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The Lights of the Donbas

the lights of the Donbas flare up
like a hastily wrapped robe amid the drafts of deportation

they called that an “evacuation”
abandoning them in the border region

poisonous sources of propaganda, bright as wolfsbane, look, they bought up
another Luhansk Telegram channel
jailed the people running it
just yesterday you sent some stuff criticizing the government of the “republics.” what’s next for
          human history? words in scare quotes like wrongfully convicted
                                        words in handcuffs.


that happened
several centuries ago, but it all started much earlier. at first
there weren’t any words, then we filled up Africa

where we all once lived and burgeoned across continents like living campfires of movable rhizomes and jungles,
started keeping a tally of murders
and painting blood with ochre
mingling with them, we outlived other varieties of hominids—like the last branch on a tree, flung
          against the window of a chemistry classroom
with no notion of who would be the next dominant species
sent machines into space
but stayed down here so we could keep destroying the planet

though we still haven’t found a way to keep people in our own city from digging through
          garbage in search of something useful, or sleeping outside

the agenda for the day and the agenda for a night of news from the occupied territories
and a summons for military duty delivered to a house where nobody lives but a mother
Crimean Tatars detained once more on that desiccated peninsula
the editor corrects my automatic attempts to write “Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics”

“what, have we already recognized them?” he asks

we haven’t—but he has

or when I write “ORDLO” referring to “certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”

the editor thinks that abbreviations are dehumanizing
for now, that’s what politicians call them
for now, media people say that
soldiers say something else, but they have their own language. what's all this for?
what muscle are they trying to contract into an acronym? what heart
do the words possess from end to end
with forceful meaning?

all that is somewhat in the past, today he recognized
their alleged independence

then he officially ordered his troops into the unrecognized territory

no more bashful “werenotthere”
now it’s just “hereweare”
and we will liberate you from yourselves
legally speaking

what if she says “stop!” but he
doesn’t stop?

what’s the right thing to call women and Roma? just don’t touch them for a start

wait a minute, there are topics that are hard to talk about—it’s like it’s always too soon [for some people, gender-neutral language is one]:

these topics have to do with authoritarian regimes and their citizens and they have to do with accusing them of being unable to replace their unfreedom with something else, or replace their dictator like a rotten lock on their door, but it’s not as if those wounds are still too fresh, no, you can see the knife incising like the Nord Stream 2

across their gaze, under their skin, it lets the blood run
like the kids on the playground outside their apartment building who don’t come back home—
something struck them: abandonment, solitude, or maybe a shell

they snatched kids right off the street, threw them in a car and took them off to the Rostov
          region, tempting them with candies fired from a Kalashnikov

those people who say “thank you, Russia” into the camera “for bringing us here and feeding us”
          while they’re sleeping in buses, lulled by sirens

if you run into them at the store, what are you supposed to say to them? if you meet them someday?well, I hope for their safe return

whatever their views might be
but I doubt I could go see them
and come back

when I’ve been writing about the people tortured in Russian prisons, torture that runs like a
          conveyer belt,
they don’t know, they don’t know about it, they read the wrong Telegram channels, watch the
          wrong TV stations
not that there’s a station that would speak to them in their language
and I don’t mean a language you can pick up and learn
or reject, or forget
when I write that nobody is speaking to them in their language

“Dom”1 can’t be the channel

or do they really think the other government sees any real difference between them and the
          people they plant half a gram on down in the metro?

or when they impose sentences for having anarchist views
like it’s an aggravated offense?

all those political topics, headlines on Mediazona, terms, speaking directly or indirectly, reading
          something or someone, running your eyes over the notice on every journalist’s post marking them as a “foreign agent”

picking yourself up after half a night of insomnia once again to understand it but not master it,

that’s how it will always be, until

then there’s the war
that flabby, shriveled, animal word “war”

how much more do I have to write about it? what will it grow into and will it ever reach the age
of legal majority?

1. Dim/Dom (“home”) is a Ukrainian Russian-language state television channel created in 2020 with the goal of airing broadcasts for residents of the occupied territories. Over the course of Zelensky’s time in office, however, the government began to transform it into his own propaganda tool to influence audiences in free Ukraine. Update, March 2022: please note that I and many other Ukrainians understand that this is not the right time to be too critical toward Zelensky, as we all are attempting to survive.

© Danyil Zadorozhnyi. Translation © 2022 by Yuliya Charnyshova and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler. All rights reserved.

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