STORIES | “How can you live without a cat?” I laugh that I don’t know how, and promise to send photos of my cats in exchange. I etch their smiles into my memory disk, and drink the – now lukewarm – cappuccino that they brought from the kitchen despite my protests. Gratitude, on both sides. And swinging bit by bit through the unknowns of Austrian institutions. The microcosm is bubbling with life; helpless exhaustion doesn’t have a chance here.
Arrival centre an summer outside. In the hall, scouts are building games for kids (and this includes lots of wood and painting with your feet while sitting on a swing), kitchen people keep up a steady supply of fuel, translators are registering people for emergency housing and regional distribution, or exchanging infos in conversations that just flow. Ukrainians are resting or problem-solving.
O. has two little kids, 2-year old twins. They had to flee their house close to Boryspil Airport in Kiev, shells, air raid sirens, and the little ones who were tugging their mother down into their basement in the middle of the night (understandable). If the twins were tricky troublemakers before, now O. and her sleep have it even harder. “They wake up 3-4 times per night”, she tells me standing between the kitchen and waiting area. “The docter said this is normal, it’s because of the war, they have to get over it”. Like everyone else she expects more, more guidance than that. It’s the conversations in between mindful, quiet questions about basic needs and rummaging around the shelves to find the right size of diapers. A coordinator hands me two more products on top, cause you can always need that for a baby, and this is how she did it with her own kid. Smiles. Hand on heart. O.’s pale-pink T-shirt with a quote on ‘kindness’. While I write this, part of me feels feels ashamed and I remember the words of the psychotherapist: the shame you feel doesn’t just come come from yourself. No one should have to be ashamed to ask for diapers. No one.
V. lost his bag with all his documents. He lived all over the place. We agree that we both love St. Petersburg, the war cannot change our attitude to a city.
I. & L. are struggling to get into a German class. One of them has a cat (which had to stay in Germany), the other brings cappuccino. Phonecalls, I want to understand. Plans of action, and numbers exchanged.
The Ukrainian-Russian volunteer grown up closeby, the invisible bonds that bring life trajectories a bit closer together. The guy from Chechnya – “I come from a war, I know how it is.” “If you can help, then you want to help.” Even though it might not be our job anymore.
The young women in a light-blue cap who just arrived and wants to volunteer. In the end, I observe her play with the kids, and I remember the importance of asking. Of going out there. Of doing what you love. And not wasting a second to do that. And I remember the big respect I have to everyone here.
The children’s drawings. I fix my eyes on them every time I walk by.
The sunny frenzy.
In the right place. At the right time.