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The Flame of Hope: Dispatches from Ukraine


Millions staff writer Il’ja Rákoš and his family live in Kyiv, Ukraine. What follows are his Facebook posts from the ongoing Russian invasion, many of them written from a bomb shelter, reposted with his permission and the assistance of his friend Mark Slouka.
So, I’ve lost track. I know if I scroll back to the home screen on this phone I’ll see what day it is but right now it’s too much trouble.
Earlier, an old man in a grocery store (shelves are full in this part of the country) chirps at his wife that if she doesn’t get moving they’ll be late for mass.
So, I knew it was Saturday, but by the time I got home, loaded with the vegetables for borscht, the veal ribs, a Drohobytska kovbasa, and a kilogram of oatmeal (here’s a chance to learn some Ukrainian {I’ll write it in English} *borsch ta kasha yizha nasha*) and an anniversary chocolate bar for Anya (big spender me) (and, if you weren’t aware, Ukrainian chocolate is as sumptuous, more so, as anything you’ll find in western Europe)…but by the time I got home to cook, I’d forgotten again. Friday? Sunday?
Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m not tracking real well. We’re trying to help friends traveling from Kyiv with lodging before they head for the border. Trying not to think about money. Caught a bad chill in the train station and when I get hit by a coughing fit folks nearby clear out. Trying not to think about my lungs. I boiled some chickpeas the morning of the day we left Kyiv. Was going to make hummus. I put them in the fridge to cool. That’s how many days? Four?
It’s easier to shop for borsch ingredients, easier to regret the waste of perfectly good chickpeas, than to think about vacuum bombs, burned villages, a million refugees in a week, and a war led by a certifiable asshat.
I have a friend, Roman. He’s a tall drink of water with a thick mop of black hair shot with silver. He’s from Kherson in the south, a sleepy midsized city at the heart of Ukraine’s agricultural wealth. The grapes, the melons, the peaches, the wine. Think San Joaquin Valley + Wine Country California without the mountains or the traffic. This kid from Kherson makes movies. In fact, we shot a movie there in October.
I say “we”. Because, for all his genius, despite the bright blue flame of vision that makes his work shine, Roman keeps casting me in his films. This is the second one I’ve done with him. And I’m starting to detect a pattern.
In each film I’ve played a stuffed shirt. A blowhard, know-it-all, western world dilettante carpetbagger. In the first I’m an EU bureaucrat/misanthrope. In the latest film, let’s just say that I know something about snake oil. Can’t say more, the film’s still in post-production. (Look at me with all the movie lingo.)
Roma makes movies that depict an everyday absurdity that, regardless how far removed it is from your reality, will claw at your heart. Of people looking to make something of value, some contribution to the progression of the species, and who are attempting it in a place where the flame of hope is sputtering but hasn’t yet gone out. Not quite. Not today.
Roma’s creative team consists of his mom and his wife, Darya. I can’t find the words to describe how delighted I am that these people are my friends. Still, the next time Roman casts me as a jackass I’m just going to ask him straight out if he shares my affection.
These last two days the Russian assault on Kherson has been relentless and Roma’s city is finally overrun.
Love you, Roman. Like Kyiv, like Kharkiv, like Chernihiv, Kherson Abides.
You out there reading and wondering, I’m okay, just tired. My friends, these beautiful, smart, talented, kind people are hurting.
Do this: watch Roma’s film “Volcano“. (Ignore the chubby guy in the first scene. He’s dropped a lot of weight since then.) Watch the film. Meet the twisting path that is my friend Roman, and put some hope in your heart.
Peace  from western Ukraine.
Saturday. Gotta be. I need to sleep.

See Also:Slava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part OneSlava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part TwoSlava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part ThreeSlava Ukraini! Dispatches from Kyiv: Part FourGo Home While You Can Still Draw Breath: Dispatches from Ukraine

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