New Voices:
The An Post Writing Prize

Read through the six incredible shortlisted Essays, in the running...

November 5th 2023 - Shortlisted

Memories License

I am from Odesa, so people usually tell me this about my move: well, it’s not Mariupol.

I don’t want to call this running away. I don’t even want to call it immigration. This is just a move within the globe.

They believe that Odesa is a city of joyous and smiling people. But the fact that we can joke and find reasons to smile even at the darkest of times doesn’t mean nothing bothers us.

Yes, we are not Mariupol. I think it is cruel to say that if the city wasn’t destroyed, then its citizens are happy by default. Because the war has touched us as well, we are also hurting, we also heard the explosions. Not to mention, we also have hearts. People often forget about that, but we are the same species as all other inhabitants of this planet.

We can crack jokes with guys at checkpoints about “mines” that dogs and their owners leave behind in the shrub. We can call shahed drones “scooters”. During the air raid alert, we can argue with our neighbours about the sounds of missiles leaving and missiles hitting the target. We also know what the war is. This is why we are here now.

I think I would have visited Ireland in about 10 years, because I really wanted to see the Ring of Kerry. It would have gone a little bit like this: I arrive by plane, my luggage is full of warm things and pretty sweaters, I rent a car and drive along the ocean with my friends.

But this is how it actually happened: I drove 5000 kilometers in a car with a stick-shift, with no second driver, there were no pretty sweaters in my booth, instead there was a photo with my husband, a pillow, some stuff, and a blender. The blender was a must – it was a reminder of my home, as was the rest of my stuff.

What was next? A shock that all of the Irish people that I met were really friendly, polite and kind. Yes, such things shock you too, because kindness disarms you. And it is such a strange feeling when you have got used to the sound of missiles. Friendliness is great, but it needs getting used to. You need to change your worldview and believe in people.

The road to Ireland took me 11 days. After 5000 kilometers behind the wheel I’ve found myself in a hospital. Thromboses. I was too young for that, it was such a silly word. Actually, I’m fresh from the war zone, what do you mean I have a foot-long blood clot with complications in my lungs, I don’t even smoke. I’ve only just gotten a place to live in a beautiful quaint town after a week’s stay at a camp for Ukrainian refugees.

And instead of exploring the area, I was waiting for the surgery and spent two weeks in a hospital.

One of my former friends told me it was karma because I had left. But Irish doctors told me it was just a long drive to the island. Of course, I trust doctors more than I do former friends.

No doctors have ever been this good to me before. At some point, I even thought that the previously unknown to me blood clot was something really serious and everyone was so kind to me because I was dying. But, everyone was just kind. It was some kind of a miracle, the doctors that every anxious patient dreams of having.

Maybe that was really karma like my former friends told me. Not a bad one, on the contrary. If I hadn’t ended up in Ireland, who knows what that blood clot would have done, especially pieces of it that had already been in the lungs.

So, I wanted to see the Ring of Kerry in ten years, and instead, I found a new meaning in life, rethought my values, and got a chance to feel happy for the first time in over a year.

I felt like that twice in my life. That night of February 23rd, falling asleep, I thought I was completely happy. Finally, my life was just as I had wanted it to be for many years. Finally I could stop seeing my therapist because I was finally stable. But everything changed in just 5 hours. Sometimes I even felt that none of this could be happening for real.

A drone flew over my home, and it was really loud. But at the moment I was more annoyed that it was 6 a.m., Sunday – who does that? I hate to wake up so early. And now them with their drones. The attack went on, and, sitting in the hallway, I moaned at the fact I’d need to change the flooring, because this one got more deformed with each new attack wave.

The war became a part of everyday life. Here you have a comfy camping mat in your hallway and no glass surfaces. Here you have a blackout, but you’ve downloaded some TV series on your laptop and prepared some hot water bottles so you don’t get cold in the dark, quiet and cold.

Yes, of course, some people still believe that it’s not so bad to be in my city as it is in the east. But since when did people start to measure who has more destroyed roofs? And I mean both in physical and mental senses.

The life last winter was incredibly contrasting like it had never been before. So you are sitting in three sweaters and breathing out little puffs of steam because it is only 8 degrees in your home, then you go to your friends’ places to charge your phone and drink some hot tea, because hot tea is the only thing that reminds you of where you are. Here you are washing in your cold bathroom from a basin with warm water, and in an hour you are celebrating with your classmates the end of the exam session. Your friends invited you to a hardcore party in some basement, everyone is dancing, there’s music, and then you go home to eat some canned food that your parents had got with a humanitarian aid package.

You’re running home late before the curfew, but you are late for everything else, no time for a shop, or to catch the last train of youth, and actually, your life no longer belongs to you.

This is why I don’t want to call my move to Ireland running away or immigrating. That’s my time before the curfew. Because it is too early to go home just yet, and I need to decide what to do next; will I have time to get there before the region’s electricity centre informs us about blackouts, and my parents have to wait for me in the darkness?

Olga Kitik

Olga Kitik

Letterkenny, Co Donegal

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