Courage:  five letters from Ukraine


Photos used with permission.

PLEASE NOTE: The following are letters of a young man’s rise from struggle to strength while living in the hardest hit city in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We’ve left only brief descriptions from his letters of the destruction as the writer was originally writing to a friend with whom he was sharing, in private, his deepest feelings under very difficult circumstances.  Later, he generously gave us his permission to share these excerpts. We have not used his real name but have signed his letters, Courage. Throughout all history, it is not violence, but a spirit that refuses to be destroyed, that is the real story of mankind. 



    “I had to return.” 

Letter 1  from his own city. July 27, 2014

DAY and night our city is fired on by rocket launchers, mortars and other heavy weapons. In the past 3 weeks, the longest period without shelling [bombs] lasted no more than 4 hours. It's almost three in the morning now. About half an hour ago a full load of rockets rained down on us. It takes only four seconds to fire about 30 missiles. From the sounds of the guns we have learned to tell what kind are being fired, their position, purpose and where they will hit. I did not think I would ever own such a skill. We are now used to how the walls shake and tremble, and the tinkling [high sound of shaking glass] of the windows and the kitchen utensils.  It seems that you are able to adapt to any situation.

     A few days ago, the last chance to enter or exit the city was lost, as all stations have stopped operating [working].  There are constant problems with electricity, water and gas. Private transportation is now forbidden and there is a curfew [you must be inside at a certain time]. The stores are all closed. The central market works sometimes, but not more than 3 hours and then there are no more than 20 people about. The worst of all this, is that you begin to feel that no one can be trusted. You no longer know who is who. I am sorry I can’t have friendly contacts with my neighbors. Now I do not know who they are and what they have in mind because we are living without any kind of law. All my friends left and almost all my relatives too. I have only one friend left in the city and those of my relatives who cannot, or do not want to, leave.  At one point I did leave, but I returned. I could not be in another city as long as my parents remain here. I had to return.  —Courage

We lost contact with Courage for almost 6 weeks before word came again from him.

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Letter 2  from a neighboring city.  September 12, 2014
FOR more than a month we have had absolutely no power or electricity in the city: no light, no water, no communication. But this is not as hard as having no work. And if there is none, then where to get the money to live? I’m afraid that if the situation does not change, by November we will begin to starve [go hungry].

     I am now in the city of -- briefly to buy food and hurry back to -- again. Here they are also fighting, but there is light and phone connections. [Courage sends his letters to us by e-mail from his phone.]  Now we have a truce [agreement to stop fighting] but there is still the constant sound of shooting. My grandmother, who lived through the famine [time of no food] in Ukraine and lived through World War II, said that even then they did not fire so much as now. Our central market was almost completely burned to the ground. If you take my house for a center and draw a circle of 200 meters [about 2 football fields], within these limits there have fallen about 130 shells [bombs]. At the same time, they say that my area is hardly affected. In other parts of the city things are worse.  Soon my phone battery will run out. It’s time to finish the letter. I hope to write again soon. —Courage  


Letter 3  from his own city.  September 13, 2014

WE have connection again in the city. I can write more normally now. It has been 5 days since the cease-fire [agreement to stop fighting].  There is no sign of repairs starting and we still have no light, water, or work.  But we rejoice [we are very glad] that at least the shooting has stopped.  Can you imagine, the first of September two schools actually opened. How children can go to school during a time of war I don’t know.  How are you?  Are you well?  —Courage


     “I do not want this time to have been spent in vain.”

Letter 4  from his own city.  September 15, 2014

THERE is a certain clear sense in the saying, You cannot run away from fate [a future that some think is planned for you by things not in your control].”  To put it in religious terms, if you have faith, can you at the same time shake with fear at even this madness? That is, I mean a literal understanding of trusting yourself to God. I do not presume [think I am able] to convince anyone of this, but with this thought I’ve begun to live. 

I’ve even begun to put to good use this extreme situation. There is now endless time for reading and there is much time for reflection [thinking to yourself] on your place and portion [part] in this world. I’ve read many books:  Fielding, Bulgakov, H.G. Wells, Roman Shmarakov, Chekhov, Mikhail Saltykov-ShchedrinMontaigne, Alexandre Dumas, Alla Dovlatova, Plutarch, SchopenhauerBerdyaevShakespeare, etc.  I do not want this time to have been spent in vain [to be wasted]I tried to practice algebra, but abandoned [left] this.

     I have learned something from every stone in the yard, from every object in the house. In the hallway I have practically [almost] made a home library. This room reminds me of C.S. Lewis, The Wood between the Worlds. [The Wood between the Worlds is a forest that links different worlds in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.]  I sleep until I am able to again plunge [fall] into a new world—that is, into a new book.  It is already September.  Summer has come to an end.  Tell me what you are doing.  I want to hear what you are occupied with.  Are you well?  —Courage

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Letter 5  from his own city.  September 16, 2014

TODAY I went to work at the library. We are starting to collect the rubble and trash. On the third floor of the library it is a nightmare: everything is destroyed.  But never mind, we will restore everything with time.  As we were working a reader arrived.  Amazing.   —Courage

P.S.-   October 1, 2014

YESTERDAY they turned on the lights! It is simply, simply fantastic! As it turns out, a person can rejoice greatly in a light bulb! 


 ©preInterestEng. July 2013  §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff or used with permission.  §  To contact us: