Damaged entrance of the Kyiv house on 31st March 2022 ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Poem: ‘When the war ends’

Dear Olha, 
Dear Kapka, 

Thank you for writing. Many friends have left but many are still here. I am here 

with my daughter Nadija, 1.7 years old, cat and elder parents. 

My father cannot move. This is my city, I love it, my friends fight for it and die for it now, 

and I ask myself—who will be left if everybody goes away? 

But Russians shoot, our walls and windows shake all day. 

Nadija is very brave. She endures the absence of walks and fresh air, 

blocked windows, no favourite foods, constant shelling and sirens, being in shelter, 

nervous adults. 

Dear Olha, 
Dear Kapka,

We feel more and more in danger. They shot 

an evacuation bus, killed six women and one child. They shot 

an evacuation train, killed a woman conductor. 

All February, before the invasion, I was working on a project 

to clean up the river that flows by my house. 

A friend made a video with my daughter, here’s a link. 

We had so many plans to make our world better. 

Why don’t Russians make their world better? 

I do not know. 

I do not know too, dear Olha. Dear Olha, 
Dear Kapka, 

Today many cities are under fire. 


An old literary school, I went to conferences there. 

In the battle for Kharkiv in 1943, my grandfather drove a tank, and died. 

My father, born in 1941, spent thirty years to find his grave. 

He spoke to veterans, authorities. The USSR 

obstructed his search to hide their military miscalculations. And now 

they are destroying Kharkiv. My lecturer is there, a medieval scholar, a brilliant man. 


A beautiful Kyiv Rus city with pre-Mongol monuments. I fell in love with it. 

And now it’s being wiped off the face of the earth. 

My friend lives there, a PhD student with three children. Her husband fought in Donbas. 


Dear Olha, 
Dear Kapka,

Sirens and shelling have become so common, Nadija and the cat 

are almost not afraid. But I am. I see photos of ruins from all over Ukraine. 

Nadija is the first to recognise the siren, jumps into my arms 

and we go to the shelter. There is no safe place in Ukraine. 

I check my Facebook every day whether my friends are alive. 

We beg to close the sky. 

Dear Olha, 
Dear Kapka, 

My father is hard to move, he offered that we go somewhere to survive, 

and he would stay here with the cat. 

But I cannot do so. 

I do not know what to do. The only hope is that the war will stop. Yesterday, 

I wrote an article about Sarmatian warriors and Cossack chivalry, perhaps 

an inspiration for modern struggle. Today, I wrote another essay. 

Maybe in completing my work, 

I will bring the end of the war. 

I try to do at least something. 

I try to do at least something too, dear Olha. Dear Olha, 
Dear Kapka, 

My father is short of medicine, I try to find it but it’s hard. 

There is a curfew. It might be a bad night for us, or not. Nobody knows. 

Thank you dear for your care. 

Dear Olha,
Dear Kapka, 

They bombed the theatre in Mariupol where women and children hid. 

My friend from Kharkiv lost his flat today in shelling, I hope he is alive. 

In Chernihiv, they shot people in a line for bread. Ten people dead. 

Still no news about my husband’s family. My God, 

how much more pain should we feel?

How much more pain should we feel, I ask the river. 

There is no one else more sensible to ask. I too live by a river, dear Olha.

I pick up the discarded cans of Coke and Irn-Bru,

and watch geese in the firth of Inverness which is quiet 

except for the thunder of military planes 

that target-practice over dams whenever 

there is war in a far-off place which is not far-off, not far-off at all. 

War is noise and peace is quiet. The dead walk among us, and the unborn. 

Our rivers meet mid-ocean, the future meets the past today, and every day. 

How much is forgotten, dear Olha.

The river remembers, humans forget. 

An anaesthetic, a sugary drink, a slumber, this forgetting. 

Today I read your essay on chivalry, dear Olha. I didn’t know 

King Arthur was descended from Sarmatians who migrated 

from the Black Sea to England. Today on the riverbanks 

I pick up the cans, the junk of careless settlers

who forgot they came from the river, and to the river they will go again. 

Why are all our lives lived before 

or after the war? Forgetting. Cans, mental detritus, exploded shells, 

cartridges from hunters who kill by choice, the bones of ancestors 

who paid for the last war, the greed that became warheads, 

the lies about the last war that sponsored this one, the fast-food convenience of denial, 

the barbed wire of the border fence that strangles a generation 

and is later sold for scrap, as if awakening from a nightmare then quickly

forgetting. I wade through plastic and primrose. It is spring. 

Planes target-practice over the dam with a dumb cyclop eye. 

There is much to do and more to undo. The river of memory 

is born every day and Nadija means Hope. When the money runs out, 

when enough is remembered by the living, the dead and the unborn, 

when the war ends—we will continue to clean up the river. 

Dear Kapka, 
Dear Olha, 

My dear, what is left is precious beyond comprehension.