Bombs are falling, but love is strong

It was a Summer’s morning in 1963 in the rural region of Donetsk when Alexander took Tatiana’s hand for the first time. He had walked down this road with her and carried her schoolbag since they were 14 years old, through fields of sunflowers, grasslands speckled with wild flowers and a patchwork of green pastures and crops. It was their time to be together; a time to be side by side and to talk and share their news before they reached the fork in the road and would part ways. Alexander attended the Ukrainian language school and Tatiana attended the Russian language school, but for the most part, they shared a road and this is where their love grew into something as solid as the road they walked on.

That early morning, everything was still. The sunflowers on either side of them leaned in, with their sunlit faces turned towards them, listening and watching with curiosity as love unfolded. Alexander had just turned 18 years old. He’d known since the beginning that he wanted to marry Tatiana and he was finally old enough to do so. Alexander took Tatiana’s hand and looked her in the eyes, then said, “I love you, and I want to share every morning with you.”

That day, they walked hand in hand. The birds erupted into joyful song, the breeze picked up and the sunflowers swayed in unison, beaming golden light onto young lovers. Alexander and Tatiana walked together; again and again and again and even now, when their road is wounded with gaping holes, bombed and obliterated and no longer exists.

Alexander and Tatiana have been married for 60 years now. It is their 60th anniversary this month and they are spending it alone in a residence for internally displaced Ukrainians, thousands of miles from their children and grandchildren. Two of their children have escaped the war and have managed to get to Europe. Their youngest daughter and her husband remain in the East of Ukraine, running a small business and attempting to carry on with life despite the danger all around them. I joked with Alexander and Tatiana that they are still young and in love, not even 80 yet and Tatiana said “yes, we felt that too until the 24th of February. We felt young, like we have a whole new chapter ahead of us, but we don’t feel that anymore.”

Alexander and Tatiana sat side by side on two school chairs. Their room is a small classroom that has been converted into a temporary residence with mattresses and the few belongings they were able to bring with them. This is not how they envisioned this chapter of their life. They should have been in their new apartment by now, sharing meals with their children and grandchildren and enjoying their retirement.

Alexander and Tatiana

Alexander and Tatiana were hard workers. Both of them had done various work for the coal mines, a life time of using their hands and bodies to make a living. They’d spent their money carefully, taking pride in being able to give their children a good education and to provide for them. When the children had grown up and left ‘home’ to start their own families, Alexander and Tatiana continued to work in the mines and to save their money for retirement. They planned to buy an apartment in Donetsk and to move closer to their family for their retirement years but would need to save up a considerable amount of money to be able to afford this. With calloused hands and tired joints, their needs for ‘retirement’ were simple; a good health, time to rest and to be surrounded by family.


At the beginning of the year, they’d put their small property on the market and had found a buyer. With this money as well as their saved-up money, they bought a new apartment in Donetsk, close to the home of one of their daughters, leaving them with enough money to have a comfortable retirement. It had always been such a solid plan and way of life, when consistency and discipline ‘pays off’ and a life time of hard work is rewarded with a comfortable, stress-free retirement.

But nothing about war is normal. On the 24th of February, the sale was approved and the ‘property documents’ were processed. Alexander and Tatiana were the proud new owners of an apartment in Donetsk. It was also the first day of war in a region that would soon be bombed with missiles, civilians would be gunned down, buildings and roads would be destroyed and Russian invaders would move in, like parasites feeding off what is not theirs, tempted by everything their own country could never give them.

For the most part of this interview with Alexander and Tatiana, Tatiana had done most of the speaking. I watched them both, noticing the loving gestures between them, the way they remained side by side and the way Alexander watched his wife as she spoke, radiant with a deep love for her, his face wrinkled in a way that you know she’d made him smile many times before.

Tatiana spoke of how she wished they could return, how she’d never wish this on any country. Her eyes welled up with longing for the simple life that they had had, one that has been taken away by a man called Putin, a man who plays with the lives of millions, far beyond the borders of Ukraine. A man who claims the world as his battlefield with large supplies of ‘clout’ to threaten and control and an army of tin soldiers; expendable, blood-thirsty pawns in Putin’s bygone game.

Medicine bag

At the sight of his wife’s tears, Alexander stands up and his easy, happy demeanor drains from his body. His eyes become blurred with tears that are heavy with the emotion that he attempts to lock in the cage of his heart, escaping his control in a flood of anger and unbearable pain. He grabs hold of a large plastic bag full up of medicine and holds it up for me to see. He says, “This is all we have. After a life time of hard work, this is what we are left with – a bag of medicine to treat the symptoms of a sick man’s war.”

Alexander’s voice cracks with the injustice of this war, this stupid one-man’s war; pointless and brutal – a war that spews hatred and spreads like liquid poison, leaving a bloody trail of destruction for generations to come, on all sides.

After a few moments, Alexander stops talking about their loss and recomposes himself. He looks me in the eyes and says, ‘We cannot think about tomorrow. We can only think about today. Today we are safe, we have a roof over our head, we have food and we have each other. When bombs are falling, we cannot dream, we can only be here right now, in the company of those we love.’


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