How to be a Mother in Ukraine

How to be a Mother in Ukraine

Lesya Lytvynova: "I don't even try to imagine what it's like to be a mother in Ukraine," an old friend from another continent writes to me.

She has two children, and she worries about them all the time. They appeared in her life quite late, when she no longer expected it. And the whole world seems hostile and dangerous to her.

"I don't even know how to tell you what it's like to be a mother in Ukraine in 2024," I answer her, absolutely honestly. Because being a mother in my country is about the same as trying to sing a lullaby while standing on a wobbly stool with a noose around the neck. And at the same time to feel happy despite the fact that the world is flying into the abyss.

… Being a mother in Ukraine means waiting every second for the laconic "+" in Signal, which your daughter-in-law helped you install. And then reread these pluses like an endless novel, adding your own meanings to eachof them.

It means giving birth in a bomb shelter and sending the first photo to your husband who last contacted you three days ago. And to believe that you will have a chance to see the three of you. Because there is nothing more to believe in in this world.

KYIV, UKRAINE - 2022/03/03: A mother holds her new born baby in the bomb shelter of a maternity hospital.

Russia said it would press forward with its invasion of Ukraine until its goals are met, as troops were seen moving in a large convoy toward the capital. (Photo by Jan Husar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It means running from positions under fire and shouting loudly to the sky, "My God, not today. Today is my son’s birthday. Leave him at least this holiday. Not today, please!" And in a few hours, to lie him about the weak Internet and congratulate him by voice rather than by video call, so that he does not see who you look like.

It means to embrace, as for the last time in life, your son’s brothers-in-arms. Everyone who came to his funeral. The bearded men and the girls with empty eyes. To cling to their shoulders and beg them to stay alive.To live. For themselves and for him. To breathe in the smell of their uniforms with closed eyes and believe for a second that he is nearby.

KYIV, UKRAINE - 2023/04/14: Vladyslav Dzikovsky's mother bids farewell to her son who was killed in combat. The system administrator of Detektor Media, Vladyslav Dzikovskii, went missing while performing a combat mission in December 2022 his death was only confirmed in April 2023. (Photo by Maksym Polishchuk/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It means treating an adult daughter with ice cream at the railway station in Kramatorsk, who has arrived just for a while, just until the Intercity "Kyiv-War" departs in the opposite direction. For about an hour. To take stupid selfies, tell jokes and not admit to yourself that you are actually saying farewell to her. Because there will be an assault at night. And the chances of returning are slim. Let her remember you smiling. Let her have time to be a child for another hour.

It means fighting for the right to give birth to a child from a fallen husband. To raise a great clamour around the country, to break the law, to gather conferences, to forget about longing and pain, for which there is simply no time. To be strong, because there is no longer a wall on which you could lean. But he wanted children so much. You wanted children so much... Let them come into this world.

It means to spend half the night talking to an adult child in another city, calming her panic attacks, because she is far from the nearest shelter, and two walls did not save anyone in the neighboring house last week. And all she can cling to is your voice, drowning out the sirens and tinnitus. "Don't be afraid, my dear. I'm with you. Now this damned MiG will land and you can sleep."

It means hugging a child so tightly that when the tired emergency workers finally reach your bodies under the rubble of the house, nothing will be able to break this hug. They will be stronger than the walls that did not protect you from the enemy missile.

It means breathing in the smell of the back of your baby's head and crying with happiness and fear. Because you don't know what to teach a new person in this world. Because the world you are used to is no longer there. And in the one that is, there is no place for this fragile happiness.

It mens collecting endless parcels, raising funds or driving cars from Europe, chastising yourself for not even having time to kiss your adult seven-year-old son at night, who understands everything, doesn't ask for anything and tries to support you. Even when you scream at him out of helplessness, as if it could change the crazy world.

It means carrying some cans of homemade preserves to tired boys who were taken to a nearby village to rest. To forcefully take dirty clothes from them in order to wash them. And howl at home over those clothes soaked in dirt and blood. And hope that somewhere, in another village, someone will also bring a pot of homemade soup to your son. Not to feed him, but to give an opportunity to feel like a child near mom for at least a day.

It means to go with the child to visit dad at the cemetery. And to  to watch helplessly as she hugs the cold stone. Because she no longer remembers his hugs. And dad for her is just photos on the phone and long bedtime stories. And this is the only place where she can feel his presence.

It means to believe in your child, even when all the doctors in the country say that patients do not regain consciousness after such injuries. To live in the intensive care unit. To drag him from nothingness into the light despite everything. To remember how to change a diaper, how to feed him with formulas, how to massage and hear changes in his breathing while half asleep. Everything is almost the same as when he was a newborn. And to thank the universe that he is here for me, still alive.

It means to wait for your child from captivity. To search for a familiar face on enemy Telegram channels. To be afraid that you might not recognize him, because they are all like a carbon copy. Every second person can be him. Do not leave the house, because you can miss the news about POW exchange. And talk to him. Talking endlessly, hoping that he will feel you despite the distance.

It means choosing a school not by the level of knowledge, but by the reliability of the bomb shelter. To look for a children's school of drones rather than that with a dance club. To order address bracelets for the whole family. To have an alarming suitcase and first aid kits in all corners. To buy a drone for your dad's division instead of a cool smartphone for your birthday, but. A drone named after a child. Fortunately.

It means to live with a bloody wound in the place of the heart. Every second. And to love in spite of everything. With that sharp love that cannot be taken away from you. Because this is almost the only thing left in your life.

Ukraine Front Lines

Cover photo: Vovchansk town, Kharkiv Region, Ukraine. May 12, 2024

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