As she lay dying in a North London hospital, my grandmother started to hallucinate scenes from her Ukrainian childhood. All around the ward she saw starving children, skeletal, collapsing in the long, white, strip-light corridors—lying, leaning, barely breathing by the hospital beds. At first my mother and I couldn’t understand what she was referring to. What children? There were only old people in the ward.
Then we realised Galina Ivanovna was surrounded by suppressed memories from her childhood. She was back on Sumska, the elegant high street of her hometown of Kharkiv. She was back in 1932, the height of Stalin’s man-made famine meant to break the resistance of the Ukrainian peasantry to his rule. His victims were staggering from the countryside into the city in search of food, their dead bodies scattered across the dusty road.
Today dead bodies are scattered along Sumska again. Kharkiv’s residential areas are under merciless bombardment. Many more dead civilians lie in the streets of Bucha and Irpin. A conservative estimate puts the number across Ukraine in the mid-1000s so far—with the number rising by the day—and that figure doesn’t include the 5000 who the mayor of Mariupol says perished in his still-besieged city. The murders break our sense of time, of progress. “Can this sort of vicious slaughter of civilians be happening now, in Europe, in 2022?” some ask.
Once again a dictator in the Kremlin is trying to break the spirit of Ukrainians, wipe out the very idea of a sovereign Ukraine.
But this time he is being stopped. The cycle is being broken. This matters not just for Ukraine but for the whole world. For the same reason that Ukraine is the crucible of so much horror in history—it has also produced the ideas, stories, and policies that define good from bad for us all. It will again. It must again.
Read the full story in Time here.