All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The Things We Lost
I am about to graduate from highschool and this piece was for an English class.
I made sure to not make a sound. I could feel my joints aching as I tried to stay in my small hiding spot. My heart was pounding, feeling as if it were about to explode. I could not move from this spot. If I did, they would surely find me. I waited for what felt like hours when I heard footsteps approaching the small closet I was hiding in. I thought to myself, they had finally found me. There was nothing I could do. As I came to terms with my fate, I heard the handle rattle, and the door slowly creaked open. My sister Olena was standing there, I huge grin on her face as she began to yell “I found you, I found you! You lose, you lose!” I clambered out of the closet and felt a sudden relief wash through my body. “It took you long enough,” I said to Olena as she was dancing around in excitement. “My joints felt like they were about to break!” I said to her. We made our way downstairs, as the sour aroma of our mother’s borscht soup filled the house. “It is getting late girls, eat your soup, clean up, and go to bed,” our mother said. She had been more strict recently. Our curfew had been changed too much earlier, she never let us out of her sight, and the tone of her voice became very harsh. We hastily ate our soup, cleaned, and went upstairs to bed. As I lay in my bed, I could not shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen. I heard over the radio that tensions between Russia and Ukraine but I thought nothing of it. I knew our country would hold against any attacker. My thoughts were interrupted when I heard two voices yelling. I tiptoed out of my bed and made my way down the hall to my parent's bedroom. I crouched down and peered through the keyhole in their door. My parents were arguing. I cupped my ear to the door. “Dasha, we need to look at the signs. It is 1964, and Russia is bound to attack us. They have been waiting for years. Zelensky says that we must be prepared for the worst,” my father said. “Antin, we cannot leave. We have very little money and no way of fleeing the country,” my mother replied. Very faintly, I heard my father say “Zelensky says the attack could come as early as tomorrow. When it does, no one will be safe. Men, women, children, they will all perish. We must get the girls and leave first thing in the morning. That is final.” My mother let out a sigh and turned the light out. I slowly walked back to my room. Thoughts racing through my mind. As I entered our room I heard Olena sit up. “Daniela, are we going to be ok?” she asked. I knew in my heart that we were not but I feebly said to her “Mama and Papa will keep us safe. We must get some rest. We will be fine.” Olena softly laid back down as I climbed back into my bed. I did not know if we were going to be okay. I did not know when the attack was going to come. All I could do was try to get some sleep.
I felt two hands press against my shoulders. I jolted up immediately, seeing my father's face. He looked frantic. “Daniela, get your things. We must leave at once” he said as I hastily stumbled out of bed. I packed light, only taking the things I need. I helped Olena get her things and both of us went downstairs. “Girls, put your things in the car. It is time to leave,” our mother said. “What about school? What about all of my friends?” Olena asked. “We will see them when we return. We will only be gone for a little while, my dear.” My mother replied. I knew deep down that we may never come back. I knew that Olena may never see her friends ever again but I chose to stay silent. We piled into the car and drove off. Our father said that since we left early, we may be able to beat traffic leaving our town. As we made our way through Bucha, I noticed the sky was darker than usual, and the large clouds loomed ominously overhead. I felt something was wrong but I could not figure out what. “Mother, where are we going?” I asked. “We will be driving to your uncle’s house in Kalynivka. Somewhere safe,” she replied. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we were going to be safe. As I looked out the window, watching the telephone wires zip by and the sky darkening, even more, all I could hope for was that I would pinch myself and I would wake up from this nightmare, safe in my bed.
Getting out of Bucha was going to be tough. We started slowing down as we reached the outskirts of town. Traffic became unbearable. “Papa, I thought we left early so that we would miss the traffic,” Olena said. “Everyone must have had the same idea as us” my father replied. We were in the back of the traffic, going nowhere. That's when I heard it. A low buzzing sound came from the distance, getting closer and closer to the pile of cars. “Papa, what is that noise?” I asked. “I am not sure, but it cannot be good,” he replied. A few more minutes passed and the buzzing moved right on top of us. I looked through my window and saw a fleet of white planes, all in a perfect row. Their propellors ripped through the clouds as they flew overhead. All of them dropped something. I couldn’t make out what but all I could hear was a whistling sound. “Everybody down! Girls cover your heads!” my father yelled. I didn’t know what was going on but I got down as fast as I could with my arms covering my head. That was when the first one hit. It felt like our car had been hit by a bulldozer. My bones rattled within my body, and my heart was pounding in my chest. I opened my eyes to the destruction around me. Some cars were on fire, others flipped upside down, and some were even on top of each other. “Is everyone ok?” my father asked. Thankfully, we were too far out in traffic so our car was only hit by the shockwave. Others were not so lucky. Men, women, and children lay in the streets. I heard their cries for help as their bodies were incinerated by the flames. One man had his torso ripped off completely. His face was stuck open in a scream and I knew he must be dead. “Shut your eyes girls.” My father said. As I closed my eyes, the realization hit me. The bad feeling I had. It was that the invasion was coming. This was the beginning of the invasion. The Russians were coming. War was coming.
The planes had moved past where we were. My mother and father were trying to figure out what we would do next. “We should see if the car will work. We can try and just make our way back towards the city” my father said. “Antin, even if we can go back, the Russian soldiers will have already been deployed. Death will find us if we try and go back.” my mother replied. “If we can make it back, I have a friend who made a bunker in case something bad happens. He will let us in and keep us safe.” my father said. I did not want to go back. I knew that we were not going to be safe. However, I also knew we had nowhere to go. The bomb created too much of a traffic jam in front of us so we could not get around it to flee. There were only a few cars behind us so if we wanted to go back, we could. Luckily, our car was not too badly damaged by the shockwave and after some time, my father was able to get it up and running. Olena and I clambered into the backseats as we began driving back to the city. As we drove back into the city, I kept my head down. All around me, buildings were on fire, houses turned to rubble, and cars withered down to just their shells. Over the radio, I heard Zelensky saying that “We have been left alone to defend our state. Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don’t see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership.” That’s when I knew that no one would help us. Ukraine was left alone to defend itself. My father was outraged, “how could they just sit and watch our whole country fall? How could someone, anyone, justify not helping innocent people from being killed? NATO is full of sh*t. They are not a form of peace. Just a U.S. imperial force to make sure that all those big countries will be safe.” he said angrily. My mother tried to reassure him. “Antin, help will come. The world will see what Russia is doing and come to our aid. We will have support and we will win this war. Help will come.” My mother said. “Putin is already sending his tanks in. Zelensky thinks the number of troops he will send will reach over 150,000. I’ve called my friend Boyko. We will be safe in his bunker. No one is coming to help us. Ukraine will be lost,” he said. I felt my heart sink. Ukraine is the place I call home. My friends, my family, everything I remembered. All burning to the ground and I could do nothing.
Bucha was a ghost town. A once-bustling and beautiful city turned to rubble. Everyone was either hiding from the Russians or trying to flee. We drove through the empty streets, all of us sitting in silence. I could feel the pain within the car. My parents grew up in Bucha. To them, this place was their life. Everything they had, everything they worked so hard for was made here. My father cursed under his breath. I knew he hated the idea of not being able to do anything but his number one priority was keeping his family safe. After some time, we had made it to Boyko’s house. It was not much. The roof was caving in at parts and the front garden looked like it had been untouched for years. Either way, it was nice to know that we would be safe. My father told us to wait in the car. I watch nervously as he made his way to the front door. I heard him knock and the door opened. A large man appeared. He was broad-shouldered with a bushy beard. He towered over my father. They talked for a little bit and then I saw them embrace. My father motioned for us to get out of the car. We walked over to where they were standing and my father introduced us. “Boyko, this is my wife Dasha, My eldest daughter Daniela, and my youngest daughter Olena,” he said. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” Boyko said. His voice was very deep. “Follow me. I will help you get set up in the bunker,” he said as he made his way into the house. We unloaded the car and moved all of our things into the backyard. Boyko lifted a patch of grass to reveal a large metal door laid down on the ground. He heaved it open to reveal a set of steps leading down to another door. Boyko opened the door to a large room filled with furniture, a small table that would barely fit all of us, a few rooms, and a living space with a couch. Boyko motioned for me and Olena to come forward. “Girls, this will be your room,” he said. “Antin and Dasha, your room is over to the right. I will be taking the room closest to the door.” Olena and I walked into our room. There were two small beds, each with a set of matching pillows and blankets. In between, there was a small dresser with a lamp on top. Although it was not much, I was happy I would get a good night's sleep. Olena and I set our things down and got cleaned up for dinner. Boyko made a beef stew that had small bits of carrots and celery mixed in. He wasn’t much of a cook but warm food was always nice. We sat down and the silence was uneasy. You could almost feel the tension in the room. “The Russians have fully invaded Kharkiv. They will move fast into Bucha. I give it maybe one to two days before the city is fully taken over.” Boyko said. “I do not want war talk at the table, Boyko. I do not want to frighten my children.” my father replied. “Antin, they are a part of this war now. They may even have to pick up arms and start defending their home. They deserve to know what is going on.” Boyko replied. I began to worry. I do not know how to shoot a gun, let alone be able to take someone’s life I thought to myself. “Antin, it would be best if we started to teach them how to defend themselves. They will need to know. Trust me, it would be better for them if they knew.” Boyko said. “You do not know what is best for my daughters or my family. I appreciate your hospitality, Boyko but you will not tell me what to do with my children,” my father replied. With that, my father abruptly stood up and cleared his plate. “Thank you for the food, I will be going to sleep. Girls I suggest you do the same,” my father said in a harsh tone. “I apologize for my husband’s behavior. He is very scared of all of this,” said my mother as she got up. “Girls finish up and go to bed, I will take care of your father.” Olena and I were left alone at the table with Boyko. We both ate fairly quickly and helped him clean up. After we finished, Boyko motioned for us to follow him into the living room. He pulled a box off of a shelf. Inside were two identical pistols, each with a magazine and several bullets. “Your father would have my neck for showing you these but I think you must know how to use one of these if the time came,” said Boyko as he pulled them out of the case. He handed one to me and Olena and began to teach us how to use them. “These are the most simplistic pistols money can buy. That small switch near the trigger, is your safety. Make sure it is always on until you are ready to shoot your gun,” Boyko said. I noticed the small switch and showed Olena who had a confused look on her face. “When you are ready to shoot your gun, load the bullets into the magazine, put the magazine in the gun, turn off the safety, cock back the slide and pull the trigger. These weapons are semi-automatic which means once you pull the slide, all you must do is keep pulling the trigger.” he explained. The guns were a little heavy but I understood how to use them. “Put them back in the box. It’s off to bed for both of you.” Boyko said. I put on my nightgown and crawled into my bed. I was glad I knew how to defend myself, I just prayed I never have to take someone’s life to do so.
“They have already started marching into Bucha,” I heard Boyko say. “In a few hours, the fighting will begin. I do not know how many soldiers there will be but I do not like our odds in this fight,” he said. Boyko took my father to a small room in the back of the bunker. Inside there was an assortment of guns, ammunition, and grenades. “This should get us through the fight, Antin. I cannot say if we will come out of it alive but these should help,” I heard Boyko say. I was worried about my father. I did not want him to risk his life to save his country but I knew there was no way he would listen to me. “We will leave in a few hours and head into town. My friend Kristyan and his wife Natalka have assembled a group of fighters. We will join them and kill as many of those Russian bastards as we can,” Boyko said as he took the guns off the rack. I walked over to Olena who was sitting on her bed. “Will papa be ok?” she asked. “Papa is a strong man, he will come back to us. Boyko will keep him safe, I promise.” I replied. I knew I shouldn’t have made a promise to her but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that this may be the last time we see our father. As time ticked by, all I could do was worry about my father. A couple of hours had passed and my father and Boyko began getting ready to leave. They loaded their guns, got their extra ammo, and made sure they have enough grenades. Through heavy tears, I saw my mother say goodbye to my father. “Please come home to me.” She said. My father did not even look at us as he said goodbye. He just waved as he made his way up the stairs. I feared that was the last time I would see him.
Three days had passed since my father and Boyko had left the bunker. I had not heard from them since. All I could do was listen to the radio. Hoping for some good news. None came. I heard over the radio, Zelensky was talking of the war crimes the Russians created. “Victims of these war crimes had already been found, including raped women who they tried to burn, local government officials killed, children killed, elderly people killed, men killed, many of them with tied hands, traces of torture and being shot in the head.” I feared for my life and my fathers. I couldn’t stop worrying about him. My mother was frantic and Olena hadn’t spoken since my father had left. I did not know what to do. As I waited and waited, I heard the door creak open. It was Boyko. He was covered in blood. His arms were all cut up, and he had a bandage around his leg that was stained red. “Daniela, Olena, come help me get him!” my mother said as she dragged Boyko inside. All three of us managed to get him up and lay him on the small table. “They overran us near the town square. There were too many of them,” Boyko said as we cleaned his wounds off. I noticed a small hole in his leg where a bullet must’ve gone. A saddened look befell Boyko’s face as he turned to my mother. “I lost Antin. I could not keep him safe. They told him to drop his weapon and he complied. They shot him in the head on the spot, Dasha. They killed him in surrender. I could do nothing but watch. I am sorry.” He said through small tears. I did not believe him. My father was a strong man. He could not die. “You’re lying. You’re lying. He is alive. You promised you would protect him.” I said as I pounded on Boyko’s chest. “You told us no harm would come to him. You promised.” I said as tears rolled down my cheek. I knew it wasn’t Boyko’s fault but I couldn’t control myself. Boyko looked at me with his eyes wide. “I am so sorry, Daniela. I am so sorry I could not protect him. I am so sorry I let him go. I hope one day you will forgive me-” he was cut off by my mother. “Daniela, leave him be. It is not your fault, Boyko. I know you did everything you could to keep him safe. Antin knew what he signed up for. He knew the consequences.”
My mother had not slept for two days. She had not spoken other than when she told me and Olena to eat or go to sleep. Boyko had started recovering from his injuries but he too did not speak much either. It was very quiet in the bunker. We would hear the occasional gunshot or bomb explosion and I knew things were going to get worse. Each gunshot I heard made me think of him. I could not stop thinking of my father. I wondered what was going through his head before he was shot. His last thoughts before he would never be able to open his eyes in the morning or hug his children goodnight. Tears formed in my eyes as I thought about it more and more. I wished he gave me and Olena a proper goodbye. “I can’t stop thinking about him either,” Boyko said as he entered my room. “His last request to me before he died was to tell you and Olena that he wishes he could have been a better father to you. He wishes he could grow up to see you go to college, get married, and be a grandfather,” he said. “Bucha will be overrun soon by Russians. We will need to leave soon. I have spoken to your mother and she thinks we should leave by tomorrow morning. Pack your things soon,” he said as he left the room. I wanted to leave the bunker as fast as I could. It was the last place I had seen my father alive. My mother walked into my room to help me pack. “Why do you not cry, mama?” I asked. “I pray all the time, but I do not have the right to cry. People out there have lost much more than I. I still have you and Olena. I am safe in this bunker. I lost the man I love but I know he died protecting something that he loved. If I shed a tear it will not be in grief that he is gone but rather in pride of knowing what he sacrificed,” she said as she folded my clothes. “I do not understand. How can you love someone so much but not shed tears when they die?” I asked. “I have to be strong for his sake and yours. I cannot be crying right now when it is up to me to protect my family. When all of this is over, then I will have time to cry,” she replied. “You will understand one day, Daniela. It will take time but you will.”
The next morning came like a blur. Boyko put all of our things into his car, early enough in the morning to not be seen by any Russian soldiers. We ate breakfast, double-checked that we got everything, and began to get ready to leave. My mother was getting all of my father's things ready when Boyko pulled me and Olena aside. I saw him pull out a small box from behind his back. “I want you two to hold onto these. I do not know what will happen out there but you should be protected,” he said as he pulled the two pistols out of the box. I took mine and slid it into the back of my jeans. Olena did the same. “Dasha, we are ready to leave!” Boyko shouted to my mother. We plan to meet up with Boyko’s cousins in Rivne. Russia had not hit there and it was said that they never would. My mother finished packing my father’s things and we were ready to leave. We made sure everything was packed and got into Boyko’s car. We had to stay on the outskirts of town. Driving on roads I had never seen before. We were lucky that we had not hit a Russian outpost yet. “We will make a stop in Klocheve. That is our halfway mark on our way to Rivne,” Boyko said. “I do not expect to be met by a Russian outpost. Once we are fully out of Bucha, we will not be near them,” he said. I was happy we would be far from them. I was happy we were going to be safe.
We had made it out of Bucha. For the first time in what felt like forever, I finally felt like I was going to be okay. I turned to Olena who had been sleeping the whole ride. I wondered what was going through her mind. She hadn’t spoken since papa died. She kept her eyes down and occasionally asked where we were going. She was not the same bright and cheery younger sister that I remembered her to be. It was hard to see. Being her older sister, there was not much I could do other than comfort her. Even so, I had not been doing a good job. I barely talked to her. I almost forgot she existed. I felt awful. I reached out and placed a hand on my shoulder. “I know things are hard for you. If there is anything you need. Anything at all, please let me know,” I said to her. She just shrugged my hand off of her. I just wished I had been there for her at the start of all of this.
Our car came to a sudden stop. I jolted up in my seat to see a group of around 5-6 Russian soldiers. “Boyko, why are they here? I thought there were no Russian soldiers in Klocheve,” my mother asked. “There shouldn’t be. Girls, keep your heads down. Let me talk to them,” Boyko responded. He got out of the car and proceeded towards the soldiers. “Where are you coming from?” I heard one of the soldiers ask in very broken Ukrainian. “We are coming from Zhytomyr. That is my wife Dasha, and our two girls,” I heard Boyko say. “I will need to see some identification,” one of the soldiers said. Boyko proceeded to get out his wallet. “Identification from everyone,” the soldier continued. “Sir, my wife lost her wallet at a gas station and my kids are not older enough to have an ID yet. I am the only one with,” Boyko said. As he began to get his ID out of his wallet when I saw a small piece of paper fall to the ground. The soldier talking to him picked it up. In a blur, all of the other soldiers pulled out their weapons. “You are under arrest for crimes against Russia. Your wife and children will be removed from the car immediately,” the Russian soldier said. Two more soldiers came over to the car and opened the doors. “Get out and get on the ground with your hands behind your heads,” one said to us. “Do what they say, girls,” my mother said. I got out of the car and put my hands behind my head. I remembered the small pistol in my back pocket. Olena must’ve remembered hers as well. She looked over at me with a solemn look on her face. The soldiers were a couple of feet in front of us and Olena began to reach for her back pocket. My eyes widened. I knew what she was about to do. “Olena!” I shouted. It was too late. She took her pistol out and began firing. She struck one of the soldiers in the stomach and hit another in the leg. The other soldiers, the ones holding Boyko, let go and began to shoot. My mother and I had dropped to the ground immediately as Boyko tried to wrestle with one of the soldiers. I heard the click of her pistol as she had run out of bullets. The soldiers ran over to her and began beating her. “Do not help her. You will be killed immediately,” my mother said. I saw Boyko on the ground with a soldier holding him down. I looked over to Olena who was laying on the ground. She was bleeding on her face and her arms looked mangled. “Pick her up,” I heard one of the soldiers say. Two soldiers grabbed her and hoisted her upright. Another stood behind her. “Nobody moves a god-damn muscle,” said the soldier standing behind Olena. “You will see what we do to people who go against the Russian army. You will see what we do to people who think they can fight back,” he said. I saw him reach for the small pistol in his belt. He raised it to Olena’s head. “Please don’t,” my mother cried out. “Take my life instead. She is just a kid. Please do not harm her,” my mother pleaded. It was no use. The soldier looked at my mother, eyes filled with wrath, and pulled the trigger. Olena fell to the ground. My mother got up immediately. She ran towards Olena, cursing at the soldiers through heavy tears. The soldiers made their way to their transports. The one on top of Boyko struck him with his pistol and got up, they climbed in and left. I walked over to my sister’s body, I noticed that her eyes were calm and she had a faint smile forming on her lips. I began to weep. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry I was not there for you,” I cried as I brushed her hair. “I was a horrible big sister. I was a horrible person to you.” I said as I pounded on her chest. “Wake up Olena, say something to me. Tell me it is alright. Please! Tell me it is alright,” I cried. Boyko walked over to us. He picked up the picture off of the ground and placed it on Olena’s chest. I saw it. It was a picture of him and my father in their Ukrainian soldier uniforms. My mother refused to get off of Olena. Boyko insisted that I try and sleep in the car while he watches over my mother. As I lay in the back seat, all that came to me was the sound of the gun going off and the faint thud as my sister's body hit the ground. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she will never get to see her friends again, we will never get to play another game of hiding and seek, and would never get the satisfaction of waking up from a good dream. I curled up and sobbed. I sobbed, I sobbed, I sobbed.
We drove out of Klocheve the next morning to Rivne. The car was completely silent except for the faint crying coming from my mother. I couldn’t stop looking at the empty seat next to me. I couldn’t stop imagining Olena there, looking out the window, looking out into the world. “Dasha, we will be arriving in around 10 minutes,” Boyko said. My mother just shook her head and continued crying. As we made our way into Rivne, I began to see more and more people. I felt a rush of excitement flood through my body. It was the first time I had seen another person since we met Boyko. “Mama, look!” I exclaimed. “There are people. Russia has not hit Rivne, we are safe!” I said enthusiastically. My mother sat up in her seat and began to sob more and more. “We will be going to my cousin Maximillian’s house. He has everything set up there,” Boyko said. I wondered why my mother was sobbing after the good news. I decided to brush it off but was confused nonetheless.
Max’s house was gorgeous. It was a two-story house with big windows and a large garden in front. Boyko pulled the car in front of the house and told us he would get our things. It took a few minutes to coax my mother out of the car. She was exhausted and you could see it on her face. A man opened the front door. He was slender, clean-cut, and quite short. “Max, thank you for letting us stay here,” Boyko said to the man. “It is my pleasure. I have everything set up for you all, you only need to follow me into the house,” Max replied. His voice was surprisingly high-pitched. My mother and I followed him inside while Boyko got our things. The inside of his house was magnificent. Oak panels lined the walls, there was a chandelier hanging in the foyer, and a large staircase spiraling upstairs. “Your rooms are upstairs. Daniela your’s and Olena’s room is to the right, Dasha your’s is to the left,” Max said. He gave my mother a puzzled look. “Speaking of which, where is the little one?” he asked. My mother’s face sank and I noticed Max’s eyes fall to the ground. “I am very sorry for your loss, Dasha. If you need anything, anything at all, please let me know,” he said. My mother gave him a small nod and went up to her room. I looked around and then turned to Max. “She would’ve loved to play hide and seek here. She would probably have gotten lost for hours,” I said to Max. He chuckled lightly to himself, “I wish I could’ve met her. I’m sure she was something else,” he said. I smiled at him and made my way up the stairs to my room, and went down the hall to the right. I opened the door revealing the inside of the room which was a nice white color with two beds on either side of the room. There were two dressers in between the beds and two lamps on either dresser. I sat down on the bed and immediately sank into it. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. I looked over at the empty bed next to mine and imagined Olena there. I laughed quietly to myself as I thought about how much she would’ve loved sleeping there. I really wish she could’ve seen this place. Oh, how much exploring we would have done. I did not realize how exhausted I was as I felt my eyes getting heavy. As I shut my eyes, all I could see was Olena’s face smiling down at me as I drifted off to sleep.
“How long are we going to stay here?” I asked Max the next morning. “Daniela, you, your mother, and Boyko can all stay here for as long as you would like,” he replied. “You mean it?” I said, questioning if what he was saying was really true. “Of course! I mean it, it is my house, I can do whatever I want with it!” he exclaimed. Today was the first day that had actually felt normal. The typical drowsiness of the Ukraine weather had parted today to reveal a bright yellow sun and pale blue sky. I walked around and saw Boyko sitting under the shade of a large oak tree in the back of Max’s house. “May I join you?” I asked him. “Of course Daniela,” he replied. “Your mother is still bedridden, she has not eaten in a long time,” he said to me. “Boyko, let’s not talk about it right now. How about we enjoy the nice weather,” I replied. “You are right,” he said as he laid back against the trunk. “You know, for the first time in a while I actually happy. I feel safe,” I said to him. “I am glad you are happy. I know things have been stressful for you,” he said as he began to light a cigar. He took a long puff before slowly exhaling. Through the smoke of his cigar, I could see small tears forming on his face. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “For too long I have been fighting. For too long I have seen my friends die around me. This is the first time in a long time I have finally felt at peace,” Boyko replied. “You lose yourself in war. I did not know the man I was before it. Now, in the peace, I am slowly remembering,” he said. I laid against the tree, the sweet aroma of tobacco wafting into my nose. I looked at Boyko and smiled. “We have all lost something to war, but you will see, Boyko. Nothing is truly lost,” I said to him as I pointed to his heart. “You just have to look a little harder.”