Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part Three

March 2, 2022 | 1 book mentioned 19 min read

Millions staff writer Il’ja Rakos and his family live in Kyiv, Ukraine. What follows are selections from his correspondence with his friend Mark Slouka from before and during the Russian invasion, reprinted with permission.

From: Mark Slouka
Dec 13, 2021, 7:05 PM

Hey Il’ja:

We’ve been wondering how you guys are bearing up in regard to this situation with the Russians. Do you have contingency plans?  I’m guessing this is a bargaining move on Putin‘s part, essentially a play to squeeze certain guarantees from the EU vis a vis Ukraine, but still . . . On this end, nothing new to report: a gray, drizzly December, cases through the roof.

When’s your book thing coming out with The Millions?

S pozdravem s Prahi,

From: Iľja Rákoš
Dec 13, 2021, 9:06 PM

Salutations from the east!

Russians, goddamn Russians. A constant news item for the last 7 years, so, in that regard nothing new. What is new is that, in contrast to seven years ago, they’ve now moved major hardware and field hospitals into Donbas–the territories in the east where the insurrectionists are in charge.

Business as usual, it would seem. Berlin ’53, Budapest ’56, CZ in ’68, Georgia ’89, Latvia & Lithuania ’90, Georgia again ’91, Azerbaijan ’91, Moldova ’92, Tajikistan ’92, Chechya ’93, Georgia ’08, Ukraine ’14, Crimean Ukraine ’14.

And that’s Moscow’s attitude toward its friends.

However, there’s one major difference that should prevent a repeat performance this time, and it’s a big thing: What the hell will they get with an invasion of Ukraine?

For one, the guerrilla resistance will be fierce. Ukrainians have had a slice of civil society and they aren’t looking to turn back the clock. And second, Donbas is an albatross that Russia, fiscally, can barely afford.

Ukraine is the same size as Texas. Donbas and Crimea are about the size of New Jersey and Massachusetts. What’s left over is still a sizable territory with a population of 40 million who have no interest in Soviet-style immiseration. That’s a pot they’d be hard pressed to keep from boiling over.  Reasonable estimates say they’d have to put 450,000 troops on the territory just to hold everything up to the Dnieper.

Putin’s writing checks that I hope Biden is smart enough to know he can’t cash.

The fun part: our “activist” neighbor (and she really does know everybody) has already asked if I’d be ready to join the partisan effort if it came to that. Like the kids say, it just got real.

There’s good commentary on this on Russian DOZHD and EKHO MOSKVY. Your Czech will help with the Russian talkers. Some good, solid analysis there.

Putin’s bluff, risk/reward is way out of balance. His objective is just to keep the west engaged while he gets what he’s actually after: no hard promises on NATO for Ukraine, some sanctions lifted, no new sanctions, and Nordstream 2 online with no obstacles. If Biden cuts Russia off from SWIFT banking, makes hay with Beijing, and gets some petroleum concessions, Putin will be out of options.

He’s a one-trick pony, Putin is. It’s just that his one trick works every time. Never discount the grudge he carries–it’s real. But never overestimate his capacity to act on it.

I’ve got relatives in eastern Slovakia we could bunk with, and we’ve got the means to get farther way, if necessary. Light on our feet these days.

No sweat with the tech conversation. I have a lot of reading to do in order to sound semi-competent, so more time is good. Any work I’ve done to this point won’t be wasted. And it’s good to hear you’re getting meaningful work. Does that mean a novel soon?

Ignore the infection numbers. How much have you ever learned from government-generated numbers anyway? Keep yourself and yours safe.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja


From: Iľja Rákoš
Mon, Jan 10, 12:24 PM

Hey, Mark

Checking in to see if the calendar has advanced in the CR. It seems to have stalled here. Though stalled is fine when I glance over at Kazakhstan. What a mess. I’m trying to put together the core of an essay around a thing I’ve been telling the folks back home for years now: that the USSR never really ended, it’s just taking a long time to “rebrand”, as they say.

When Tajik, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Turkmen, and Azerbaijani troops led by, ahem, Russian peacekeepers descend on Almaty is anyone really fooled anymore?

The US and EU pundits are so wrongheaded on this, I can’t process it. Sure, first as tragedy then as farce, but what do you call it when the same approach has been in play since 1953? Hungary, East Germany, CR, Poland, the Baltics, Georgia, Ukraine: when Moscow doesn’t get what it wants it invades.

Putin is a one-trick pony: he seeks reunification. The west just doesn’t get him at all, affording him far too much respect as a grand strategist. He ain’t. He’s reactive. He’s a fireman committed to (re)building a society where FIRES ARE NOT ALLOWED.

Sorry if this sounds manic–it’s not. We had a pretty good Christmas/New Year, omicron notwithstanding. This is just ugly.

Hope you and yours are well and that the writing is going well.

Drop a line when the occasion and the spirit coincide.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja Rákoš

From: Mark Slouka
Thu, Jan 20, 1:32 PM

Apologies for the silence, my friend.  It’s been a combination of things.  For starters, Zack’s got omicron (relatively mild symptoms so far) and Maya’s in quarantine, Leslie bashed her leg and can’t sleep much while it heals, which means that I don’t sleep much, which is serious. How’s that for a list of lame (sorry) excuses?

Everything you say about the USSR essentially rebranding itself is spot-on, alas.  There are limits to reunification, of course, given NATO’s expansion, though he’s capable of testing those limits down the road – the real nightmare scenario, especially if we happened to have, say, DeSantis in the WH. But even short of that, the situation with Ukraine is extraordinarily ugly, so I gotta ask, and feel free not to answer if you think it unwise: Do you have contingency plans?

On this end, nothing much changes, day to day: We take our walks, the sunlight gets a bit longer each day.  The clock ticks, the cat vomits up a hairball.  I’ve got no complaints; from a certain angle, this is paradise.

Keep me posted, man.  You and yours are in our thoughts these days – a lot.

Best all around,

Mark

From: Iľja Rákoš
Jan 24, 2022, 1:28 PM

You folks need to mend up. I hope the boy’s omicron subsides and the limbs heal up. Nothing worse than being housebound when the best entertainment option available is just a nice walk out of doors. Take it easy, you bohunk. At your age, I mean!

And given the fact that the world has gone mad, no call for apologies, ever. The world has gone mad.

Nothing is simple any more. To pick up our 2nd-grader from school requires 20 minutes of preparation just to get out the door. My travel pack: the Covid vaccination certificate I wrangled from a private clinic; my Ukrainian “Green Card”; 2 K95 masks (1 ‘operational’, 1 spare) for me and 2 for the kid; my subway pass; my detachable spikes to stay upright on post-Soviet icefields (aka, sidewalks); a shopping bag, in case I’m tasked with picking something up at the market.

So, despite the sinus-infection with all the requisite symptoms of Omicron (though, no access to tests, or vaccines for the boys), we just cross our fingers, burn incense to a selection of deities, and avoid society wherever possible.

If it weren’t for those pesky Russians…

They hacked the power grid, the entire UA government, the banks last week. We’re having regular outages of everything an urban dweller depends on and everything just gets a little harder. Evacuation is tricky because the boys aren’t vaccinated (no access here), Anya isn’t American, and I’m not a tech-millionaire (or non-tech millionaire). Longing for the days when grandpa could travel from Prešov to the US as a 14-year-old with $40.

Hell, I have the $40.

Just frustration. The miracle of the internet and 24-hour-news do nothing but muddy the waters of understanding. Lots of Ukrainian/Russian pundits (a few of them pretty solid thinkers) don’t think there will be an attack. The question to ask is: what does Russia need Ukraine for?

Militarily, it would overwhelm this place.

Geographically, it would realize Vlad’s dream of an unbroken Nova Rossiya, stretching from Rostov to Moldova, via  Donbas-Mariupol-Kherson-Odesa, landlocking Ukraine and grabbing all the Black Sea oil and politically sinking Ukraine as a nation-state, further destabilization of the EU, and the fracturing of NATO.

Domestically, it solidifies his hero status among the Russian mouth breathers of seemingly endless supply. But, it – none of the above – doesn’t really SOLVE real problems like Russia’s revenue, poverty, opposition, and corruption issues. Nothing.

Militarily, it just adds another unaffordable headache for Mother Russia. Kyiv is bigger than Latvia. Ukraine is Texas with twice the population. Could he hold that? Half of that? Vlad’s shopping for a shiny new Hummer but his garage is too small to park it. He can barely manage the Donbas (a trainwreck) and Crimea (a trainwreck with some nice beaches). Unless he intends to gas us (see Syria) or wage 2 wars (see Chechnya), the Russian beast is armed to the teeth but impotent in real world terms, (none of this excludes the possibility of demonstrative tactical strikes on Ukrainian military targets).

Geographically, a land grab would spur relentless, lethal opposition everywhere along the path. Great. Guerrilla warfare has been absent from Europe for too long!

Politically, Sweden and Finland would probably make good on their threats to joining NATO. Frankly, I’d rather have the Finns supporting Ukraine than the Germans. Germany’s craven “can’t we all just do business and get along?” status has worn out its welcome here. (This incident would make a nice case study in the “The Elimination of the Humanities” conversation: what happens when toothy politicians don’t study classical ethics. [God knows it’s bad enough when they DO study classical ethics.])  And, my advice: IGNORE anything you hear about Putin’s desire to “install a puppet Russian government in Kyiv”. The openly “pro-Russia” parties here (there are 2) represent about 15 seats (of 320) in Parliament. The only way Ukraine goes “pro-Russia” is at gunpoint.

coverAllow me an aside to drive this point home. In Jaromír Navrátil’s gut wrenching The Prague Spring 1968 (a national security documents compendium) the records show that the KGB beat up Černík so bad that he could barely speak when Brezhnev had him (and Dubček) hauled to Moscow to “negotiate”.  Moscow 2022 is identical to Moscow 1968.  It took the Czechs & Slovaks 20 years to overcome “normalization” but they did it. Ukraine is significantly further down the road toward a truly free society and Moscow may – via limited political and military intervention – succeed in delaying the inevitable, but they won’t stop it. Ukraine wants out. Outside the occurrence of a general exodus, the critical mass to resist Russian incursion/takeover is well-established here.

Domestically (the Rakos household), we’re looking to get Anya an emergency US visa. We’ll see how that goes. The boys and I (despite their vaccination status) have options. If, however, they don’t grant her request, we’ll head to the west of Ukraine which should be far from the action.  Wait it out there.

Good Christ, Mark.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja

From: Mark Slouka
Jan 29, 2022, 8:11 PM

So has this last week made us any wiser?  Has the lens cleared?  Not for me, my friend.  I seem to know less and less about less and less, which is interesting.

Has the world gone mad?  Who could doubt it?  If we’re talking about the upper-case world – the tilt toward European-style fascism back in the States, the disinformation campaigns which seem to toggle between lunacy and farce, the climate crisis which lies ahead of us as we drive, pedal to the metal across the flatlands – the evidence is everywhere.  The picture improves on the lower-case level of personal experience: the conversation I had with the food-delivery guy tonight, who was so touched that I’d come out and talk to him and carry my own bags, the dinner the four of us had last night for me and Maya’s birthdays, the smell of basil, a good song . . . but the bigger world keep interfering.

And you’re dealing with the bigger world in spades.  Has Anya heard anything about her visa?  Do you actually have a place in western Ukraine where you could hole up?  Jesus, what a time.  My guess right now is that Putin is engineering a walk-back, arguing that this was all Western propaganda/hysteria, that they were simply conducting ‘exercises,’ etc.  Which may give them a way of tip-toeing back until they figure out a better way, a surer angle.  Then again, given the build-up on the Bellarusian border, he could go in tomorrow.

On this side, nothing much to report.  We’re slogging ahead, waiting for the light to return.  My dreams are living my life for me.

Keep me posted, man.  Seriously.  And all best, more now than ever, to you and yours,

Mark

From: Mark Slouka
Sat, Feb 12, 12:59 AM

okay?  Bearing up?

Tell me something, when you get the chance.  Anything.

M.

From: Iľja Rákoš
Sat, Feb 12, 10:23 AM

Sorry. Busy as a village dentist, trying to arrange the deck chairs. (Now THAT’s a metaphor!)

Briefly, but I’ll get back at you this afternoon, Scout’s honor.

The US media is fucking with us all. “Imminent attack” reads to all of us here like total bullshit.  There may be method, however unintentional, in that message.  Biden’s crew has handled this, in my opinion, masterfully, and I don’t put it past them that they are feeding the NYT and the WSJ the opinion of “imminent attack”.

What we know: Biden has 1)Publicly called out Putin’s plan very early. This got the EU & NATO to close ranks and cheat Putin of the surprise factor. 2)The State Dept has been consistent, rejecting Putin’s “rollback to 1997” demands outright and underscoring again and again Ukraine’s sovereignty as the objective. 3)offered sensible proposals on US/NATO-Russia security arrangements with the goal of turning the page of Russia-West relations 4)Delivered real weapons to Ukraine but ruled out US military involvement 5)increased troop deployments in Poland & Romania 6)Got the EU & UK on board on backbreaking economic sanctions, and (contrary to reporting) essentially got Germany to promise to abandon NordStream 2 if Russia attacks.

Sum it up: Biden has balanced threat, cyberthreat, intelligence, diplomacy, defence, deterrence and retaliatory sanctions WHILE coordinating with EU allies (the kind of alliances Trump tried to hamstring).  Take this the right way, but we haven’t had this level of competence in the State Department/White House since Bush, Sr.

The wild card remains, however: Putin is batshit crazy (don’t know if you heard the post-Macron interview where he talked about Russia’s nuclear capacity and its implications for the EU, but…), so anything can happen.

Personally, if I have to listen/read another pundit doing casualty projections I’m going to punch the next short-timer journalist I meet right in the mouth.  Lots of irresponsibility for all the obvious reasons from our friends in the legacy press.

Funny story. I’m walking my oldest to his trombone lesson and I get stopped for an interview by a 20-something and a cameraman for one of the oligarch-owned, Russia-friendly news outlets here – old timey agit-prop channel.  The guy, well-spoken, says – “do you see any future for the children of Ukraine?”

Knowing the purpose of this interview (foreign guy with kid condemns Ukrainian corruption on camera for broadcast in the LNR, DNR, and RF) I play with him for a bit, finally telling him – “yes, Ukraine has a real problem”.  Now, he’s all jazzed up, and asks “can you be specific?” so I tell him: “we haven’t figured out how to get rid of all the fascist cocksuckers the Kremlin pays to shit on Ukraine’s party!”

Not sure if they’ll air that.

We’re defiant. The US has told us “Get out in the next 48 hours” but the US Embassy staff, it turns out, has not left.

I don’t want to turn my family into victims of my principles, and we truly, have no clue what’s coming, but I am confident of this – when the US State Department starts talking directly to US citizens in extreme terms “Get out! Now!”, it’s probably lying.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja Rákoš

From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 14, 2022, 10:34 AM

Greetings from ground zero.  Monday morning and empty streets. We got word that schools are going remote for two weeks but haven’t heard any specifics.  We’ll see.

Stay safe.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja Rákoš

From: Mark Slouka
Feb 14, 2022, 6:30 PM

I’m hoping that with Olaf Scholz in Moscow tomorrow, nothing will happen, though with the Russians you never know.  As you know.

Talk soon – hang in there,

Mark

From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 14, 2022, 7:12 PM

Had the same thought about Scholz. Send a prominent enough world leader to the Kremlin every other day for the next 8 or 10 years and we might just outlast the cretin.

I’ll be at the computer whenever you get free.

Iľja

From: Mark Slouka
Sat, Feb 19, 12:40 PM

Hey Il’ja:

So I don’t know what contingency plans you guys have should things go sideways (or where things stand with Anya’s emergency visa application) but I’ve talked it over with Leslie and Zack and Maya, and we want you all to know that you’re welcome to stay at our house in [redacted] for a time until you get your situation sorted out.  It’s a small, quiet town (a 15 hour drive from Kjiv), with groceries and everything else available 10 minutes away.  Additionally, I’m told that the Czech authorities are basically prepared and ready to offer aid, so conceivably a quick trip to the embassy in Prague could get you guys set up for a while.

The news lately (always to be taken with a spoonful of salt, naturally), is that the Russians have lists of journalists, dissidents, etc. who would not fare well in case an invasion were to occur – hence this letter.

Think about it, okay?

Best,

Mark

From: Iľja Rákoš
Mon, Feb 21, 11:19 AM

Hey Mark,

Sideways is the only way we know how to live; we’re more afraid of things going straight–that’d bring chaos.

We’re beyond grateful for the offer. I think this tribe would horrify you, but I’m authorized (by she who runs things) to respond with a qualified “yes”.

Qualified, because we still think the homunculus from Moscow is posturing. He’s got bigger goals than Kyiv–a city, parliament, economy–which he can control with a lesser, manageable incursion into the Donbas.

Of course, I’m the guy who trusted the episcopate to be ethical.

Should Putin attack, here’s our plan: we go west to [redacted] (about 5 hours west of Kyiv, about 4 hours from Poland). We make sure Anya’s family is set up, and then we head to CZ, via Slovakia or Poland, whichever is open for business.  Which should give you plenty of time to stock up on foie gras and Chateauneuf de Pape for our arrival.

Of course, the trains will have to be running. We’ll figure it out, and we’ll be in touch.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja

From: Iľja Rákoš
Mon, Feb 21, 3:54 PM

Another detail. Don’t know the ins and outs of this, but Anya may have trouble crossing the Polish and/or Czech border. Ukraine has “free-travel-regime” status in the EU but we’ve been warned that Poland is making noises they’ll rescind this if there’s an attack. Understandably, they don’t want a million Ukrainians showing up for Sunday brunch.

I will try to verify, but in the eventuality, would it be possible for you to issue a letter as a US citizen to say, “yes, we let this unwashed Ukrainian, passport so-and-so, stay at our place, etc. ?”

I’m calling the Prague US Embassy to check what they know. The Kyiv Embassy is gone and all the phones/pc’s have been burned. The State Department doesn’t want another situation like with the Taliban.

I’m hoping this is just excess of caution, but shit.

I’ll get back to you. Lots of rumbles. Lots of hawks with no skin in the game speculating on body counts. Mediocrities, one and all.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja

From: Mark Slouka
Feb 21, 2022, 7:30 PM

Of course I can write that, and the fact that I’m a dual citizen might help a bit.  Or not.  Also, we know a lawyer who works with immigration issues here who might have some advice – if you like, I’m happy to ask her.  Just let me know.

Did you get through to the embassy in Prague?  I’d be shocked (pleased, but shocked) if you did.  Every time we try to reach out to them we get precisely nowhere until we show up in person.

Just so you and Anya have all the necessary info., I want to make sure you know the house (foie gras notwithstanding) ain’t exactly Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice, and that [redacted] is ten minutes by car, not foot.  Don’t know if you’ll have a car.  If so, no problem.  If not, you can always grab an Uber or taxi for relatively little and do all your shopping in town.  And though the weather will be cold for a while yet, it’s a goddamn beautiful part of the world – woods, ponds, the whole shebang.

Okay, back to you,

Mark

From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 22, 2022, 10:29 AM

Happy DNR and LNR Independence Day!

Things getting weird here now that the troops have crossed the border.  All the hawks are coming out, screaming about “if Russia can ignore the Minsk deal and Budapest Article 6, so should we.” The bloodlust is insatiable.

I’m holding out hope that Putler’s sights are still set largely on the east and the south. Crimea needs Ukrainian water and he’d love to render Ukraine landlocked–all he needs to do is push across the south to Odesa, linking up with Moldova. He’s making all the “historically Russian land” arguments now, the path looks to be inevitable. Still, he’ll have a fight on his hands.

Got through to the CZ Embassy via a “special, secret number”. Friendly, helpful American voices told me: we MIGHT be able to expedite a visa for Anya; that they have official agreements with the Poles, Slovaks, Romanians and Hungarians to let Americans “in certain categories” through and have US staff at all border crossings to make sure it gets done. At the very least, I got Anya’s name on the list. Unprompted from me, the CZ Embassy guy asked for all her info. I was impressed.

Plane, train, or automobile is the question at this point.

No sweat about the house or the car / shopping issue–we walk, we bike–we’ll figure it out. Living in Ukraine makes you tough. A taste of that Czech countryside would go a long way, though.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja
 

From: Mark Slouka
Feb 22, 2022, 10:59 AM

Okay, the news re. the border crossings from the embassy guy sounds almost encouraging.  Must be that “special, secret number.”  What do you need at this point?  I can print out the letter, sign it, then scan it over (snail mail could take forever, if it even arrived).  And how about our friend the lawyer?  Should I talk to her?

If yes on the letter, I’d probably need your-all’s passport numbers, full names and some sense of what you think the letter should contain.  Then I can get it to you in hours.

Let’s hope this all stops well short of the worst, but no harm in being prepared.

M.

From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 22, 2022, 11:26 AM

Great. Scanned, signed (additional instructions below) will be enough. I have a good printer.

Don’t need the lawyer just yet. I’m figuring these forms out and, it seems, if the Embassy is under orders from Blinken to give priority to refugee families’ needs we should be okay. American Citizen Services at the Embassy has been good, in our experience.

Of the problems we can handle, (too many we can’t) it is the border crossing that most concerns me. Our experience: the level of professionalism of the Slovak, Hungarian and Pole border/customs people has always been good. The Ukrainians are awful. The Romanians – depends on phases of the moon or something. If we need the letter, it’ll be the Ukrainians we’ll need it for, and English is fine.

One cautionary note: DON’T put any info more sensitive than your address in that letter. Also, if you have a “Stamp” of any kind lying around, even the one you use to stamp “From the Library of Mark Slouka” inside your books, put that at the bottom and put a big, flourishing signature over it. Stamps impress Ukrainians. I wish I were kidding.

And again: the Prague Embassy already has Anya on their radar.

Here are the passports:

[redacted]

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja

From: Mark Slouka
Feb 22, 2022, 1:07 PM

Okay, I’m on it – heading out with Zack to a stamp place that apparently does them immediately – I’m assuming everything is to be in English, yes?  And the gist should be that I, blah blah, am offering you and yours blah, blah . . a place to stay at x, etc.  Sound about right?

And re. my information, should I put in my American and/or Czech passport number or my Czech obcansky cislo?

M.

From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 22, 2022, 1:19 PM

Don’t make a special stamp, you overachiever. But then, hey, it’ll be a good conversation starter. Make the inscription something suitably smartassy – “The Bite Me, Asswipes Foundation” – the Ukrainians won’t be able to read it and the Czechs will likely launch an investigation.

We found good direct flights. Monitoring them for now.

The text sounds right.

About the personal info. I’d do so with caution. You DON’T want your data in the Ukrainian database. I’m neckdeep in it already–too late for me.  However, if we fly, no Ukrainian will ever see the letter, only the Czech customs people and they’re likely already on to you.

Pain in the ass me suggests the following: TWO scenarios / TWO letters.

Scenario 1 – we fly *** we use Letter 1 with ALL your relevant data (we burn Letter 2).

Scenario 2 – we make a land crossing *** we use Letter 2 with ONLY your Name, address, and obcansky cislo.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja

From: Mark Slouka

Tue, Feb 22, 7:27 PM

Okay, so here they are, and to say they look cheesy is an insult to cheese.  Still, knowing the absurd value Czechs put on credentials I probably should have put in my eight grade science award (given to me out of pity).  The stamps look absurd – the best I could do.

Let me know what’s next – as you can, when you can.

Best,

Mark


From: Iľja Rákoš
Tue, Feb 22, 7:47 PM

Internet is out tonight, but cell service is still up. I’ll look at these on a big screen in the a.m. and get back at you.

I owe you.

In the good news Dept 2 things: Germany put the bureaucratic kibosh on Nordstream 2; Im hoping Uncle Sam can show some backbone soon. And, the Prague Embassy and I are having a productive exchange; already got some guidance and they promise more to come.

Thanks again.

From home to home,

Iľja


From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 23, 2022, 9:41 AM

Wonderful. Thanks to you and Leslie and the kids.

The letters are perfect, listing the degrees is a nice touch, and the stamp is classic; I hope it can be useful in the future.

Still monitoring here. We will stick it out for the time being. We can move rather quickly but before we commit we need to see how far the Moscow nedomirok is willing to go.

The pressing issue: am I required to start addressing you as Dr. Slouka?

peace, gratitude, from Kyiv,

Iľja


From: Mark Slouka
Feb 23, 2022, 11:09 AM

Dr. Slouka, Ph.D., please.

Glad you think those ridiculous letters might help.  Keep me posted if you can.

From: Mark Slouka
Thu, Feb 24, 8:59 PM

I’ve been thinking of you all day, obviously, watching events unfold that you’re in the middle of.  Reality has outstripped apprehension, to recall Melville.  Terrifying, heartbreaking . . . what can I say that you haven’t thought a thousand-fold?

My guess, trying to put myself in your position, is that the main thing now is to just hold it together – get as much sleep as possible – and seize the chance when it comes.  The house in [redacted] is there for when that time comes, and Leslie and I are driving up tomorrow just to stock up a bit and hide the key somewhere where you can find it.

I’m thinking of you, man – of all of you.  If I was a man of God, I’d pray – hell, I may try it anyway.

Hang in there,

Mark


From: Iľja Rákoš
Fri, Feb 25, 11:07 AM

Just a note.

Bombs falling in Kyiv. Ukrainians have been shooting down bombers and fighter jets with Turkish drones, and other anti-aircraft.  National Guard here is fighting like men who are protecting their families. Russians are headed for a Viet Nam experience.

Older boy is pretty spooked, younger boy is fierce. Anya’s a she-bear.

Ukrainians are a different breed, I tell ya.

Russians are hitting residential areas directly. No mistakes, re “military objects” here.

I’m up and down out of the pit, trying to write things. Sirens going off again. Better get down there.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja


From: Mark Slouka
Fri, Feb 25, 8:48 PM

Following everything we can in the news, but haven’t heard from you all day.  If you get the chance, let us know that you’re all still okay, okay?

Thinking of you guys,

M.


From: Mark Slouka
Sat, Feb 26, 11:37 AM

Just a quick note to let you know that I talked to Adam at The Millions and also to Jenny Egan, who was (or still is) president of PEN America, to see how best we could get your words out to people.  Adam’s ready to post anything you do, and Jenny’s put me through to folks at PEN who should get back to me very soon with their ideas.  Of course it’s all up to you in terms of whether and where you post – the last thing in the world I want is to put you in any more danger than you’re already in.

Hang in there, man.  More soon,

Mark


From: Iľja Rákoš
Sat, Feb 26, 6:44 PM

Jesus. What do I say?  Anya’s on me to get my ass in the chair.  Struggling mentally.

The current situation is, what’s the word?, fucked.

Scraping fresh florescent spray paint off our building walls – sabotage markings. Putin’s playing the criminal card. The mayor’s broadcasting gas mask tutorials.  The fact that the Ukrainians are fighting back seems to have pissed off the Russian brain trust.

We’re home tonight. Windows taped up, bathroom set up for sleep. These people are amazing.

I’ll write more.

peace from Kyiv,

Iľja


From: Mark Slouka
Sat, Feb 26, 7:53 PM

If you weren’t struggling mentally under this extraordinary stress and sleep deprivation, there’d be something very wrong with you.  And yet, despite it all, you’re writing some amazing posts (the video brought me to tears) which I believe could make a difference in terms of public opinion and perhaps even help counter motherfuckers like Tucker Carlson and Bannon.  I’ll do what I can – can’t promise anything, alas.

Hang on, more soon . . . and if you can, please keep writing.

Mark


From: Iľja Rákoš
Feb 26, 2022, 8:31 PM

Hey – found a way out of the city. It can’t happen till after curfew is lifted Monday, but is reliable.

Encrypting everything but will share details later.

Sirens and bombs. Hanging with neighbors in the stairwell. It’s reinforced.

is a staff writer for the Millions. An American resident of the post-Soviet space for nearly 25-years, his work has concentrated on the cultural sphere of Eastern Europe, appearing in Russian and Ukrainian at cultprostir.ua and LB.ua. He is the author of an essay collection in Ukrainian, Os' Khristianska Vira. Kyiv is home.

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