(from a novella) - - a story by the Ukrainian soldier

April 15, 2023
This essay is written by Ukrainian warrior Dmytro Lysun. Age: 35 years. Code name: Bald.
Photo credit: Dmytro Lysun

(from a novella)

Evening was falling. Red beams of sunlight were shining over the horizon. There were sunflowers as far as the eye could see. What do sunflowers mean to an ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation, the official name of the combat operations that Ukraine was running in the Donbass region from 2014 till early 2018) combatant? Sunflowers are the place you hide, where someone hides from you, where things can be hidden, and where you might find something with your head -- or more likely your feet.

The decision was made to spend the night here. Even though we were theoretically on our side, the demarcation line was very dynamic and conditional. The APC slyly drove backwards, leaving reverse tracks and a whole labyrinth through the sunflowers. The commander set up concealed observation posts and told us the defense plan. We ate what we had in the "armor" (armored vehicle), broke and spread out some of the sunflower stalks for bedding, and started settling in. Three people to one sleeping bag. The three officers were next to us, just like in that dug-out. They'd gotten used to each other.

There was a clear sky for the sunset. Later, stars started to appear First, one by one. Then, they were scattered across the sky in huge clusters.

You know what the sky's like in August. Like a tablecloth of the universe. There is so much beauty in the world, but people came up with war.

There's Ursa Major. It used to help him find way home: in summer, the Bear was always directly over the neighbors' house in the evening. There is Cassiopeia, Scorpio, Andromeda. The everlasting Ursa Minor, pointing to north with the tip of its tail. North, toward the longed-for cold calm, to what seemed eternal. He could do with that right about now. Somewhere just a bit further along in this sky, the queen of the North -- Aurora Borealis --was dancing her spellbinding, swaying dance. Somewhere beyond Tromsø, at the gateway to the Arctic, where the snow and mountains shoot black and white movies, she reigns. She is tempting him, beckoning him there. He could just set off running across the stars. Northward. And just as they once led seafarers to their harbors, hundreds of years ago, so will they lead him to a port of joy and dreams come true.

"Bodia (Nickname for Bohdan), thanks for the sunflowers," --- he said, falling asleep.

"For what?"

"For the sunflowers. When else would I sleep in the sunflowers under a sky like this?"

He woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night and recoiled. There was someone standing over him. Directly over him, looking down, standing there completely silent. He pretended to still be asleep and slowly reached for his machine gun. Everyone was sound asleep. There was no point in shouting. That would only make things worse. They might end up shooting each other in a sleepy panic. What should he do? What should he do? Think, think-think-think. "I'll pull the rifle closer and then turn around to get the safety off."

He slowly turned about and abruptly pulled the gun out. His heart was pounding. His eyes were huge. The moon came out from beyond the cloud. A big, almost full moon. "Damn, a sunflower. Aren't you ashamed of yourself, first lieutenant, sir? Scared of a sunflower. Damn".

This essay is made possible by the support of IREX Veteran Reintegration Program. The contents are the “sole responsibility of Recipient” and do not necessarily reflect the views of IREX.