War is generally a noisy affair, sometimes deafeningly so. But one of contributor Martin Kuz’s most enduring memories from Ukraine is the sound of silence.
He was on a train packed with women and children fleeing an assault on Kyiv, the capital. They had left behind their homes, their menfolk, and their lives as they rattled through the night into exile. They were numb with disbelief.
“As I listened to the silence,” Martin recalls, “it seemed the most human and natural reaction to their loss. No words could capture that.”
The night drew in, and the 12-hour journey to Lviv stretched out. Martin walked through the train, picking his way through the suitcases that clogged the aisle and studying his fellow passengers, bundled up in winter clothes. He had given his sleeper berth to two mothers and their children, and “didn’t feel comfortable just sitting,” he says.
“My mind was restless and I wanted to walk around. I wanted to absorb as much as I could about the experience because I felt it was somehow essential to trying to understand how war changes everything,” he explains.
“I was focusing on what these new refugees might be trying to absorb, this cataclysm, as they confronted the awful reality,” says Martin. “Now what? How do you prepare an answer for the unknown?”
Those questions were particularly poignant for Martin. His own father fled Ukraine as a refugee after World War II, and “echoes of that experience were very strong for me,” he says. His father’s lifelong separation from his homeland proved “a wound that could never heal,” and Martin could not help wondering how his companions on the train would mend their lives.
“Through what I knew of my father’s loss, I had a level of understanding about some of what these women and children were facing,” Martin points out.
And he found himself not only sympathizing with the refugees, but admiring them too. “As jammed as the cars were, I was struck by the civility” that the passengers showed one another, “the shared compassion and humanity,” he remembers. “They were a random collection of strangers ... but they had a common denominator – they were fleeing war.”