A couple of months ago, before Putin decided to level Ukrainian cities with his bombs, I wrote a short story for a science fiction collection called The Odin Chronicles, now published by Page & Spine. My protagonist was a man whose home planet had been blown to pieces by a mining company, and he’d been drifting from place to place ever since. It’s called Where’re You From? and it came out today, Episode 5 in the series.
Seeing it published feels odd and unsettling. Sometimes, we writers come up with high-stakes scenarios and then we up the tension to keep the readers engaged by putting our characters through hell. But watching the news these days brings us stories of suffering and resilience that are so much more raw and real than anything we writers can come up with and can polish through endless revisions to please editors and readers.
Here’s such a raw story. My hometown is called Galați and is close to the border between Romania and Ukraine. Growing up there, I heard a lot about World War II, including from one of my grandfathers, who, like my other grandfather, had been in the war, been wounded, and was also left with mental scars for life. Land war in Europe was always possible and terrifying but in an abstract way. The closest to war my country has been since WWII was the popular uprising in 1989.
Now war has come close. Many Ukranian refugees have taken shelter in Galați, some at inns and hotels. The other day, my aunt visited the students’ dorms repurposed as a refugee center. There, she talked to a Ukrainian young woman (and university student in Romania) who helps organize the place since she knows both languages. While waiting for instructions on how she and us could help, my aunt watched a group of people arrive at the dorms. She was really touched by that scene. There were many kids among the arrivals, she said, from little babies just born to two and three-year-olds. An eight-month pregnant woman wanted to stay there and give birth in Romania, grateful to have a safe place for her and her baby.
Meanwhile, bombs fell at 20 km from the Romanian border on a Ukrainian military base. The bombs were heard by people living in the Danube Delta villages, not far from my hometown. Then Ukrainian refugees from the towns around the bombed military base arrived at the border. And the pandemic is still going on…
There’s no polished story here, just thousands of heartbreaking, real stories tucked inside dry lines of prose. This awful war makes me think that none of the artifice of curated prose matters anymore. When I wrote my short story for The Odin Chronicles, what I had in mind was “exploring” the sense of “displacement” and the “longing to make a home.” Blah, blah, blah. Now I’m just sitting here in Seattle, screaming inside my head in broken bits of Romanian and English: can anyone just stop this madman, take away his bombs? Stop forcing people to leave their homes! Stop destroying cities! Stop killing kids!
I’ve no words for what’s happening, just utter shock and panic for what will come next.