The invasion ended in February, and soon after, I visited what had been a gleaming city. Light still glinted off towering office buildings, six lane highways still sped international traffic in and out. Public parks offered shade and modern art and manicured gardens where older women walked with children and bought ice cream and pastries from roadside carts.
A high school sophomore invited me to dinner with her family in a tree-lined neighborhood a short distance from my hotel by bus. Their house overlooked the city. She described the sparkling of the commercial center at night. In the days before the war, she’d held her sweet sixteen party in a hotel ballroom downtown. She still had the cream-colored dress.
The young woman’s English was perfect. She adored Shakespeare. She had hoped to apply to study in Oxford. But that was before the war.
Several of the girl’s friends had studied abroad, as had the doctor I’d met earlier that day. White coat, silvering hair at the temples, he had not only studied but taught in most of the capitals in Europe. A pediatric heart surgeon, his work in his state-of-the-art hospital had saved patients from across the region.
War wrecked that modern city, bombed its water plants, and targeted its grid. “Overnight, our modern lives were over,” said the girl.
No more Shakespeare. No more pediatrics. The celebrated heart surgeon’s time was now devoted to keeping kids in incubators warm when the electricity shut off.
The girl’s name could have been Maria or Kateryna or Anastasia. It was Manar.
Not Ukrainian but Iraqi, she was born in Baghdad, not Kyiv. Manar was just as modern, outward looking and innocent—and her life was just as wrecked—as the Marias whose lives are being wrecked right now.
The bombs were different: American not Russian. Thirty years on, as we watch another wrecking, another invasion, another horror, do we choose to remember or do we choose to forget?
Prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba says of struggle, “We do this ’til we free us.” Likewise, it seems to me, war is ’til we stop it. We need to stop it.