isolarii - Kyiv

Kyiv

THE WAR DIARY OF
YEVGENIA BELORUSETS

Yevgenia Belorusets has been one of the great documentarians of Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014, winning the International Literature Prize for her work. Her diary provides the news from a different vantage.

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In Place of a Final Note

When the war started, I had no set plans to remain in Kyiv, but I quickly became the hostage of my own diary. At the very beginning, it struck me as important to witness what was happening. I decided to write a short text every day about events in the city. I set upon this work—which turned out to be hard—because I expected the war to only last for a few days. This war was so unthinkable, such a blatant violation of global security and human rights, that it seemed the world would quickly find a way to stop the aggressor.

As the attacks unfolded, I was shocked that, although the crimes were continuing, they were met almost exclusively with economic sanctions, which, however effective and lethal, still came without any active show of force on the part of the friendly powers. I realized that the diary was helping me to endure the storm of events that were in fact unbearable, and that it enabled me to describe something I really couldn’t find the words for.

I had previously been to Debaltseve in the Donbas, at a time when the city was being regularly shelled by Grad rockets. That was when I first experienced horror in the face of war and in the face of how artillery could be used against a civilian population. I saw with my own eyes the consequences of shelling. I met people who hated Ukraine or Russia out of impotence—out of not knowing where to place the hatred that suffocated them—because of the pain they had lived through.

When the new phase of the war began and attacks reached Kyiv, my body memory kicked in. But it didn’t make it easier for me to bear the events. In fact, knowing what happens to a person in a situation of such extreme and senseless violence, I experienced grief day after day. And my grief was much stronger than my fear. Fear came to me later—much more recently, when it seemed that Kyiv was returning to life, when Kyiv felt safe, especially the city center.

Sometimes I would speak to people who stayed in the Donbas, near Mariupol, or even people who had been in Mariupol, near the border with the occupied regions or near Kyiv, in Bucha or in Irpin. After each conversation, nightmares came to me, fear came to me, which sent me wandering around my apartment at night, sleeping on the floor in the entryway between two walls during the air raids. I couldn’t fall asleep in the bed. Instead, I experience real horror, remembering meetings, phone conversations, and my previous trips to the Donbas.

A lot of people are unable to cry. But at times something comes over me, and I start crying. I myself find this state strange. At one point, I even decided to try to record the sound of my crying. It may seem ridiculous, but I thought that everything happening with my body needed to be used in some way, so that it could be talked about later. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had become my own working material. But every time I tried to make a recording of my state, the feeling would instantly vanish.

I can’t say that the tears bring me relief. They are just one reaction to coming into contact with something new—with the events that are opening up to me.

I think everyone has the right to think and talk about the war. It is our common pain, the common pain of all humanity. The whole world is, in a sense, responsible for what is happening. This is an act of violence, bloodshed, brutality, and genocide. Anyone, anywhere in the world, must connect with this. If somebody has traveled out of Ukraine for whatever reason, but feels it necessary to talk about it, let her speak.

I subscribe to many Telegram channels, where I see photos of the aggressor-country’s soldiers lying dead on the ground. Never before could I have imagined feeling such indifference when looking at images of men who had been killed. But now, it would be hard for me to live with the idea that the criminals—who shoot up apartment buildings, who attack old people and children—would go unpunished. Yet, on the other hand, I realize there is no punishment appropriate to the crime. We must have a trial! It is as necessary as air and it will definitely take place. But there is no resurrection of the dead, no restoration of broken worlds. There must be trials to try and prevent similar crimes in the future, there must be punishment for the guilty. But punishment isn’t redemptive—it will not change what we have lost.

A key condition for us to preserve who we are is to preserve our diversity. We must carry out the work of accepting different worldviews, different points of view within our country. Then we will survive. Crimes must be punished, but anything that is an opinion rather than a crime, even if it is an intolerable opinion, we must try to accept.

As somebody who works with photography, I have always been struck by the fact that Kyiv, like the rest of Ukraine, has a hard time holding onto memories of its own history. Its history is constantly starting anew, and traces of the past are easily erased. Usually they are erased because of great tragedies or some external circumstances that drive the city to change. And now, something is once again forcing Kyiv to create its history afresh. This moment made me feel a rising desire to save some of that city that didn’t know war was possible. Maybe that is why I constantly walked around Kyiv, photographing windows, walls of buildings, random corners, and fragments, without composition or meaning. It felt as if I were trying to save something connected with the past, something endangered, something that might be destroyed.

This is my desire—I don’t want to call it a dream, just a very powerful desire: to somehow interrupt the flow of this particular, unbearable story. This desire is what allowed me to remain in Kyiv for so long, and it is what allows me to go on presuming that dreams are still possible in principle.

Adapted from an interview by Olga Serdyuk for NV, a Ukrainian online magazine

Tuesday, April 5
DAY 41: FROM KYIV TO WARSAW

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Sunday, April 3
DAY 39: A CITY DROWNS IN BLOOD

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Saturday, April 2
DAY 38: LAUGHTER RETURNS TO KYIV

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Friday, April 1
DAY 37: A CHANGED CITY

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Wednesday, March 30
DAY 35: IN THE NERVE CENTER OF CATASTROPHE

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Tuesday, March 29
DAY 34: ISLANDS OF TEMPORARY CALM

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Monday, March 28
DAY 33: ENDLESS CANNONADES

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Saturday, March 26
DAY 31: A GAP IN THE WINDOW

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Friday, March 25
DAY 30

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Thursday, March 24
DAY 29
The Smell of Burning Forests

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Wednesday, March 23
DAY 28
Risk of Injury!

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Tuesday, March 22
DAY 27
The Houses That Disappeared

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Monday, March 21
DAY 26
Kyiv Will Be As Clean As Berlin!

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Sunday, March 20
DAY 25
Drones over Kyiv

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Saturday, March 19
DAY 24
Deceptive Illusion

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Friday, March 18
DAY 23
The Picture of the Man with the Cat

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Thursday, March 17
DAY 22

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Wednesday, March 16
DAY 21
Tactical Retreat

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Tuesday, March 15
DAY 20
In War, One Thinks Almost Only of War

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Monday, March 14
DAY 19
Rockets Over Kyiv

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Sunday, March 13
DAY 18
An Unexpected Gift

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Sunday, March 12
DAY 17
Too Tired For The Shelter

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Friday, March 11
DAY 16
Music

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Thursday, March 10
DAY 15
Illusions

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Wednesday, March 9
DAY 14
A Flaw in the Landscape

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Tuesday, March 8
DAY 13
The night is still young

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Monday, March 7
DAY 12
A way of life that swallows everything

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Sunday, March 6
DAY 11
IT'S 3:30PM AND WE'RE STILL ALIVE

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Saturday, March 5
Day 10
A Great Beauty

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Friday, March 4
Day 9
Follow Me On Instagram

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Thursday, March 3
Day 8
Alienation

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Wednesday, March 2
Day 7
Time to be brave

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Tuesday, March 1
Day 6
Not a minute more of this war!

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Monday, February 28
Day 5
The new vulnerability

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Sunday, February 27
Day 4
an extinguished city

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Saturday, February 26
Day 3

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Friday, February 25
Day 2
Night: tense silence

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Friday, February 25
Day 2
air alert

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Thursday, February 24
Day 1
the beginning

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Edited by ISOLARII with translations by Greg Nissan



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