Diary of War

25 February 2022

Day two

Vesna [Mariupol]

I’ve never been to a church that looked quite like this. Then again, everything around me looks, sounds and smells unlike anything I’ve ever experienced—and I’ve spent most of my life in this city.

We’re in an unfinished basement. The floor is made of those boards made of leftover scraps of wood. They still smell like wood, too. I like the smell. There are a few blue chairs—the ones you’d expect in an office or a dentist’s waiting room. There are mattresses, too, plastic bags with stuff spilling over their edges, and a bunch of coats. People spent the night here. They now play board games and kids do somersaults on the mattresses.

I know I’m doing something stupid going out to meet a friend. The streets are almost empty—anyone I pass has their eyes cast downward, hurrying along with some kind of controlled panic surrounding them like a bull-headed aura. The cars that pass are cramped with people and suitcases. But they drive slowly, and not one honks at the stray dogs running around.

My phone rings. My friend Sacha is letting his dog out on the street east of the city. I guess he’s as stupid as I am. The sirens on his side of the line sing in canon with the ones surrounding me. Then, a whistle, a thunderous boom and the sound of shattering glass. It’s so loud I drop my phone.

The phone is just there, on the ground next to my feet. So close to me. The line is still open—I can see the seconds adding to our call time on the screen. I can’t move. I just can’t pick it up. And then suddenly, Mom’s next to me. She sweeps the phone off the ground and mumbles: “Who’s this?”

“It’s Sacha,” I hear through the phone, ‘I’m okay.” I start to cry.