This is a story of a woman I met when cycle touring with my (now ex-) partner from the West to the South of Ukraine in 2018. It still hurts to remember. And I still feel helpless thinking about such situations. But I’m still sure that telling such stories is crucial. The story is originally written in Ukrainian then translated into English and adapted for a travel-writing contest that I didn’t win.
Below the story you can find some useful links.
— Sorry, ditochky, I can’t give you more, dear kids. We haven’t cooked our breakfast yet – been busy with the household, we’ve just milked the cow. – A lady, that gave us bread, comes back with fresh milk to the bus stop where we parked our bikes to lunch on a hot summer day.
— It’s ok, we have everything else, it’s just there’s no store around, and we needed some bread for our sandwiches.
— God bless you. Good travels, and best luck.
We start our sandwiches of the blessed bread, when we see her crossing the road towards us again. This time carrying some pancakes, apparently their breakfast. We can’t thank her enough again and continue munching our meal with milk.
The woman, that has blessed our road and food, comes up to us once more. This time just to talk. It’s difficult to tell by the look in that Slavic head scarf whether she’s old or just spent.
Panie Hanna tells us that she divorced her man and built the house herself. She would buy furs in Ukraine and sell them in Chechnya. Her daughter went to a railway college but soon quit to marry a Moldovan guy.
— You know, his mother used to drink, but I still let them marry, to cover her head. Soon he started drinking, and stealing, and hitting us, but we managed to kick him out. – Panie Hanna sighs heavily. – You know, my father too used to drink and get aggressive. So, as a child, I’d run away from home and hide in trenches with dogs and hedgehogs. – Her voice starts trembling, and her face is getting red.
— So… How’s your life now? – I ask hopefully
— Ta yoy! Don’t ask! He came back. We kick him out, but he comes back – The granny can’t hold back her tears anymore. – My granddaughter, sweet eleven-year-old girl, her hands are shaking, can you imagine?!
— Why did you give us all this food?! We have what to eat! – I’m trying not to shout at her, getting all tensed and suddenly lose my appetite.
— I thought God must be testing me to see if I can give you a piece of bread.
“Woman you’re taking it away from your child!” – I scream in my mind. My emotions start boiling from the horrors she told us. I’m all shaking, imagining all the terrble things he does to them. But I just sit there and listen holding my breath, not knowing what to do – hug her, call the police, go beat the shit out of him, or shout at her that she’s worthy of respect, and why on earth did she give her daughter away to a guy with such a genealogy and so early!? My heart starts aching.
My heart is aching as if squeezed in somebody’s fist, just like when I felt “a piece of shit, not a human” And my wounds, they’re echoing, my whole body’s echoing and my heart’s aching and it’s getting hard to breathe. I remember not knowing what to expect when I do something wrong that would cause his burst of anger. I remember this feeling of helplessness and cutoff wings, how I couldn’t tell close people. There’s this lump in my throat that I can’t swallow.
I’m boiling with anger and anxiety when my partner brings me back from the stupor, asking if there’s anything we can do for her.
— No, my dears, you can’t help me, just pray for me.
“But this is not a panacea!” – I want to give her some real help. Although I am afraid that reporting to the local police might make matters even worse. There’s stinging in my chest from the thought of a child who most likely will follow suit of her mother and grandmother.
My eyes are filling with tears, realizing she’s not the only one like that in the district, there are hundreds of us all around the country, there are millions of us all around the globe.
What do I do in such situations? What are you supposed to do when facing violence and suffering in the world? What do you do when the most obvious actions won’t necessarily do good? How can you just observe and not intervene?
The questions kept spinning in my head for months after the encounter.
Perhaps I should think more globally and objectively. Maybe we couldn’t help this woman, but telling her story is going to help bring about the change? Perhaps this is the power of a travel-writer – to tell the stories of people. To tell the truth.
A way for those who are at risk of violence at home to video call for help without leaving a digital trace.
https://www.signalforhelp.net/ Following this link, you can find downloadable social assets for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in English, Spanish and French. Please download and post them. Let the victims know that they don’t need to suffer in silence.
A Ukrainian hotline for victims of domestic violence 1547
Oh, and I believe that males can be victims of domestic abuse too. In fact, some stats say 1 in 3 victims of abuse are men. Please read the following articles to learn more: