There’s a village I look at occasionally on Google Maps. I’ve even had a ‘walk’ up and down its main street, where there’s hardly anyone around and the sun is always out. A few places to eat and drink, a handful of shops. Lots of space. Lots of greenery. And because the land is flat and most the houses are single story, lots of sky.
It’s just 30 mins drive from Ternopil on the road to Lviv. Not the most direct route from Kyiv to the Polish border, but not too far out the way either. Ternopil has been in the news a little; people have fled to it, through it and from it. A great many people must have passed through this little village too, on their way westwards.
It’s the village my great grandfather came from, before he and his parents also headed west. For quite a while they lived here in Bethnal Green, which means I now live within a kind of invisible map of where that side of my family lived, worked, went to school…
And yes, I know, I know… it’s a problematically reductive way to look at such massive and terrifying events, but it’s a way of getting a toehold in the unreality and the enormity of it all.
Boundaries change, empires fall… When they left in the late C19th, Ozerna was not in Ukraine but Galicia, and they were subjects of Austria. They called it a different name too: Jeziorna. I don’t know how long the family had been there, but many of the Jews of Galicia had fled programs and state oppression under the Russian Empire. Was that their history too? After they’d gone, the area saw Nazi occupation and the horrors of the Holocaust, followed by the many challenges of life within the USSR. And now comes a new Russian Empire, though there’s nothing new about the brutality it brings.
There’s no fighting in that part of Ukraine but sirens are sounding in Ternopil, people are sheltering in basements, and vast numbers are on the move. Forgive me if, as I follow these awful global events, I also wonder what Ozerna is witnessing today, and what’s to come.