End of the World Diary, Pt. I – Natalia Klyuchareva

Translated from the Russian by Mariya Gusev

Throughout this week, which will close out the first month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Literalab will publish the writing of Natalia Klyuchareva. “The End of the World Diary” recounts her reactions during the war’s opening week. “March 6” tells about her experience attending an anti-war rally. “One Day, All This Will End” is a poem she wrote in response to what is happening.


I remember asking my dad if he remembered the day when the war ended (he was born in 1928.) He said, “Yes, I do. I sipped some maral antler tincture, and danced to someone else’s harmonica.” He did not remember the day the war began.

I never thought that the day the war began would appear in my personal history. But I will remember it. The day before, February 23rd, was my last day to read submissions for a children’s story contest. I waited until the last moment, so I had about a hundred of them to read, on that last day. So I spent all day reading them, wrecked with anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to finish, and would let the children down. This was the last day of my peacetime life: a hundred children’s stories.

At night, I dreamed of an absolutely deserted city, consisting of some makeshift shelters which looked like construction trailers. At the door of one of these shelters sat a skeleton in clothes. One of his legs was falling off, and I tried to put it back in its place. But it kept falling off and falling off.

On the morning of February 24th, I took my children to school, and near the gates ran into their German teacher – a girl with the face and character of an angel. Under those angelic eyes were creepy black circles. I’ve only seen those on her once – after a miscarriage. I got scared, asked her how she was doing. She said to me: “I was ok until I read the morning news.” What was in the news – she can’t even say it, her throat has closed up, and the words won’t come out. I open the internet, and read.

Just a moment ago I had some sort of plans, things to do, thoughts. A moment later, everything disappeared. I’m standing on ice, the phone trembling in my hand, and nearby the teacher of my children is crying.

Later we walked home together, and she was telling me that her Egyptian husband’s relatives were ringing their phone off the hook all morning, “Buy tickets for the first available flight, save the children…”

In the evening, the organizer of the children’s story contest sent us the results, together with the password to the admin panel, and said, “I’m going to the plaza.” So that we could post the results to the website ourselves, in case he doesn’t return from the rally. At night, he wrote: “I’m back.”


One journalist wrote on Facebook: “I now understand how the German anti-fascists felt on September 1, 1939.” I remembered how on my first visit to Germany I shuddered at the sound of German speech. Although I was not affected by that war at all. Thirty-five years had passed between the war’s end and my birth. But inside me, the image of the enemy continued to live.

A war takes such a long time.

I didn’t want to shudder at the sound of German. So I started to read Böll; about those Germans who were opposed. No one could have told me back then that I would find myself in their place.

There is only one thing left to do. Survive. Then write about those Russians who were opposed. So that 40 years later, some Ukrainian girl can stop shuddering at the sound of Russian speech.


On the eve of the war, I finished a documentary play based on the memories of the old workers of one factory in Yaroslavl. Many of them survived the war as children, and have talked about this a lot. On February 24th, I reread these war memory fragments, which, after working on the play, I already knew by heart. And these now were different texts, about something else. Everything has turned upside down, in one day. Before, as I read, I was focused on what it was like for us, when they did it to us (bombed us, annihilated us, etc.) And now, as I read, I was thinking: so this is what it’s now like for them, when we (bomb, annihilate, etc.) There was one episode when a girl is hiding from a bomber plane in a ditch. In the past, I was always laying in the ditch together with this girl, but now it was as if I had been forcibly relocated into that bomber.


What’s happening is not my fault. I did not choose this president. And I had never supported him.

It’s not my fault that I pay taxes.

And that my money is used to buy the weapons which bring death.

It’s not my fault that I’m not in jail. It’s not my fault that I don’t want to go to jail. It’s not my fault that I have two children who will be left alone if I get pinched at an unsanctioned rally. It’s not my fault that I’m choosing to stay with my children.

It’s not my fault that I’m afraid. It’s not my fault that I don’t want to get kicked in the kidneys.

It’s not my fault that I was born in Russia. It’s not my fault that I did not have the resources to leave.

It’s not my fault that I’m continuing with my daily tasks, so I won’t lose my mind from the guilt. And it’s also not my fault that I can’t focus on anything.

It’s possible that it’s also not my fault that I wish death and hell on the person who arranged it all, although I have my doubts here.

It’s not my fault that I feel helpless. It’s not my fault that I don’t know what to do.

It’s not my fault that I can’t maintain information hygiene, that I cannot tear myself away from the news.

It’s not my fault that I’m endlessly falling into the guilt, and not coping with it.

It’s not my fault that I can’t hold back tears, and it’s not my fault that sometimes I don’t feel anything at all.

It’s not my fault.


I don’t believe in hell. It seems to me that if the afterlife exists, then God (if He exists) would have come up with something more interesting. In general, the very idea of punishment, and even more so of reformation through punishment, seems to me to be something completely outdated, medieval.

But when I think of Putin, I believe in hell. And I really want for it to exist. And for him to sit there with his eyes propped open, like in A Clockwork Orange, and to endlessly watch a movie about everyone whose lives he broke. It’s distasteful and scary to face the Middle Ages in myself. I’d like to be tolerant and to see him as human. But I’m not able to. Maybe I want hell for this man because I don’t believe that in his lifetime he will receive retribution for all of his crimes. But if it were so, I would have been quite satisfied with the Nuremberg trials.

Read End of the World Diary pt. II here

Read a poem by Natalia Klyuchareva here

Natalia Klyuchareva is a poet, prose writer, and journalist. She was born in Perm, Russia, in 1981. She was shortlisted for the 2002 Debut Prize for Poetry and her first book of poems, White Pioneers (ARGO-Risk Press), was published in 2006. Her novel A Train Named Russia was nominated for the National Bestseller Prize, and subsequently translated into five languages. Her short story “A Year in Paradise,” which appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review (Summer 2009), and as part of the Rasskazy anthology by Tin House Books (2009), received the 2007 Yury Kazakov Prize and the Eureka Prize. Other publications include SOS (a novel, Limbus Press 2009), a book of essays, and A Village of Fools.

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Categories: War in Ukraine


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