An Initial Dispatch
The first 6 days in the new European psychosis.
I woke up the morning of the 24th in my hotel room in Sofia, Bulgaria, earlier than usual. 6:37am. I usually wake up between 6:30-7am during the school week but while on vacation I take my liberties. 800+ notifications on the screen of my phone. I didn’t even have to guess what it was about. Luckily, I bought my airfare back to Kraków the day before. My Balkan misadventure came to screeching halt at Sofia’s central bus station at 6am on the 23rd. No buses or trains were running in or out of Bulgaria into Serbia, and Serbia refused to accept American vaccination cards as valid certificates. It would take me days, if not over a week to get through Romania and into Budapest. I didn’t have that kind of time. The day before was a calm day in Sofia. Parks were busy, the weather was chilly and the sky grey but not stormy. I cafe hopped down Vitosha Avenue, named after the mountain that looms westward over the city, with it’s pretty snowcapped peak. I had slept for about 2 hours on the bus. It was an awful and chaotic ride but I still had enough energy and determination to explore a small part of the city for the one day that I had there. I spent my time struggling to buy stamps and visiting the art museum.
I boarded the plane back to Kraków as Ukrainian airspace started to close. Other EU nations started following suit. A plane with “Россия” written on the side taxied down the runway. A slow trickle of messages and calls from friends and family across the ocean started coming in. The whole day felt blinding. My eyes felt dilated and the air seemed to have a hazy quality in the cognitive sense. Maybe I need new glasses. Message after notification after missed call bombarded my phone all day long. I was hoping for my phone to die so I wouldn't have to continue glancing at everything that flashed across the screen. Everything seemed like a possibility. Everything still seems like a possibility. I finally crashed on my bed in my apartment after almost three weeks of being on the road. Nothing will be the same from here on out, and I’m not even someone that has to flee. I don’t have to sort out what belongings are the most sentimental and important for me or my survival. I still have a nice apartment. There’s no sirens wailing through the brittle glass windows. No flashes of light in the air. No fear of foreign ordinance. I have no family east of here. Yet my head still feels like it is stuffed full of cotton. It feels inappropriate to talk about or write about anything else. 3 hours away is a border with an avalanche of innocent people. Not so far from there is an armoury of chaos.
In the past few days I have struggled to pick up my camera. It feels so harsh. You move goods and collect food and prepare paperwork while I make an exposure. I feel like a fool when I release the shutter. It’s better to move boxes instead. To contact friends that might need help. To clear out my pantry and send it east. That seems more important in the moment. But I ultimately know if I refuse to steal those moments from reality that I will regret it. To store them on my hard drives and among the binders full of negatives. Perhaps it’s better to feel like a fool now for I will surely feel like one when I have no evidence. No evidence of the souls and bodies that have put forward more sweat and labor than I have.
Ukrainian echoes in the streets, in the stores, in the hallway of my apartment building. Blue and yellow is painted on buildings, people, even on pets. People walk through the park with all their belongings in roller luggage. Every time a car door opens its more people and more luggage. Yet you still need to try to keep a feeling, an air, of positivity. Cafes are bustling. I still pedal through the park and to the film lab. Students gladly volunteer their time while one of the most stressful semesters of university in years is starting. If we had no positivity we would crumble. Hostage to our own anxieties and machinations. While keeping positive you cannot discount the fears and pains of those around us. People who just escaped. Those who still have family in the country. Those taking the train back to the border to fight. Those having to buried loved ones. It started only a few days ago but feels like we’ve been in it for a long time. Even from a bystanders perspective, war feels long.
Thinking of the future, or anything that it could possibly bring is stressful on it’s own, let alone thinking of it now. Every option is still possible. Anything is still liable to happen. No side is letting up. But if there’s one thing for sure, this world won’t be the same when we come out on the other side. In moments like these I prefer to live in a present moment. There’s limited use in prognosticating the tumultuous future that belongs to everyone, as it will only snowball your own anxieties, and create limited solutions. Of course I have a plan if things decide too, spill over, but for the moment I will not prophesize the far futures of myself and others. All that I know, is that we will surely be living in a far different world than we are now.
I will not urge you to take action in any way, that’s not my responsibility. If you have a clear conscious the choice should be obvious.