Of Massacres and History

***trigger warning***

Early Sunday morning, branches of trees barely visible in the grey dawn light. I check my phone for the time. There’s a tender text from S, with words like ‘sad’ and ‘hell ’ and ‘sending love.’ Woozy from a restless night, I think perhaps it is a text from the beginning of the war. I think, maybe it has somehow slipped out of its queue. (Reader, I had not yet had my coffee). Then I thought: Oh no, Kyiv’s been taken. I step onto the porch and snatch the rolled-up paper. Russian Retreat Leaves Kyiv Quiet. All good. I go to the kitchen to make the, by now, desperately needed coffee.

And then the day unfolds, a bloodied sheet of newsprint, with its news. 

Bucha. Hostomel. Irpin.

The raped bodies of women. A man shot in the head, still on his bicycle. Hundreds of bodies. Hunger. Unimaginable trauma, generations of PTSD to come.

This is not history. This is now. 

I’ve been reading Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, Marsha Gessen’s stunning reportage of Pussy Riot’s trial and imprisonment in the post-Soviet gulag. The book also reveals, via Nadezhda Tolokonikova‘s and Maria Alyokhina’s courageous writing and activism, the systematic carcereal abuse of thousands of Russian citizens in its slave labour camps. This is not history. It did not stop with Pussy Riot’s release. This is now.

And this is history, too. I grew up with these stories. Slavery. Hard labour. Mass graves. Famine. As with any war-torn people, we are looped back into a repetitious scratchy newsreel of stiff, starved bodies on streets and fields.

I keep seeing the gaunt face of a man on a stretcher, carried out of the rubble of Mariupol last week. He asks a reporter if he can have an apple. Was that last week or last century? My father, my uncle. This is not now. This is history.

We have known about Russia’s brutality and authoritarianism for a long time. We have known about Donbas and Crimea for eight years. There were mass graves and rapes there, too. To paraphrase theorist and lifelong pacifist Ursula Franklin, who, recalling the Holocaust, asked: how much information do we really need before we act?

And thus the mind tries to sort, to rationalize, to fragment, to dissociate, to decide what is real and what isn’t. Perhaps these are just words and things that slipped out of the grasp of time.

There is no now. There is no history. They have collided, they are one and the same.

Bucha. Hostomel. Irpin.