Letters from Ukraine: 15/04/22 – The Children’s Room

George Gittoes and Hellen Rose, assisted by Kate Parunova, visit Borodyanka to investigate the damage done to family homes by Russian troops.

Christmas tree and blackened chair from a burnt family home in Borodyanka, photography Kate Parunova, George Gittoes, and Hellen Rose

We drove back into Borodyanka today. A ground-floor window of one to the most fire-gutted buildings had a Ukrainian flag draped across the window and something else. A little girl’s white lace and satin fancy dress was swaying in the wind, next to it. Many of the bullet-riddled cars had “CHILDREN” painted across their doors in the hope they would not be targeted. I wondered if the dress was to let the Russians know there were children inside. I had been warned of booby traps and had seen some, but I felt compelled to go inside. Glass and broken things crackled under my feet as I made my way through the blackened hallways. Inside there were children’s books, small sneakers, and toys: a porcelain wizard from Lord of the Rings with a broken wand, a soft duck, two soft pink rabbits, and a soft Lion King. I opened the book of fairy-tales to find a beautiful illustration of a handsome young prince pointing a bow and arrow at a six-headed monster, hissing back at him from a cave above. I pray that the children of this room have physically survived the darkness that has descended on their world.  

The chair I imagined their mother reading the fairy-tales from was scorched, with the backrest burnt away. I carried it out into the sunlight. I do not know why I did that, but I placed it at the bottom of the entrance stairs and looked around to a small Christmas tree under some branches and rubble. It was made from wire with plastic pine leaves and had little blue bows attached and a sprinkle of glass baubles. I salvaged it and placed it on the charred seat of the chair, then squatted, down in front and drew it with the blackened apartment towering behind. I thought of the two paintings Vincent did of his chair and Gaugin’s chair at his Yellow House in Arles.  The destruction of people’s homes and lives in Ukraine is insanity on a massive scale.

Perhaps there is a similarity to the mass shootings in America where an unhappy person takes a gun to a school or other crowed place and goes on a shooting spree. Killing others releases what is inwardly tearing them apart. In this case it is not a teenager or sick person with a gun, it is the supreme leader of a superpower unleashing Russia’s armed forces and threatening nuclear Armageddon. 

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