‘The doctor’s office has been cancelled, so we have to live more carefully’

‘Dear Iris, this weekend I had an extraordinary conversation with my daughter-in-law Anna. I’ll tell you, but I’m embarrassed too.

‘On Saturday morning my son went to the market with the children. Anna and I stayed at home. While it was snowing gently outside, Anna began to talk about a possible new round of mobilization here in Ukraine. She told of a man she met at work in Italy. We could borrow a lot of money from this man, which Anna would pay back in installments.

‘What should we do with so much money?’ I asked.

“Well,” Anna said cautiously, “maybe with that money we can get Maks across the border.” In Italy you will be able to start working immediately in the company where I also work.’

‘I drowned. “That’s called corruption, Anna, and here in Ukraine we have always opposed it.”

‘Suddenly Anna looked at me angrily. “One only thinks about defending our country,” she shouted. ‘You are a patriot, you love Ukraine very much. But who thinks about Katya and Ksusja? They also have the right to have a father.

Anna stood up. ‘Maks will not be able to cope with life on the front. I know him well enough for that.

‘I got up now too. “Any man can fight on the front,” I said. ‘No choice. There is no such thing as “not being able to cope.” These are things they told you about in Italy. You started talking like a Westerner.

‘There were tears in Anna’s eyes. ‘I can end up with a traumatized man for the rest of my life, if he survives. And Katja and Ksoesja? They will never have a father again. Think about them, please, Elena, and let’s think of something for Maks.

‘I took Anna’s hand. “It can’t be, honey,” I whispered. ‘I understand you, but what you want is impossible. It can’t be that other men go to the front and Maks goes to Italy. I’m sorry, Ana. I’m so sorry.’

‘Anna had her hands covering her face. She cried, like she had never seen her cry in this war. ‘I can’t do it alone, with the children, there in Italy. I can not do it anymore.’

“I pulled her closer and tried to calm her down, but suddenly we heard the key in the door. ‘Grandma!’ Katja shouted, laughing: ‘Grandma! We brought honey!’ Anna quickly disappeared into the bathroom, not wanting the children to see her tear-stained face. Katja came running and pressed her face against mine. ‘We’re going to make honey cake now, right, grandma?’ No?

“Of course,” I replied.

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