Nina felt she was in a dream until an explosion reverberated through the air, and their car screeched to a halt. Sitting on the driver’s seat beside her, her father reversed the vehicle.
“We will have to take a detour,” he said to his wife, who sat on the rear with her six-month-old infant. That would be the fourth detour in their three-hour attempt to reach the Russian border, thirty miles away.
Earlier that morning, Nina had woken up to the sound of sirens and blasts and had helped her parents dump a few possessions in their car. Instead of their palatial abode, the Lebedev family found themselves in a mobile Creta, their wealth and possessions confined to its trunk.
Nina watched the missiles lit up the sky in Sumy, one of the first cities to come under attack after Russia invaded Ukraine. As her father took yet another turn, it seemed there was no place where sirens would not sound, and bombs would not explode.
She tried to recall the assorted items deposited into their car’s trunk. A blanket and some warm clothes. Some food items that would last for three days at most. Her textbooks and colouring sheets. Some family photographs that her father had pulled out from the walls of their home. A few valuables squeezed into the limited space. A small green trunk —a briefcase — containing important documents. On top of this pile was the Teddy Bear, Nina’s companion in bed.
Bang! The gunshot rang in Nina’s ears, accompanied by the noise of breaking glass.
“Get out, now!” Mr Lebedev shouted. Out in a jiffy, he opened Creta’s boot and picked up the green trunk. He held Nina’s palm with his free arm. Beside him, her mother tightly hugged the infant close to her chest.
They started to run as the world around them erupted.
What about my Teddy?
Nina could not bear abandoning her companion in this plight. She let go of her father’s hand and sprinted towards the car.
“Nina,” he called out as the child’s little hands struggled to open the trunk.
Her father came forward to help with her mother close behind.
Boom! The noise echoed far and wide as the car burst into flames.
Five Days Later
“Any identifying signs on the bodies?” the mayor asked one of his staff. He had never imagined that mass burial would be his responsibility one day.
“Charred beyond recognition, sir. But the green trunk has all their identity documents. They were Russians, sir, primarily from Moscow. The fellow had business in Ukraine, and the family mostly spent their time here.”
The mayor was silent.
“What to do with their bodies, sir?”
“The same that we do with our citizens—bury them with dignity. I will take custody of the green trunk.”
“And this toy, sir?” A one-eyed half-burnt Teddy Bear stared at them amidst the ruins on the ground.
The mayor didn’t know what answer to give. It wasn’t the first time.
- The story, including the mention of the green trunk, is inspired by several true incidents that the media has covered in the Russia-Ukraine war.
- Lebedev is a common Russian surname.
- Many Russians living in Ukraine(and vice-versa) are suffering during the onslaught. There are no winners in a war.
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