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

Translated from the Russian by Mariya Gusev


I teach at a literary seminar. A colleague wrote that a student had just given her a story where a rocket hits a TV tower. And a student gave me a story where two people were fleeing a nuclear explosion that had engulfed Moscow. I envy those who are able to process horror into text so quickly.

At the same seminar, we provide students with personal online consultations. All of them were scheduled before the war. And of the six students I consulted, only one student wrote that she didn’t know how to exist in the new reality. Everyone else socialized as if nothing had happened, made plans, outlined a strategy for interaction with publishers.

A classmate of mine living in Canada asked what the percentage of those who disagreed with the war was. Foreigners in general are very fond of numbers. As if it’s possible to be counted when the phrase “no to war” threatens you with not 15 days, as at the beginning of this madness, but now with 15 years in prison.

But the percentage of those who do not understand anything at all is clearly visible here: five out of six.


A student who wrote she didn’t know how to live cried through the whole consultation. She lives in San Francisco. That week they were traveling to some islands, and had befriended a group of Ukrainians, and on Thursday it all started. “I couldn’t look them in the eye and I never will be able to, now.”

She wrote a children’s travel book, arranged illustrations with the artist, they started working, both liking everything very much. And then February 24th happened, and the artist had parents in Kharkov …

Now in her Instagram, she writes anti-war poems, and everyone is unsubscribing from her.
I had a feeling that I had met my sister.

She ended her story by saying, “Okay, let’s not fall apart, we still have to rebuild a new Russia later.” I was jealous of her optimism. Maybe if I lived in San Francisco, I would also have the strength to be optimistic?


In the store. Everybody is buying canned food and cereal. Huge baskets. Long queues. The man who was unloading cans of beef stew next to me sighed and said, “Sanctions.” I was reminded of an American movie from my childhood about how the Russians staged a nuclear war. This movie’s hero was standing just like that, in line at the cash register, with canned food. Heck, is this all relevant again? Everything that I was so afraid of as a child. I was standing in line and crying into my mask. Going outside, I saw people loading drinking water into their trunks.
Two things catch the eye on the street: queues at pharmacies and aggressively drunk (in broad daylight) young men – quite a lot, as it was in the 90s.


Received two letters at the same time. An open letter from the Ukrainian intelligentsia, where they ask foreign publishers not to translate or print Russian books. And a private letter from a German publisher, stating that they in no way refuse to cooperate with Russian authors. Because we are hostages.


The director of a private school, a mother of three, wrote to me. “If you go anywhere else, call me, we’ll go together.” Even in private correspondence, people don’t use the words “rally,” “picket,” “war,” but everyone understands what’s being talked about.

When I found out where the action would be, I wrote to her. She replied that she understood. I immediately deleted both my message, and hers. It’s good that modern technologies allow us not to eat paper.


The German teacher called me. We walked together in the dark around the school. She was tearfully talking about an employee of her translation agency. They’re all online, nobody knows where anyone is from, and today he writes to her, “I’m going to accept this order, but if I don’t get in touch tomorrow, please give it to someone else”. She’s surprised, and then it turns out that he’s from Kharkiv. “There’s a house on fire in front of my house, fighting is happening in my neighborhood.” She cries in the dark outside the school and repeats: “He and I have been working together for so many years, how to stop this, what can we do, what?”

She also talked about a friend of theirs, who is now in the Army. He wrote that before reaching the Ukrainian border, they were all given a “voluntary” consent form, and if you didn’t want to go, you’d get 20 years in prison for treason. Everyone signed it.

This girl used to seem like an angel to me. She kept in touch with everyone, always looking for a compromise, trying to understand someone else’s point of view. Now she says: “I even stopped saying hello to those who support the war. They’re enemies and that’s it, no compromise.”


The fact that the German teacher stopped saying hello to those who support the war seemed understandable to me, but too radical. I don’t want to break off relations with anyone, I thought.
Just a couple of hours later, I got a comment from someone I used to love when I was young, and we maintained a friendly relationship.
The comment was very short: “To oppose the war is a betrayal of the Motherland”
I did not even have time to read to the end.
Our connection, which was more than 20 years old, burst in one second. Like an explosion. I didn’t make any decisions; I didn’t feel any doubt. It just ceased to exist for me. In just one moment.
A man with whom so many funny and happy memories are associated, with whom we wrote and dedicated poems to each other, by whom I was even pregnant.
One second. And he was gone. A la guerre comme a la guerre.
I quickly banned him on all of my social media, erased all of his contacts. My hands were shaking.


Tomorrow I will go to the rally with a blank white sheet instead of a poster. All words are forbidden by military censorship. Our grandfathers, going into battle, used to say: “If I do not return, consider me a communist.” I say, “If I don’t come back, consider me a pacifist.”


Read End of the World Diary Pt. I here

Read End of the World Diary pt. II here

Read a poem by Natalia Klyuchareva here

Photo – From an anti-war demonstration, March 5, Geneva

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Categories: War in Ukraine


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