“Capital and the East” by Ana B (Ukraine)

“Girl, what on earth are you doing in a war zone and mine action?” is the question I have been hearing for the second year from almost everyone who meets me. How often we have to explain our decisions and actions to others like family, friends, or even strangers? Now, as I am twenty-four, I finally dare to answer them, and quite often. No matter whether it is a decision to buy a new dress or move to another city, or town, or town in the war zone…

I was born in Kyiv – the capital of my diverse and extremely beautiful Ukraine. I have graduated from the best lyceum in the country, where we were taught to be the elite. I lived in a big and comfortable house, visited many European countries, and had everything I wanted. The year before entering university, I changed my mind about the major I wanted to undertake. Having given up the idea to become a journalist, I chose the faculty of Spanish Philology. Please don’t ask me why. This is just for your (reader’s) better understanding of my background. Fast-forward to my last year of study, I worked hard in an English-speaking customer support center. By “hard” I mean day and night shifts at work and day lectures at the university. Yes, on the same day. I combined work and study because my family faced an uneasy financial period. Moreover, I wanted to prove to my parents that I can achieve things in this life by myself. I felt like a zombie during that year, but despite all the physical hardships, I managed to graduate with good scores and become a Bachelor of Spanish Philology graduate.

It was 2014, the year which marked a bloody page in the Ukrainian modern history – the beginning of the war on the east of Ukraine. In August 2014, I decided to spend my vacation by volunteering with internally displaced children. I desperately wanted to help my co-citizens, and I found a way by doing what I liked the most – spending time with children. After one week of volunteering at that place, one day, I went alone to the hotel in the suburb of Kyiv. Just me, myself, and I. And the spa. I wanted to spend some time with myself and my thoughts. It helped for a while, but watching the news where I constantly heard about people dying every day and what the hell was going on 600 km from me, but still WITHIN my country, did erase any kind of internal harmony.

At the time, I had (and still have) a long-distance relationship, which distracted me from the horrors of the war but only for a little period of time. Every time my loved one was leaving Ukraine, I started focusing on the terrifying reality again. We wanted to but could not live together. So I was left alone again and again. At the moment when this story gets published, we still won’t live together for several reasons.

Someone may ask: “Why did you care if it was happening far away from you?” Firstly, before the war started, over 100 people died during a “peaceful” revolution in Kyiv. So of course I cared, was worried, and helped as much as I could. Secondly, the war was in my country with my co-citizens, so I could not be indifferent. I was always looking for more ways to help, and in summer 2015, I became a volunteer in the communication department of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). I was happy to join such an outstanding organization and contribute to the improvement of children’s lives in Ukraine. During those years, I heard and read about many sad and tough stories of internally displaced people (IDPs) which touched my heart. I realized that the humanitarian sector was the right place for me. I felt lucky and honored to be a part of one of the most prominent international humanitarian organizations, where I got involved in helping the IDPs directly or by assisting my colleagues. When I became a permanent staff, I was doing administrative work in the organization’s Kyiv office. I enjoyed what I was doing, but as time was passing, I stopped feeling like I was doing something really valuable, and instead, I was getting more and more bored.

After more than one year of work, I joined the department focusing on mine action in our organization when the circumstances had changed. I started as Project Assistant, which also meant doing administrative work but also being involved in the programme activities. As soon as I started, I went for my first business-trips and saw the actual work of my colleagues. My eyes sparkled. I knew that I wanted to do the same kind of work. I wanted to do field work instead of administrative work. A few months later, I was lucky to become a part of one of the biggest international humanitarian organization. Despite being excited about the possibility of a more fulfilling job, I was not sure whether I was going in a good direction, so I asked a couple of people for advice. Of course, I was the one who had to make the decision, but I still wanted to wait for a sign. It’s hard to say that a car accident is a sign, but for me, it was.

I had a car accident with my father when I was driving. Thank God no one was hurt! No one but my mother’s car. The repair would have cost us nearly more than a new car, so my parents decided to sell it. I felt that I owed my mom a new car, and this thought still remains in my mind nowadays. Even without that accident, I didn’t like the emotional environment I experienced at home, and I just wanted to run somewhere else. Growing up and sharing the same house with my mother made me think that I wanted to live elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is a great person, and I love her. I believe that she loves me as well. But we just cannot live together because we both have strong personalities, different visions and opinions, and an inability to step back. When I was small, all I needed was having my mother as a friend, but she used to shout at me and sometimes beat me, and when I wanted to share my secrets or ask for advice, she acted like it was nothing serious, even when for me, it was sometimes the question of life and death. When I started receiving a decent salary, I started feeling that my mother was jealous of me. Her youth was totally different. When my mom was twenty-one, she gave birth to my sister, who, unfortunately, got infected in the maternity hospital and suffered from various diseases during her whole childhood. While being pregnant, mom left her husband because he was lying to her, which is what she has told me, and was cheating on her, as far as I know. She was then alone with her own problems. On the contrary, when I was twenty-one, I had a boyfriend, no children, an exciting job with a high salary. I hated the feeling I had, but I believe it was genuine. By crashing the car, I received a signal in my mind that shouted: “Run!” Of course, I gave my parents the official version of my decision: “I am moving to another town due to my job.” while the real version was: “I am running from my home, family, the doctor’s diagnosis that I am almost infertile even if I dream to have three children, the crisis in the relationship with my loved one who was still living far away from me, from the juridical issues and processes with the car accident where I was culpable—even though not for 100%. Yes, for all these and other problems.” I believed I was not running away from myself. During that life period, I did not realize that a person cannot run from him or herself. But what I was sure of was that I was doing the right thing.

When I told my parents: “I am moving to the east of Ukraine,” my mother almost had a heart attack. I was like an indoor plant for my parents, so they could not believe their ears when I, their little twenty-three-year-old girl, was telling them that she was moving to another town, a town in the war zone. Well, the actual war was happening seventy kilometers from that town, but my parents envisaged the situation differently. Wanting to remove all the “problematic” baggage from my life, I moved to the east of Ukraine to start a new, interesting career. The town I moved into was small and sad. Maybe the town itself was not sad, but it was me to was, and thus, I saw everything in a sad way. I did not realize that I was in depression until I overcame it half of a year later. Only a couple of weeks after I had relocated, my husband (who was still living far away from me) and I went to Mexico. It was kind of our honeymoon. I remember swimming in the Carribean sea while thinking: “The moment you are living in now is perfect: You are here in this paradise with your loved one. So why can’t you feel completely happy?” I did not have the answer, all I knew was that I just did not feel as happy as I wanted.

When I returned from my holiday, I delved into the real field work by providing the information about the danger of mines and unexploded ordnance to the civil population. It meant visiting remote towns and villages, driving pass by the minefields, and, sometimes, being exposed to shelling while performing the duties. It sounds scary, but I did not see it this way. I decided not to tell my parents all the truth about where I was and what I was facing. I did not want to scare them because I felt comfortable in that environment, even though such type of work—and mine action sector in general—are not considered as “feminine” work in Ukraine. I visited Kyiv twice per month during the weekends, but I was becoming estranged from it. I felt uncomfortable when I was surrounded by a large number of people. I got crazy spending many hours to reach point B from point A. No matter how positive my time at home was, I could not wait to finally get onto the train and go back to my rented apartment in the east, where I felt free, where I lived alone, where no one tells me what to do, where no one gives me advice I don’t ask for, where no one gives me orders on when to wash the dishes or where to put a plate. In the beginning, I felt ashamed for wanting to escape from my home. I just felt completely fine living in that small town, which became my second home. My colleagues in the Kyiv office noticed that I looked more refreshed and happier. Furthermore, I really enjoyed my work. It distracted me from all the problems I was running from. I felt that I was doing something important for me as well as for others. Even though I constantly had to explain to everyone why I moved from my comfortable life in Kyiv to the town in the war zone and started working in mine action, which is what girls don`t usually do. Just a very small bunch of people could understand me. As for the others, not only had I to explain my decision but I also had to listen to the advice that I did not ask for. I was bombarded with the best life scenarios that I could be enjoying instead of the possibility of being exploded by a bomb in the east. However, those scenarios did not include the fact that I would not be happy to live by them. It’s funny to hear them from those who play a zero part in my life but who thought it was necessary for them to guide me towards the right way because I acted like a lost sheep.

Today, it has been a year since I moved to the east. I have received promotion and have moved to another town on the east. And yet, my parents and other people keep asking me: “Girl, what on earth are you doing in a war zone and mine action?” Frankly speaking, I am not exactly in the war zone, and I am currently doing more organizational work in the office than on minefields, but I have decided to stop explaining my life. My previous problems have vanished with time, and my life is more comfortable and better now in comparison with the last year. I am doing what I really want and I enjoy doing my work, even if my actions do not fit into other people’s imagination and beliefs. Even if it is my family’s and my loved ones’ imagination and beliefs. If you are sure you are on the right way, I highly wholeheartedly recommend you to do what makes you happy, despite other people’s opinion.


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