by artillery shrapnel.
And then you get used. Now, two years into the conflict, we all know which neighborhoods are unsafe and simply don’t go there. When the shelling is too close and loud, we watch movies in the headphones and make volume a bit higher. We still go to yoga studios and bars – the only thing is that you have to be home before the curfew. Despite all its brutality, physical violence is something human psychic can digest.
Some other things are harder to deal with. When you cannot access you own house because a man with a gun doesn’t let you through, you don’t feel scared: you feel angry. As well as when you finally get home and find the place looted and turned upside down. When on the both sides of the frontline they constantly demand you to claim if you are “with us or with them”, you find it hard to explain that it’s all about propaganda, and people on the both sides are ultimately the same. As well as when Americans complain about sexual harassment and safe spaces, it’s hard to explain that you live in a reality where these categories are irrelevant because yesterday a car bomb has exploded under your parents’ windows, and this is what you worry about.
In a nutshell, these are the experiences and moral dilemmas I would like to share. Luckily, since the very beginning of the conflict I’ve been working with Alvaro who provided me with an insight into global war journalism while I shared with him knowledge of my region. I believe for him this conflict also became personal. Now we want to come back and take a trip along the frontline to share an experience of this weird frozen conflict through the prism of my vision as a local inhabitant with global experience. It won’t be a story about me. These will be the stories of people who live in the frontline towns, who fight, who experience loss and resilience, told by someone who knows both their reality and perspective of the Western readers. We believe this project is important because, while being currently underreported, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine can provide many important insights into both political tension between Russia and the West and, even more importantly, human experiences of war.