HOPE IN A STAMP
There should be tears. There should be a reason.
-Ocean Vuong, "Hope, Fire Escapes and Visible Desperation"
in The Rumpus, 8/ 8/14
Peter Zalmayev is standing at a post office in Kyiv taking a selfie for his Facebook page. "This masterpiece was worth every hour in line," he writes in the caption. Behind him, other customers are waiting to buy the commemorative stamp. It is an image of a Ukrainian soldier making an obscene gesture at the sunken Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva designed by Boris Groh from Lviv, the winning entry of a competition launched by the post office. The proceeds will go to support the Ukrainian army.
As soon as the final printing was announced, customers began lining up, in itself a testament to the grit of the Ukrainian people. The lines became an emblem of survival as well as celebration. Marble floors, large windows in the background, no debris or unidentified dead bodies. What else might be on the agenda for this imaginary almost normal day? Shopping, picking up children from school, reading a story to these children at bedtime, a quiet meal, a glass of wine.
The disruptions of war, and this war in particular right now, continues unabated. A cousin wrote me over the weekend: "I cannot even believe this is happening." Nor can we all. My European friends in proximity are skittish. Many are helping with relief efforts. The Israelis have set up a field hospital in Lviv and the doctor niece of an Arab Israeli friend is there while, at the same time, the Israelis continue to bomb Gaza. Good people everywhere are mobilized while horrific wars continue unabated. I have had many conversations with exasperated relief workers: There is no international "community." The United Nations is useless.
Strange, that I have become so fixated on Peter Zalmayev. I hope he doesn't mind. Peter, do you mind? He's become a living metaphor of survival, articulate journalistic skill, and determination. This war now has a human face for me, a human connection, as all wars must. During a long ago genocide, when so many of my relatives were murdered, I became obsessed by a photograph of one ancestor who looked like me, or vice versa. Her name was Lily. That name and that image became embedded in me, and I carried her into my life and my work.
I am convinced that Peter and his colleagues will survive the Russian military atrocity, and I will be here, at my desk. cheering him on, and supporting his efforts as best I can. It's the least this one journalist on the other side of the world can do.
This blog post is dedicated to all the civilians, soldiers, and sailors who have been killed in recent weeks. May we all live in peace.