Svetlana sits at the table of her small apartment in Ukraine, both hands cupping her tea. Its freezing cold outside, but her Soviet style apartment block still has good heating. She is worrying for her son, Zhenechka. It’s been days since she last spoke to him. He’s only 22, but he’s on the frontline in the country’s East, fighting Russian troops. She stares out at the falling snow and wonders whether he is dead or alive.
Zhenechka never wanted to tell his mother he was on the frontline. He was afraid she might get upset. It was 2014, the war – which has since led to about 10,000 deaths – was at its peak. Every mother in Ukraine was getting anxious.
She did eventually found out the truth of where he was, about six months after he left. And of course, she panicked. It was already enough to know he was in the army, but now he was in real danger. She watches the news every night. She knows what’s happening a few hours down the road from her. Russia is silently invading her country.
What made things worse was now Zhenechka was stuck in a besiegement, completely surrounded by Russian backed separatists. He was with around 10 of his fellow soldiers, now his friends. Svetlana knew they all loved him. Everyone loved Zhenechka, he was always smiling and well behaved, how could they not.
The siege went on for weeks. Zhenechka would call when he could, but they couldn’t talk for long. They were running out of food and water everyday. Ukrainians are used to their harsh winters, but the subzero temperatures still make being outdoors difficult. Soon enough, they had to drink water out of puddles, and biscuits became whole meals.
Around day 20 of the siege, they decided they were going to make a break for it. They weren’t going to survive for much longer, so they had no choice. They had access to a 4WD, so they would drive out through enemy lines.
Svetlana heard about this through another parent of the soldiers, he said ‘Sveta, they’re coming home’.
This should have been music to Svetlana’s ears, but it wasn’t. Without official knowledge, Svetlana sensed her son’s death. She had a dream that night, Zhenechka said ‘Mum, I am fine’, but he looked so sad.