You can’t put injured people to the ambulance

Near the western window, there was good Internet access. It was February and we were spackling the walls. In intervals between “mixing”, I rushed to the phone and updated all the tabs. Explosions were heard. People shouted: “Gas! Gas!” There was no information about the victims. The walls were curvy. We had to make them. People were shot at the Maidan, while we were building a cottage near Moscow.

“Don’t get too worried about it,” said Vovchyk. “It won’t change the world. We’ll do the work and go home.” Vovchyk is over forty years old. He is fifteen years older than me. He’s been working abroad since 1992. He continued: “Somehow it will settle down, somehow…” In order not to listen to a companion, I took a bag of Ferozite 310 (spackling paste), put it into a bucket of water and mixed it with a mixer. Again Vovchyk looked at the plan. He checked whether all the holes for sockets were in place. He checked in order not to make new ones when everything is finished. Bzz-z-z-z-z-z-z, bzz-z-z-z-z-z, bzz-z-z-i-i-i. I stopped. In the container the Ferozite paste became homogeneous. Now, I thought, I have my well-deserved five minutes for “staring at the screen”. I sat on the windowsill. On the phone video of the clashes commenced to move, the facebook was shouting for help, black profile pictures of sorrow and: YOU CAN’T PUT INJURED PEOPLE TO THE AMBULANCE!

“It’s the end, there is a war there.  You have a war,” Uzbek climbed up to us on the third floor. “On the news, they show it now. People are killed,” he was breathing heavily. He was an old one – over sixty years old. Vovchyk was silent. Me too. Uzbek continued to talk about news and make jokes, saying “that’s it, now you’re here forever and your country is ruined by Maidowns.” Uzbek had some kind of native, true name, but for simplicity, everyone called him Tolik.  Once Vovchyk asked: “Do you know how they, Uzbeks, go to Moscow?” I did not know: “Well, how?” “They are sitting here for years. Five, ten years in a raw, cooped up. And indeed, Tolik has been already three years at the construction site. The aboriginal man. He saw how the construction of this house had started. He is the watchman.

I made a sip, my throat was scorched – “palionka” (a name for poor quality vodka in post-Soviet space – translator’s note). I ate a sandwich really fast. We were sitting in the kitchen in our “barn”. Brick walls, benches made of boards, on the table instead of oilcloths there were Metro Moscow new sheets, brought to us by Oleg, a driver from a neighboring cottage. It was him, who the last time had told me Wi-Fi password, so since then I had some kind of connection with the world. Probably I’d better not to have it at all.

Do you want me to tell you how guest workers live in Moscow? I’ll tell! Something like this: at six a.m. they wake up and have breakfast, from eight a.m. to two p.m. they are working, then lunch (an hour), from three p.m. to seven p.m. it’s work then dinner with booze at eight. All! And it happens every day.

We were drinking. I, Vovchyk, Tolik, and Oleg (he was always drinking before the weekend, and tomorrow he had that very day). Beer, vodka, bread and boiled potatoes that taste of swamp. We were sitting at the table, it was Vovchyk and Tolik who were speaking a lot. They discussed politics. Vovchyk was pouring, Tolik shared his views and forecasts regarding Ukraine and its future. On the refrigerator, the TV screen was shining. Voice of the actors from the series was a wonderful background and a possibility to distract. “You can’t escape from Russia,” Tolik said. “It won’t let you go.” There was some truth in his words. The story is cyclical and its wheel was twisting one more time, putting pressure on all of us. You can’t change anything, still, you are here, and they are there. All these victims will result in anything. The Uzbek was speaking, squinting his eyes and smiling. Alcohol was felt in the skull.

Tolik’s phone was buzzing. He picked up the phone, said that he’s going out and went out into the street. It was Andriy together with his relative, both from Poltava, they were guarding the cottages. Since their arrival, something has changed. The conversations became louder, nervousness was hanging in the air, the dispute got out of control, someone punched someone and everybody ran out to the street.

The fight lasted for a short time. A sound of a shot. We got sober.

It was the Uzbek, who called a guard.

In front of us, there were three armed men in black uniform.

“Get down on your knees, khokhly (the contemptuous term for a Ukrainiantranslator’s note)!” one of their voices sounded.

The lantern at the door lit the piles of snow and spots of blood.

We got down on our knees.

In this elite settlement, there were unwritten rules. One of those rules considered Ukrainians.

Tolik approached the main guy and began talking about something. It lasted for a few minutes. He used lots of hand gestures, he pointed at us and then ran to the “barn” where we lived.

A man with a gun was smoking. A barrel lowered to the ground was swinging indifferently.

“Two of you. Two steps forward. Put your hands behind your back.

Together with Vovchyk, we executed the order.

The main guy approached and pushed me first, then Vovchyk.

“Bastards!”

Tolik ran out of the “barn” with a sports bag and threw it in the snow.

“Get them in the car.”

The van was going fast. The walkie-talkie was hissing. It was clear that we were f*cked up. Thoughts about death, like trees outside the window of the car, were flashing in the dark. The barrel of the automatic rifle, which was lying on the knees of the security guard, was pointed at us. Cigarette smoke was all around. Its smell tickled the nostrils. I wanted to smoke, but the voice disappeared somewhere. The main guy made the last puff and threw the butt under his feet. The car took a dirt road. We saw the forest in the light of the position lamps. Vovchyk tried to explain them something, but gun’s barrel quickly shut up his mouth. This eternal road had its end. The van had stopped

God, how many thoughts I had in my head. All my life was as plain as the nose on my face. All mistakes, all words, all deeds, all my life.

“Well, Khokhly: who’s not jumping he’s Muscovite (famous cheer during the EuroMaidantranslator’s note) ?”

We were silent.

“Jump! You’ve jumped enough in Kiev.”

We weren’t moving.

“Jump Banderites.”

Vovchyk jumped. Me too.

“Cheer up!”

Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.

“Why so dull?”

Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.

“Faster!”

Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.

Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.  Hop-hop.

“Herd behavior – a terrible power.”

In the headlights, they were standing and laughing. It was blinding us.

“You should be killed. All of you! One by one. You are slaves! Take off your clothes!”

“It’s cold!”

“TAKE IT OFF!” the barrel was looking at us.

We started to take off our clothes throwing it on the snow.

The skin was covered with shivering.

They’d better shoot us at once.

We were standing out in the cold only in underpants.  How long did it last? Long! Very long. For ages. It permanently stuck in memory at the level of sensations, at the level of pictures: we were just standing in the headlights, and they were smoking cigarettes.

Later, someone threw the bag out of the car.

The engine roared.

The snow was amazing, and pine smelt of frost.

They went away.

We stayed in the woods.

I recalled:

YOU CAN’T PUT INJURED PEOPLE TO THE AMBULANCE!

You need to dress up.

You need to to go.

I just wanted to leave between the lines painful and tight – you’re a coward. A worthless creature that…

People were shot at the Maidan, while we were going to the highway that headed to Moscow.

19.02.2019

Valeriy Puzik

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