Own Dreams and Those of Others

Writer Olena Styazhkina on how Ukrainians are currently fulfilling one Big and hundreds of thousands of small dreams

24 Листопада 2022

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Sometimes I think that, by defeating Russians, we are fulfilling the dream of all the “nerds” of the ordinary, civilized world, which has always had some kind of local-scale and hidden “evil.” Despite being essentially small, it used to produce large-scale destruction. It could have been sort of a “macho” person—dumb, strong, sometimes even attractive and wealthy, but occasionally not—who’d spit upon the quiet smarties; upon the frail and unfashionably dressed; upon those of a different social background, or skin color; upon those who are manifestly other—decent, calm, and distanced from the battle for the place of alpha in the pride of idiots.

Accompanied by jackals, they used to bully, beat, jeer, marginalize, and give disgusting nicknames. They used to destroy dignity and faith in the victory of good over evil. But, of course, the smarties grew up and persevered. After all, our world rests on them and them alone. 

But that old dream—to beat the crap out of the offender— remained in childhood. No matter how successful the smarties become later, the toxic aftertaste of childhood or adolescent helplessness always makes itself felt. There is no going back to overcome this helplessness and end the humiliation. So the smarties’ good won in the long run, but in the short run, the pain of lonely nerds, unfashionably dressed, ostensibly aloof, but so eager to fight back for once in their lives, remained.

Ukraine is now fulfilling the dream of everyone humiliated by an obviously stronger, meaner, and more brutal adversary—or enemy, to be precise. The kind of enemy who believed that a couple of finger flicks on the forehead was enough to crush and break, to turn a smartie into a slave and keep using, jeering, and abusing them. Indeed, our ability to defeat Muscovy is a story about David and Goliath, or Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. Yet both stories are mythological and bookish, so all smarties perceived them as soothing but never translated into real life.

Our war is going live, and there is nothing fairytale about it. It’s all for real—defeating the enemy requires from us both the strength and ability to fight as long as necessary. And the willingness to die in battle but never be defeated.

Every blow we inflict on Russians is made by all those who used to be considered weak, in whom the world had no faith until they started holding it up on their shoulders. The fear of all the offenders and their jackals, their wet pants, and their surprise that no one is afraid of them anymore is the pain of all the offended, which finally dissolves in the blood of the enemy rather than tears. Such is symbolic retribution for disrespected goodness, broken laws, and desecrated dignity.

After all, the dumb and beefy degenerates from school classrooms never end up being the ones who rule the world. To be honest, among those actually ruling it, there must be quite a few pragmatists who were once frightened by a weak flick on the forehead in the schoolyard. But even they, the intelligent cowards, cannot hold back the excitement from fulfilling their long-nurtured dream.

The price. The price. The price. The price. The price. The price. 

Ukrainians now know better than anyone what this is about. They also know they are fulfilling no one else’s Dream but their own.

And yet again—the price, the price, the price. From ancient times to this day, the price has been growing and will keep growing until the enemy gets destroyed—or, better still, ceases to exist.

Until this happens, life is determined by the time “before a personal missile,” “my personal missile. . .” When this feeling becomes stable and inevitable, people do wildly different things. Some of them—and I used to belong to this community for a while—live as if their “personal missile” is like Alice’s “jam to-morrow,” which may never be. Along with tomorrow, which may never come. Therefore, every day is the last, but not much more than any other day, even peacetime. In Kyiv, one could afford this lifestyle. . .

Others were acutely grieved by Irpin, Mariupol, and Izium. Subsequent expectations of their last missile sometimes escalated their dreams to everything unaccomplished, postponed, or seemingly impossible. 

One of my colleagues left Mariupol at the end of March, when it already seemed impossible, and went to learn opera singing in Lviv. Another one, who lost her mother in Bucha, bought some clay and is making pottery. For now, she is giving the pots away as keepsake gifts. But am I trying to lose this memory, to forget it?

Someone I know is learning Italian: ragazzi, palazzo, libri. . . She started learning it a long time ago—after the March Chernihiv.

My friend returned to Hostomel in May and found her elegant dresses unstolen. They were the only thing left in her robbed house for some reason. She wears them all now, one by one—she even comes to clean the volunteer center in a cocktail dress. Another friend does swimming. I don’t know why. She could swim before, and she has a fit and beautiful body. Yet she goes to the pool daily and runs to the basement in her bathing suit with everyone else during the air raid alarms. As soon as the all-clear sounds, she finishes her swimming session and only then goes home.

There is a soldier who, every Friday, writes from the front line: “While I am here fulfilling our common dreams, please fulfill mine. Today, everyone must dance, film it and send me the videos.” Until February, this soldier used to be a fitness trainer.

There is an acquaintance who goes to the forest to scream. He managed to get his relatives out of Izium but still cannot believe it. He says: “I always wanted to learn how to scream as if no one could hear you, and you were just a wounded animal.”

Among the best is a neighbor who has been drilling the walls and renovating his apartment since February 24. I don’t rule out that he is doing it the third time around. Be that as it may, the hammer and drill almost never sleep, and neither do I. But all of us in the apartment block love and appreciate this neighbor. And if we want to kill him, it’s just nerves. Our nerves are shot.

Since I fell out of the “last, like every other day” community, I’ve been stealing looks at the “Anna Pavlova” cake. Basically, I can eat the entire cake in one sitting—that is, I can eat about five to six pieces of “Pavlova” in one sitting and then two more at night.

I have long been (always, to be honest) “watching my figure” because if this “figure” keeps her mouth open, it will weigh about 120 kilos. And the “figure” is vain. She wants to be at least pleasing to the eye, if not slim.

And now I think: on one side of the scale is “Anna Pavlova” (six pieces), and on the other side is the question: “Who am I watching my figure for? And what for?”

Among the reasons that are still keeping the scale balanced is the price of “Anna Pavlova” and the desire to wear a beautiful new dress that I will buy for the Victory Day parade.

The problem adding weight to “Anna” and potentially me is this damn “personal missile,” “my missile,” because when it hits, there may no longer be a body for wearing any dresses.


Then there are pink and lilac hair, dental implants, and beauty injections everywhere on the face. My friends look so unusual that I barely recognize them. And one man who takes cars to the front once every two weeks treats his hair loss between the trips. 


And there are tattoos. Early and late middle-aged people tattoo themselves—some finally do something they were forbidden to do in childhood, and others honor their fallen sons by copying the pictures of them onto their bodies.


We are fulfilling the dreams that once seemed crazy and impossible—a Big one and thousands, hundreds of thousands, small. Own dreams and those of others—sometimes very strange and often with a taste of grief.

Olena Styazhkina, writer, Doctor of Historical Sciences, author of the novel Cecil the Lion’s Death Made Sense, founder of the “De-occupation. Homecoming. Education” public movement, PEN Ukraine member.

Translated by Stanislav Ostapenko.

The Ukrainians Media is an award-winning independent media company focusing on high-quality, long-form, and visual journalism. Our mission is to foster positive social changes in Ukraine.

This story was created thanks to the support of our readers. Please join The Ukrainians Community on Patreon and help us publish more important and interesting stories.

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