On Escaping Mariupol

An attempt to respond to the news from Ukraine in March 2022, published in Topical Poetry.

No, they say, it’s not true—
we haven’t been heroes.

The soldiers who stood
our ground have been

shot, their backs to the sea.
Our mission was this: to live

from morning to evening
and back. To cook in the streets,

not to fight. We lived
in the basement, we tried

three times to escape.
We still have a long way to go.

I feel like a stone. I don’t
have the strength now to share

and nor did my neighbours,
our faces too real for glory.

About the Poem

This is a response to hearing survivors from Mariupol talk about their experiences on Channel 4 news in March 2022. One woman said she had heard president Zelenskyy describe her city as heroic and didn’t feel that was true. ‘War’, she said, ‘shows your real face’; what she had seen and experienced was people not sharing or supporting each other. A man talked of his trauma, of frozen emotions, of not being able to make sense of what it had taken to survive.

I think it is important to be cautious with discourses of heroism and resistance, especially from a safe distance. I worry about what they do to those who are trying to survive in the midst of violence and impossible choices.

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