February 21, 2014: The Aftermath

I’m not just witnessing a revolution, I’m taking an active part in it, Novak reflects as he lies in bed alone, finally back in his own room. Despite his elation, he plumbs his own knowledge of history in an effort to come up with a violent revolution that ended well. He can’t. The stark sense of celebration down below envelopes him as he dozes off to a mental litany of tragedies.

         He wakes up with a sharp pain where he was grazed by the ricochet. After breakfast he takes a walk on the Maidan. The barricades are charred. Clean-up crews are busy trying to give the site its due air of dignity. The reality of yesterday’s events still hasn’t set in. He goes back to the hotel, hacks out an update full of action, then sends it off before his penchant for self-questioning leads him down that familiar rabbit hole of analysis.


         He moves away from his computer and walks the two steps to the window. A text arrives on his phone. Larissa.

         “Are you alive?”

         “Yes. At the Dnipro. Come.”

         She’s there within minutes. It’s warm in the room. She takes off her coat and sits on the bed with him. Everything is suddenly so comfortable that she feels faint in the guise of a desire to sleep.

         “What does the TV say?” It’s on, but muted.

         “The death count keeps going up.”

         “We had nearly fifty in the Ukraina last night.”

         “Is Serhiy alright?”

         “He is, glory to God.”

         “Slava Bohu.” Something irks Novak about how he’s begun to repeat that expression in the same prosaic way everyone around him does.


         “Oy, Romku, they were dying with my hands in them,” she says, burying her head into his shoulder so she can weep without being seen. “Some of them were younger than Serhiy.”

         As soon as the tears are released, she understands that’s why she’s come to him. He’s the only one she feels comfortable weeping with. And yet, that sort of bond suddenly feels like a burden. So she pulls away.

         “How’s the wound?”

         “I don’t know. You bandaged it so well.”

         “I brought some gauze and disinfectant with me. Let me change the dressing.”

         “Not now. Let’s go to the sauna first.”

         “The heat might not be good for it.”


         “The heat is good for everything.”


Novak enters the sauna wrapped in a towel. The bandage on his right buttock is still holding. It feels good to sweat even though he doubts it will do his wound any good.

         Larissa looks older—as if the gravity of events has imposed itself visibly on her lineaments, gouged her incipient creases. He feels the same effect on his own face. Still, she positively glows in the soft-baked light, surrounded by the sauna’s bare wood. Her hair is tied up and her neck seems to bask in the heat as the skin above her covered breasts glistens with droplets of sweat.

         They lie silently for about ten minutes. Then the heat becomes too much for him. He toughs it out until he feels the sweat prickle his wound.

         “I’m going back.”

         “I’ll join you. Let me change your bandage before you put on clothes.”

         In the room, he lies nude on his belly as she removes the bandage, cleans it with a green disinfectant, and covers it with fresh gauze.


         “You have hair on your back,” she says.

         “I do.”

         “In Italy I noticed that men wax their backs. I could do that for you,” she says casually, as if they’d grown up together.

         “No thank you. I prefer to look like a savage.”

         “You’re no savage,” she says, and starts massaging his shoulders.

         Within a few minutes Novak is asleep, snoring slightly. Larissa takes an extra sheet and blanket from the closet and covers him. He’s a good man, she thinks. She wedges the sheet under one side of his body and whispers, “You’re a good man,” then slips in beside him and has a nap herself.

Despite his elation, he plumbs his own knowledge of history in an effort to come up with a violent revolution that ended well. He can’t. The stark sense of celebration envelopes him as he dozes off to a mental litany of tragedies.

That evening Larissa and Novak have dinner with Serhiy. Everyone is talking about what will happen next. The government has agreed to early elections in December. The corpses are still warm. All outside parties urge calm.

         As the leaders of the opposition take the stage to apprise the Maidan of what’s been negotiated, several open caskets make their way through the huge crowd in a televised display of grief and martyrdom.

         Klitschko takes the stage to apologize for signing the deal and shaking Yanukovych’s hand. He’s contrite, but he insists that he did it to avoid shedding more blood. There was an understanding, if not an outright threat, that there could be a worse bloodbath otherwise.


         Out of nowhere a tall young man runs onto the stage, almost as if scripted. He’s wearing army fatigues, like a soldier, and says he’s just a regular guy from the sotnya guarding the Conservatory building. Serhiy is standing not far from the stage with his mother and Novak. He recognizes the man from meetings with Smyk.

         “No way, no Yanukovych, for a whole year!” he shouts over the microphone, which he practically ripped out of the hands of the former boxing champion. “By ten o’clock tomorrow morning the zek has to be gone!… Seventy-seven of us were shot in the head, and our leaders negotiate? They shake hands with this killer? On behalf of my sotnya, I promise that if by ten o’clock tomorrow Yanukovych hasn’t resigned, we’re going on an armed assault!”


         One of the open caskets makes its way to the stage to be blessed by a priest. An old folk dirge that one of the fallen boys loved is playing over the loudspeaker. It’s sung in a virtually dead dialect from the Carpathians, words Serhiy doesn’t quite understand, something about ducks swimming down a river, and mothers, and dying in a strange land with no one to dig a grave. The eerie harmonies cut through the crowd like the shadows of their forgotten ancestors.

         Larissa weeps. She watches her son’s face contort as he holds his back straight, swaying somewhat. That destroyed and rebuilt smile of his is now quivering. He bites his scarred upper lip to keep from sobbing, but the tears stream freely as the young man’s casket is carried past them. Larissa assumes Serhiy is weeping for someone he knew or saw during these months of struggle. But the strange dirge echoing across the Maidan has him weeping for Oksana. He hears the voices singing in her dialect—singing for her unbearable fate spilling over him and everything he comes into contact with, for her death he knows he can never forgive.


The next day Yanukovych is gone. Closed-circuit cameras caught him packing whatever wealth he could take with him and stepping into a helicopter.


(Click for Part 1 Feb. 18; Part 2 Feb. 19; Part 3, Feb. 20; Part 4, Feb. 21)

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