When I was already nearing the border, I opened my phone and started deleting everything that was on it. I deleted all the messengers, all chats, conversations and memes. All the happy birthday wishes, all the good mornings, my mum’s “kiss you, daughter”, my bills, pictures taken on Khreshchatyk, pictures near my Uni, pictures on Obolon, pictures in Koncha-Zaspa, pictures, pictures.
I really wanted to keep all of that. But it was risky. You could see from all of those conversations what exactly I think about the war, blood, death and everything since the end of February. My conversations were full of swearing, complaints and cursing, and it was impossible to delete just a message or two, I had to delete the whole conversation chat. Also, it was obvious I had lived for 10 years in Kyiv. That I came back home, to Donetsk, a year ago due to the pandemic. That I planned to come back to Kyiv, because all of my friends, all of my life, were there. But the war had begun, and I had to start a much more perilous journey.
Also, it was crystal clear from my convos, what exactly I think of Putin. There was even a short film scenario about a thousand-year-old vampire lady together with a pilot nicknamed Ghost of Kyiv murdering Putin (I wrote it together with a friend in Telegram messenger on the third day of the war, while she was laying on her floor in Kyiv, and I was taping up my windows in Donetsk). The border we were travelling to was the one between RF and EU. There was a “comrade major” waiting for me, asking me why I’m not sitting in my Donetsk home under shelling. “Ain’t you happy we liberated you? Maybe you hate Russian world? Go on, show me your phone!” his voice has been screaming the whole time in my head.
There were no filtration camps just yet; those appeared about two months later. There were no 3-days queues for Ukrainians, artificially created at the checkpoints on the Baltics borders. But it was already clear that they could do anything to us if they found a reason. Which is why I was a pristinely clean person when I neared the border. A person with a blank phone. A person with a past erased. The past is just an illusion. It exists only in our imagination.
The last thing I erased was my history on maps, which had kept all of my travels throughout the last few years. Google would never again ask me if I ate well in “Puzata Khata”, and would never insist I give it a 5-star review. I never visited “Puzata Khata”, comrade major. Never been to Kyiv. Never been anywhere, actually. Space is also an illusion. I am dissolving into thin air right before your eyes. Just let me dissolve in peace and fly far away from this country. I’ve spent 40 hours on buses from Rostov to Moscow to Pskov. And I felt like I had been traipsing through a minefield barefoot every single minute of that journey.
I no longer had a past, but I did have a legend. Yes, I’m going to Germany. Yes, I’m a native of Donetsk. Yes, somebody is waiting for me. No, it is personal. Nah, I don’t care about politics. Yeah, visiting for three weeks, then back to Donetsk. I don’t know if they believed me, but in the end, they took mugshots of me, like I was some kind of a criminal, took my fingerprints and let me through.
When the “Shumilkino” checkpoint spat me into Estonia, I ran. “What are you doing, you fool, Estonians gonna see you and think ‘Oh, she’s deranged’. They won’t let you in, dammit, stop, come on.” I stopped only when I ran into the windowsill of the passport control booth. A blonde Estonian woman paged through my passport while I was trying to regain my breathing. She silently gave me my documents back and nodded to pass through.
I was on the bus to Warsaw when I started to realise that not only I don’t have a past, I no longer have a future either. My future was pristine white, a blank paper, white snow. No plans, no thought, no idea, nothing to taint that blank space. All of my plans had been destroyed at the end of February. All of my thoughts had led to the compulsive, panicked, “What if they don’t let me through the border” thought. And I had had zero idea what to do if they, o miracle, do let me though.
My phone pinged. A friend from Kyiv wrote that she got safely to Ireland. She braved the trains across all of Europe, with 3 kids and a cat in tow, with luggage, a baby stroller for the youngest, carrying a drill and a glue gun that weighed almost 2 kg because her 11 years old Elon Musk wannabe wouldn’t leave those behind. It must’ve been hard with three kids, I thought.
If I close my eyes really tightly and concentrate, I see that bus again. But now it is moving slowly, almost gliding in the air, and everyone on it is looking at me. Most of them are looking in disapproval, some scornfully, some with a threat in their eyes. “Don’t do it,” says one. “They’ll put you into a remote village with no buses,” promises another voice. “There’s no medicine here,” a third one complains. “There’s mildew everywhere!”. “You have no place here!” a third woman is shouting at me; she is dressed in shabby clothes, and there are 3 children at her skirts. “Ireland doesn’t have space!”
“Doesn’t have space! Doesn’t have space!” Others are echoing her. The noise becomes unbearable, and when I am beginning to think my head is going to explode – I wake up.
“Why did you choose Ireland?” A migration officer would ask.
It must’ve been hard with three kids, I thought.
“Because choice is another illusion.”
…He didn’t ask anything like that.
“My god, Sean, look this lady’s diploma is plastic!” The officer was looking through my papers, and my diploma from one of Kyiv universities was amongst them – a plastic card size of my palm. “Amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that! My diploma is just a sheet of paper! What about you, Sean? I’m sure yours is same!”
He’s as happy as a clam, studying the ornate lines on the plastic, that one can see only under a very strong light. Sean, I presume, is smiling leniently at us, from a table next to us.
“Are you hungry?” The officer’s voice changes, as he returns me my diploma. “Look, there’s a vending machine by the wall, you can get a sandwich and coke there. Get something to eat, you’ll have to wait a bit for the bus.”
I am sitting there, unable to say a word. “Say something,” a voice in my head whispers. “Say something, don’t be daft, he’s being polite, and you? Staring at him!”
But I can’t talk. My mind is racing through another conversation, with another officer, with very different questions.
“Where are you going!”
“What’s the purpose!”
“If you want some coffee, it’s over there,” the officer continues, “by the table with that lady. I’m going to issue you a letter, and then you go over and she’ll help you with the rest of the paperwork. Alright?”
I don’t remember what I answered. I think I started crying.