24th February 2022 A Day Like a Prison Cell

People with blue and yellow flags and protest signs in support of the Ukrainian people.
People take part in a march for Ukraine to support the Ukrainian people in Brussels, Belgium. According to the United Nations High Commission for the Refugees, more than 5.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine. | Photo (detail): Julien Warnand © picture alliance / EPA

The day Russia launched its attack on Ukraine marks a turning point in Europe and in the world as a whole. Belgian writer Els Moors describes her reaction to the first day of the invasion.

By Els Moors

– 24 February 2022 –

“One day, mind you, is a stage on life’s journey.[...] Hence, every day ought to be regulated as if it closed the series, as if it rounded out and completed our existence,” writes Seneca in his twelfth letter to Lucilius.  

What I find so beautiful about this thought is that a day is always a human measure as well: a day is as big as a human being, it’s the most human measure of time. And no one should be allowed to take possession of another’s days under the guise of any ideology or religion whatsoever.

After days, weeks, months and years of COVID infection waves and restrictions, I still wake up in the morning estranged from myself and the world around me, ready for anything to happen. After all the public dressage we’ve been through, I’m suffering from COVID syndrome, which is at once the cause and consequence of my worn-down state. But in the war that broke out in Ukraine today, neither masks, nor protective clothing, nor self-tests will be able to save lives.

Fighting for a Just Society

All of a sudden, everyone has friends who live in Kyiv. I talk to my friend in Kyiv, a Dutch writer, on the phone in the morning. I called him, but didn’t expect him to answer at first. I'm sure everyone’s calling him now to ask him things he has no answer to. His panic fear startles me. I hear myself saying the situation could drag on forever. Back in 2014, I translated Yuri Andrukhovych's appeal  for the literary magazine nY. At the time he wrote: “The young generation of Ukrainians who grew in post-Soviet times naturally rejects dictatorship. If the dictatorship is allowed to win, Europe may face the possibility of another North Korea behind its Eastern border, with 5-10 million refugees coming across. I do not mean to scare you. But it is a revolution of young people.[…] Without any exaggeration, the Ukrainian nation is spilling its own blood protecting European values of free and just society. I hope you appreciate this.”

Fear is Inhibiting

While my friend is trying to get out of Kyiv in a hurry and the news grows more and more alarming as the day wears on, here in Brussels I try to feel what I could feel now that there’s a war. At a sidewalk café, I read some texts to prepare for a creative writing workshop in the evening. The Schuman metro station is closed due to an emergency meeting of European leaders. There’s a Dutchman sitting next to me lighting one cigarette after another and bragging over the phone about a drone sale, a deal worth millions – which explains his being in Brussels during this European summit. I consider recording the conversation on my phone and posting it online. It occurs to me that fear is inhibiting. I myself have become inhibited.

I treat each new day since COVID hit more constricted than a fulfilled, vibrant day. Each one is like a narrow prison cell that I myself have become. The buildings destroyed by bombs in a matter of seconds will have to be rebuilt over the course of many long days. The people who die today will never arise to see the sun rise again. Later on, I search for words for the feelings I should have now that there’s war. I think about a new, fulfilling day that I hope will come.