War in everyday life: the story of a Ukrainian family from Černivci

War in everyday life: the story of a Ukrainian family from Černivci

War in everyday life

Černivci, Western Ukraine - The welcome is so warm that it seems to be among relatives, even after only ten minutes of arrival. We are located in the surroundings of Černivci. The city is known for its beautiful historic center of Austro-Hungarian origin and is the capital of the homonymous oblast, in the west of Ukraine. The house is that of the family of my mother-in-law's caregiver. We have known each other for so many years that the two families have become one. And despite having no children or siblings, we have a beautiful host of Ukrainian grandchildren. It doesn't even seem that there is war here, if it weren't for the fact that everything is off in the evening, especially the street lighting.

They explain to me that “we don't hide, but we don't want to be a target either”. For me, that I have only read the war in the history books, it is the first impact. Curfew means staying indoors, possibly with the lights off, or low.

Visiting family friends I discover that many women speak Italian. Černivci is the oblast, the region, of carers. “After retirement, we can work as caregivers,” says Floriana. And she explains to me that until a few years ago 25 years of work were enough to retire. “I was an elementary school teacher. Do you want to know how much pension I get? I take 60 euros ". Per month, it is right to specify it. "Only we stayed at the Soviet pensions when everything else, gasoline, food, clothes, have European prices." They tell me that "the Soviet Union is over, but we have lived with the mafia in parliament, with the corrupt, for forty years. Have you seen the streets? "

I have seen them. Well asphalted roads are few in Cernivci and its surroundings. Most don't seem to have had any surgery in a while. There are more holes than asphalt. And in the villages they are almost all unpaved. Even if traveling for a hundred kilometers north-east the road is new, perfect. There are definitely 'European' petrol stations and service areas.

Cristina Brondoni The houses, however, are beautiful. They have a rather elaborate style. The gates, then, look like wrought iron masterpieces. “We care because it's like a presentation, a business card. What person are you if you have everything in disorder, dirty and cheap? " Nadya explains to me. The money to build and modernize the houses comes from their Italian salaries. Floriana, Nadya but also Maria and Sveta who are with us say they are happy with the families in which they work. One of them tells me that she is not a carer, but has been in the service of a Milanese family for fifteen years.

Given the pensions that are not even needed to fill up the car, given that here the petrol is at one euro per liter, I ask if they are not happy with President Volodymyr Zelensky and the reaction has the appearance of a diplomatic incident. I explain that in no way was it my intention to insult the president, whom they call Volodymyr Oleksandrovich. They explain to me that everyone is called that, out of respect. Name and patronymic. And then they patiently answer my question. First of all they know that I did not offend nor did I want to offend, but that “Volodymyr Oleksandrovich cannot change everything in two years. Especially if half of the parliament is still corrupt and the politicians of the oblasts are corrupt. ”

As they speak, the images of Bucha's dead and of the visiting President Zelensky scroll on TV. These are terrible images and I expect someone to start crying. It almost seems to me to be out of place, like an intruder in the pain of others. But nobody cries. Anger, on the other hand, is palpable, dense. The difference between me and them is that they have someone to fight against. And they tell me plainly and simply that "the war ends only if Putin dies". And they add that their president "is the first, in forty years, who has not abandoned the people, who does not hide, does not run away and does not accept that Ukraine and Ukrainians are only the convenient border between Russia and Europe" . The buffer state of history books.

In the meantime, messages and phone calls via WhatsApp are chasing each other on smartphones. Everything happens thanks to apps and social networks. And communications are constant, to stay close, to hug each other, even if only via video call. “We have relatives in Sumy and they can't come here because leaving the house could be dangerous. In addition, the old do not want to leave their homes ”. While they are talking, a young woman comes out of a room. She is not related. “She She comes from Mykolaev, she didn't know where to go. My neighbors across the street hosted her friends and asked if she could come to me. Even if I hadn't had room, I would have made her come. She couldn't stay in Mykolaev ”.

They pour me tea: a ritual, a lifestyle and an invitation to a banquet. There are pastries and cheese. There are plants everywhere. And I can't help but think of mine, of plants, at home and in the studio, and of those I saw, on the ground, next to the broken glass and bricks in Irpin's bombing photos.

The conversation goes on , mostly in Italian, a little in Russian and a little in Ukrainian. We understand each other because we gesticulate. I wonder if the fact that I speak almost non-existent Russian is a problem, in fact it is one of the points of the negotiations.

“No, everyone here speaks or understands Russian. It has never been a problem. It isn't even now. It is the Russians, if anything, who have never understood or learned Ukrainian. We understand them, they don't understand us. Wars are lost for this too: you don't understand the language. You don't use social media. You don't check the news. The Russians, perhaps not all, but the majority, are okay with living by believing in propaganda. It is easier not to think than to take a stand ”. Meanwhile on television Zelensky is saying, once again, that the orders are from Putin, but the Russian soldiers who tortured and killed the civilians in Bucha acted in the first person. Nobody comments. Because it goes without saying that, in fact, Putin was not in Bucha.

The hostess gets up and goes into the kitchen. She invites me to follow her. On a stool, in front of yet another window sill full of flowers, there is a container with a leavening dough. And more is in preparation: “We make croissants, then we send them to our soldiers in Kyiv.”

Everything happens with an eye to cell phones, but it's not distraction, it's not boring. On Facebook and Instagram there are photos that come from everywhere, published by relatives, friends of friends. On Telegram, the most followed channels, apart from Zelensky's, are the news channels, that of the municipality of the city and of the oblast that report air warnings. “Haven't you heard the sirens yet? ". No, I haven't heard them yet, perhaps thanks also to the triple-chamber windows. They usually ring at night, but cell phone alerts also come in broad daylight. I have the app that tells me that yesterday afternoon they played in Černivci, but after a visit to the beautiful university, closed like all schools, since for safety, I was in a car headed elsewhere, between potholes and checkpoints that remind us that peace is only apparent .

Cristina Brondoni The apps that announce alarms are another aspect of communication that leaves room for reflection: the one who has the information wins the war, not the one who has the largest army. In the evening, Sasha, six years old, one of the Ukrainian grandchildren, father of the border guard and mother of the army medical officer, explains to me why the Kalashnikov he had placed in the hand of one of the Lego soldiers is definitely out of place: "It's Russian" ( I decided not to contradict him by telling him that the Ukrainian army also uses them). War explained easy.

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