Kharkiv in the Dark: A Story of Pre-Invasion Times

I unlock the gate, and the wind slams it shut. I'm already regretting leaving my flat. But I need to get something to eat. No street lights and the road is a mixture of mud, snow, ice, and slippery asphalt. I look up at my building and see a few lights on, the more intelligent people staying home. Torn cardboard boxes are flying everywhere. An empty tram races by through the mixture of snow and mud. A few people in the distance running home while holding tight to their umbrellas. Is it raining? It should be. Miserable and depressed, I imagine this is what it will look like when the Russians invade.

I had a dream the other night of walking alone down this avenue, Pavlova Akademika, at 4 AM. All around me, darkness and in the distance, I could hear hundreds of people chanting. I heard them coming closer and closer, and somehow I knew it wasn't safe for me. I looked left and right for a suitable bush or hole to crawl into and hide away. At the same time, I found myself criticizing myself. "Fight! Fight the fuckers! Don't hide! Throw everything at them!". I keep looking down the avenue to my right, hearing the chants, knowing they're coming closer.

To my left in the distance, a car flashes its headlights at me, telling me it's slowing down so I can cross. Slowing down, not stopping. A gesture that I've learned to appreciate in fucking Kharkiv, where people drive fast. Where people buy their licenses.

I head to the supermarket by the lit-up but quiet metro station. The metro doors that swing during the day as people enter and exit are now a few glass doors to nowhere. For a moment, the homeless spending their night in the warmth of the Metro down there crosses my mind.

In the supermarket, the smell is unpleasant. There are a few people, which makes me feel less lonely in this pre-apocalyptic world. I head for the biscuit section and yogurt section and then for the juice section. I won't eat real food tonight. Instead, I'm going to snack this one out. Time to pay, and before me is a Chinese guy speaking Russian. Heavy Chinese accent, but it's Russian, and I find myself well impressed. The cashier seems unfazed. My turn, the infamous repetitive line "Paket? Kard?" and my monotonous response, "Da, Paketa, Kard." Got two of these words right, but she understands me. She scans a plastic bag and turns the credit card terminal to me. "Spasiba. Paka," and I'm out of there, back in the windy, depressing darkness. My boots are tied tight as I watch my steps on the icy asphalt. Is this how it will be when the Russians invade?

From where will they come? From where I heard the chants or the car flash its headlights at me? Or from above? Or from everywhere? North, East, South, and above? What will be of all this? The buildings, the streets, the empty tram, the Russian-speaking Chinese man? The grumpy cashier, babushka? What would she think of my dream? Would I share it with her if I knew her language? What about the lights? Will they still burn at night? Will the slippery ice still matter? Will it keep on melting, or will the seasons stop being? Will it stay winter? The Russian tanks can come from the East as long as it's winter. Will they come from the East? But the North is closer! I stand there looking around me, feeling like I'm all there is now. Me and fucking Kharkiv. At this moment, I am fucking Kharkiv.

A woman's laughter in the distance by my company's building. A man holding her tight, kissing her neck. I walk up to the entrance and stare at the guard, who stares back at me but isn't threatened. What is he thinking? Does he know what I'm thinking? 'Fucking Kharkiv'? 'Fucking Russia'? 'Who's the weirdo?' 'Why do I get all the weirdos?' I smirk at the idea that I've never entered this building. That they don't even know that I'm here. That they think I'm in Israel, working from my living room. But I'm here, right here, and the Russians will invade. And only I know that when it happens, I don't plan to leave.

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