Early May 2022, London.
7:00 am, the alarm rings
Lyoha rubbed his eyes and immediately opened the Telegram app on his iPhone.
London and Moscow have a couple of hours time difference, which means that by now since last night, something has already happened in the lands of southeastern Rus’. Every morning for Lyoha now begins with reading front-line reports and studying maps. It’s almost ironic that until very recently, military maps seemed to be such a bore to Lyoha that, when faced with them in historical literature, he always skipped them right away. Who cares about these maps as we know the end result of the war anyway? — he thought earlier to himself.
Izyum, Putivl, Bucha, Irpen, Slavutich, Konotop, Kupyansk, Berdyansk, Genichesk, Ugledar… — like tens of millions of other Eastern Slavs, Lyoha has been discovering the detailed geography of northern, eastern and southern Ukraine for more than a month and a half. Here, the VS RF (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) struck the VSU (the Armed Forces of Ukraine), there the VSU struck the VS RF, in this location plenty of the VSU soldiers surrendered to the VS RF, in that place it was reported that the town had been ‘completely liberated from the invaders’ and in another ‘all fascists were erased from the face of the earth’.
After reading the news and front-line reports, curiosity led Lyoha to watch videos from the scene. For the most part they currently showed:
- a chronicle of the tragically faded and grey Mariupol;
- scenes of battles around Kiev, Kharkov, Donetsk;
- drone camera footage of the targeted aerial attacks;
- scenes from the life of big bearded soldier machos of Slavic and non-Slavic descent (typically Chechen or Georgian — depending on the side);
- the life of refugees, displaced persons, and the poor souls hiding in basements;
- finally, bitter scenes of humiliation of the captured Russian soldiers by the Ukrainians, including recording of the calls made by Ukrainians to relatives of the Russian soldiers, where they were being informed by Ukrainians about the death of their son/husband/father delivered with a cheerful cackle and ‘Slava Ukraini’ at the end of the call.
Actually, if it weren’t for the last videos that began to appear already from the second day of the “special military operation” (we are talking about a specific video of a specific Yuri Hudymenko, a semi-famous Ukrainian nationalist, in which he was standing with a machine gun somewhere near Kiev at night, proudly announcing with a smile that he is about to execute a Muscovite, who was stuck lying in the bushes nearby), it’s not really clear where Lyoha would have found himself politically today. However, having watched these videos, something sparked inside him so strongly that even thoughts about Kievan Aunty Lena, Uncle Serezha and their son Bogdanchik could not change his emotions. Not for nothing, the conventional wisdom denounces excessive and ostentatious cruelty to prisoners of war, and usually soldiers from all over the world condemned (self-)documentation, and even more so the self-promotion of any excessive cruelty.
Five, ten, twenty minutes — lying in bed, glued to his phone, Lyoha eagerly absorbed the news coming to him from social networks. Almost every minute he learnt about new losses from either side, new territories captured/occupied/liberated and how almost every single minute somebody’s property had been destroyed and someone’s routine had been completely ruined for a few months (if not years!). However, if you look at the map, it hasn’t shown any significant results for several weeks. Im Westen nichts Neues. Ha! Except for the sudden recent withdrawal of the VS RF from the northern regions of Ukraine.
Something inside Lyoha was demanding rapid changes, but a greater and wiser force inside kept whispering: ‘Calm down, you are not shedding your own blood, nor are your relatives and friends shedding it. Dude, you’re lucky! It’s other Russians who are suffering and are sacrificing to the God of War their sons, fathers, brothers and their legs, arms and sometimes… their genitalia (if they are captured by the bloodthirsty Ukrainians), and you are shamelessly demanding more blood to be poured to satisfy your little ego, whilst lying here in your warm bed? Leave it! Either go there and fight yourself, or at least start helping the front, otherwise just sit here quietly and pray!’ Lyoha did not dare to argue with the inner voice.
The past few weeks had quickly taught him humility. Before 24 February, he easily threw out phrases like ‘Yes, we need to erase that place from the face of the earth!’, or ‘Kill them all!’, or ‘We need to deport them all!’. By now, after watching on a daily basis video footage of hostilities (and their consequences) in East Slavic lands, where everyone and everything looked native and familiar, and also after some British politicians have already proposed deporting from Britain every single citizen of the Russian Federation, ‘suddenly ‘ Lyoha discovered for himself that ‘a serious person’ (a group to which he included himself in), ‘no longer had the right to judge and think in such a simplistic way’. After the start of the war, he gave up his small telegram channel covering world politics until better times, and instead started a paper diary, believing that there is no point in trying to interpret the present chaotic times. His thinking was that it makes sense to try to at least record the ongoing events and how they are being perceived by his contemporaries to not leave such a serious matter to some random clueless fucks like modern ‘journalists’ or ‘political analysts’, and even more so to some cretins from the future like most ‘historians’.
On a way to work
Having exercised, brushed his teeth, and chosen a shirt and a suit, now Lyoshka is rushing along the streets of Brixton to his underground station with the picturesque name Oval (named after the local cricket stadium). Spring has been blooming in London for the third month now (as it begins here in February unlike April like in his native lands), and everything around is truly beautiful: Victorian brick houses, green lawns with blooming flowers on them, a blue sky with a couple of small clouds, and soft warm spring air just a tiny bit spoiled by the dirt and the gases of central London.
On the way to the underground station, almost every minute Lyoha seems to encounter a new Ukrainian flag. It’s not uncommon for them to be real, they can be found everywhere now. Like the one by the church’s entrance near Lyoha’s apartment, or in the window of that house near the cafe, over there on the left. But on that poster, it just seems like these two colours in the right order are together by accident. He could see blue and yellow everywhere!
On the other side of the road a jeep slipped by with a Ukrainian flag sticking out of it in front with a trident.
“Am I just imagining it ?,” Lyoha asked himself.
Literally in a second, almost as if they heard Lyoha, someone in the jeep turned on a recent Ukrainian techno hit with the lyrics ‘Vova, yebash ih, bliat!’ (Vova (meaning Vladimir Zelensky), smash them all (i.e,. the Russians)’.
In some areas, local councils changed the British flag to the Ukrainian one or hung the Ukrainian flag nearby. On some pedestrian streets with shops and cafes, the owners, at their own request or perhaps due to polite requests from the council, hung Ukrainian flags. Quite a few Britons donated to Ukraine in one way or another – through charitable organisations where they donated before to the fashionable causes of the previous season, through foundations at work (typically, if it’s a multinational company), or by visiting a local Ukrainian restaurant or cultural institution, some of which have been partially converted into volunteer centres.
For now, Lyoha, just like all the other Eastern Slavs, felt the wind of history and thought that he could perceive the great events of the past. He told his friends from Moscow how he could see with his own eyes the sudden British Sovietophilia of 1941, his Moscow friends told him how they could see August 1914 with a smell of discord like the end of 1916. At the same time his friend from Kiev told him that could see the 22nd June 1941 and the Cossack Sich of the 21st century. Lyoha thought that Western people could see what the Spanish Civil War was like with its foreign legions, extreme propaganda and combat assistance to the designated ‘good guys’ from the ‘democratic West’, etc. Perhaps a new Orwell is already being forged somewhere in Donbass, disappointed in his ideals.
Lyoshka entered the station building, went down the stairs and stood on the platform. Waiting for the train, he opened the book France and Algeria. A History of Decolonization and Transformation. He didn’t have the stamina to read about Ukraine, but he also couldn’t read something completely unrelated to the current events. Therefore, he found a book about another, distantly similar national divorce that resulted in a bloody war. Finally, he was able to distract himself with something else, because for the first couple of weeks Lyoshka was literally shaking, and he didn’t want to do anything other than read the latest reports and call his friends and family from Russia.
‘The Tube Station’, 1932, Cyril Power
After waiting two or three minutes, the train arrived. Lyoha, who had not travelled on the tube for a long time, was glad that there was a place in the corner by the door where he could read a book without being disturbed, although the carriage was packed almost like in 2019. He looked around out of curiosity. Approximately one in five had a face mask on. Most of these were office workers, probably belonging to the middle or even upper-middle/top manager levels, with a mix of some ordinary proletarians (unhealthy skinny secretaries and whale-like office managers). Just less than 2 months ago, Lyohska was an agitated COVID-dissident (as they are called in Russian), who almost started to believe in the ‘mark of the beast’ stuff, and who by the end of 2021 was listening almost exclusively to the conspiracy bloggers abandoning the dissident-righters (‘there are bigger things than the race issue,’ he used to say then), now Lyoha simply no longer cared about ‘COVID’. If they want to wear their masks, god bless them, let them wear them anywhere they want. I would rather see the masks everywhere than the bloody Ukrainian flag!
About fifteen minutes passed, and Lyoshka was already looking for his credit card at the turnstile at the exit of Goodge Street Station. He hesitated, stepped aside, and began to look in his pockets, accidentally looked back … and met the eyes of Sasha Tarasov, who was going up the escalator to the exit. He waved his hand at him. A chill ran down Leshka’s back. Sasha was a Ukrainian — a colleague from an adjacent department…
“Oh my god…I hope nothing will happen,” Lyoha said to himself ...”I must keep calm…although I indeed have an aunty Lena with uncle Serezha and Bogdanchik from Kiev, and my last name, for god’s sake is Timoshenko … I don’t need to be shy about anything.”
Lyoha: “Hello, Sasha, how are you?”
- Sasha: “Hello Lyosha, well…I’m fine, but I doubt I need to tell you what’s on my mind.”
- Lyoha: “Well, thank God that we are at least here… I’ve been keeping in touch with my relatives in Kiev..It’s just so terrible. Thank God, at least I could help them with something from here.”
- Sasha: “I understand. My parents, thank God, got out of Kharkov a few weeks ago to Poland to stay at my sister’s. I have already gone to see them. I’m still mad about the apartment though”
- Lyoha: “What’s wrong with it?”
- Sasha: It’s in Saltovka, and the fucking Russians have destroyed the whole apartment block with our flat. So the decision to leave for my parents was right and very timely. Anyway, fuck it, we’re still getting even. Soon we will go on a counteroffensive! Sasha ended on a cheerful note.
Lyoshka began to feel uncomfortable from the conversation. On the other hand, he was glad that nothing stupid has happened. In the end, at least Sashka behaves expectedly and naturally, unlike the local ‘liberal Russians’ who tried so hard to shill for Ukraine against Russia, that it became simply grotesque, and most importantly, no one really appreciated their deflection. They look low and stupid even for the Ukrainians whom they are trying to please. On a deeper level Lyoshka still could not bear that a completely Slavic (not even Jewish!) native Russian speaking guy with a name Sashka Tarasov talks about ‘the Russians’ as ‘the other’. This was barely imaginable just 9 years ago…
Lyoha felt like he still had to squeeze something out of himself in response, but then Sasha himself came to his aid:
- Sasha: “Okay, listen, I have a meeting at 9:15 this morning, so I need to run. Maybe we’ll meet at the office!”
- Lyoha: “Sure thing, bye bye, Sasha!”
Phew…! – Leshka exhaled, having finally found his credit card, and went out through the turnstiles outside the station.
At the office
Judging by the space in the office, it seemed that it was the end of December, somewhere between Christmas and the New Year. It was almost empty. You could sit wherever you wanted. Small groups of people sat in the corners, and in an open space, where fifty people used to sit leaning against each other, today three or four people were lounging imposingly, each at a distance of several metres from each other.
Lyoshka found the office area for his department and noticed a group of acquaintances at the table, among whom there was not a single European face. Never before had he experienced such positive feelings from the abundance of African, Indian and Asian faces. “They don’t care, I know it, and thank God for that!”
- Lyoha: Hello! Do you mind if I sit next to you?
- Colleague: Yes, of course, Alexi, sit down. How are you?
- Lyoha: Yes, great, thanks! How are you?
- Colleague: I’m very well, thank you.
Almost up until recently, Lyoshka felt disdainful sitting next to them. Oh, and how his poor heart bled to see that London ‘is not the same anymore’ and how many non-Whites are living here! “Oh, poor Europe is dying, it’s almost like the fall of Rome, it’s unbearable to witness how the barbarians are colonising the West,” he used to say to himself for years! “Why pity these pathetic European fucks who don’t even consider me ‘fully European’?” Ha-ha, how quickly political views can change under the unforeseen circumstances of the events that concern you and your nation directly!
Shall I send it? Or maybe to hell with it? Damn… I already spent half an hour on this email, and there is plenty of work to do … No, I have to, I have to send it, otherwise it will be too late, and so much time has already passed since then .. Let me read it again and finally send it … I hope no one will be asking me any detailed questions … – Lyoshka was fidgeting in his chair at the table in front of his laptop.
Hope you are doing well.
Apologies for disturbing you with quite an unusual matter, however due to well-known Russian-Ukrainian events, I came to the difficult decision to change my name from Alexey Timoshenko to Bert Shen. I will notify all my clients this week and update my name on all the internal systems in the meantime.
Apologies for any inconvenience caused.
Let me know in case of any questions.
Is it fine? Fine enough! Lyoha had already deleted a couple of paragraphs explaining the details of why he decided to change his name, what he is afraid of and other contextual details. This is work, not a forum where you’re chatting with your friends or a group chat with your virtual friends. And after all, this is England (or London?), where the native stock doesn’t tend to bother you with questions on any sensitive topics, unless you initiate the discussion yourself. For once the fact that the English are a little bit cold does actually help!
Arrrr…Shall I send it then? Yes!
Oooff…I’m sure I still made the right decision, said Lyoha to himself and felt that his back was completely wet with sweat.
Five minutes later, someone patted Lyoshka’s back from behind. He turned around.
- Lyoha: Oh, hi Vinodh! How are you?
- Vinodh: Hi Hi! What’s the correct way to call you now?, grinned a chubby Indian about 35 years old with a moustache.
- Lyoha: Oh …. Lyoshka took a deep breath. Do you want to sit down and have a glass of water or coffee?
Vinodh: Sure, let’s go! – Vinodh nodded in affirmation.
By the watercooler with Vinodh the Indian
- Vinodh: So are you alright? Is your family doing well?, asked Vinodh and turned out to be the first of Lyoshka’s colleagues who asked him anything at all during these weeks since the start of the war. The British, out of their sense of tact, simply did not dare raise the topic, as this is awkward indeed.
- Lyoha: Yes, yes, thank you, Vinodh. So far, no one seems to have lost their job, which is probably the main thing at this stage, but overall it’s going to be extremely hazardous for everyone in Russia. … It seems like we are going to be treated as toughly as Iran. Lyoha carefully chose the analogy for Vinodh, as if it would have been a European, he might have used another example.
- Vinodh: Has anyone offended you? Internally? Clients? I’m your boss after all. Be sure to let me know immediately if there is anything wrong, I will deal with it as a matter of priority. Vinodh’s face showed a genuine compassionate smile.
- Lyoha: Thank you very much, Vinodh, but thank God everything is ok. I’m lucky in this regard. Thank you very much for your support, Vinodh — Lyoha beamed with a good-natured smile.
- Vinodh: Are you free for lunch at 12 30? — suggested Vinodh.
- Lyoha: Yep, I’d be happy to have lunch with you! We can have a chat in more detail about all of this.
Tottenham Court Road
An hour later, Lyoshka, satisfied, plopped down on a chair by the wall in the corner of a small Indian restaurant, which was located inside the former railway bridge not far from Tottenham Court Road Station — another underground station located next to the office.
- Vinodh: What are you having? — Vinodh started the conversation whilst closely eyeing the menu from top to bottom.
- Lyoha: Or whatever you recommend! I like almost all Indian cuisine that I have tried, but I’m not an expert to be honest — lightheartedly answered Lyoha reluctantly looking at the menu. It always took seconds for him to order anything at a restaurant. He knew what he wanted upfront.
- Vinodh: They make a good prawn curry here.
- Lyoha: Then, this is what I’m going to have!
- Vinodh: And I’ll take lamb korma for myself.
- Lyoha: Sounds nice!
- Vinodh: .. so tell me! What prompted you to change your name? —clearly showing an interest.
Lyoha was ready to start:
- Vinodh, you see, I love history, and therefore some historical parallels came to my mind … or actually, let me put it simply. I am afraid that Ukrainians and their sympathizers, especially if the war has affected one of them personally in any way, might start pestering and discriminating against me because of my name and just because of who I am. They may do this mildly, they may do this passive-aggressively, or they may do this very openly and without any reservations. But these politics should have nothing to do with my work. I’m just a little cog in the machine who wants to continue working as a senior real estate analyst in our South-East department and just do my reports, research and presentations. I don’t want some client to refuse to work with us because of my name, or worse, end up being beaten, maimed or even killed by some random Ukrainian who wants revenge for someone they lost in this war.
Vinodh listened politely with a serious expression on his face, carefully taking a note in his head of Lyoha’s emotions, only occasionally taking small sips of sparkling water.
- ….and I would be happy to be exaggerating, but there have already been cases of murders of both Russians and Belarusians abroad by Ukrainians..— unfortunate truck drivers with Belarussian plates who happened to be parked next to Ukrainians somewhere in Italy and a clueless Russian German in Germany who welcomed a Ukrainian refugee family in his home and paid his life for such charity. I’m sure there are similar cases already that I’m just not aware of and even more in the future to come. I don’t want to take any chances disregarding how low the actual risk may actually be.
- Vinodh: Fair enough — Vinodh put succinctly.
- Lyoha: I believe that the consequences of this conflict will be with us for many years, so I decided to change my name … having in mind the recommendation of a Soviet ‘illegal agent’ from the 1930s that I read long ago that the best false name is one that does not give out a clear national origin. I think his original example was Paul Victor (or maybe it was Victor Gregori), who could be French, British, Belgian, or even German or Spanish. Although I have a Ukrainian surname, I decided that it would be best to move away from this story altogether, so I followed this advice and came up with a new name for myself. Bert as from Albert, Albert — from Al(exey), and Shen, as an integral part of my surname Timo(shen)ko. Put it all together, and it’s completely unclear who I am, especially if my photo is missing. Maybe I’m an Israeli, or perhaps a Filipino, or even Chinese.
Vinodh showed understanding with this thoughtful act, nodding his head in agreement.
- Vinodh: But what if you talk with someone in person and they ask about your nationality?
- Lyoha: Then, I’ll say I’m British with an immigrant background and thank God most urbanites nowadays are bullied from enquiring further about someone’s origin, but if they still pursue it, I can be open and say that these questions are ‘making me feel uncomfortable’ – Lyoha smiled — and case closed.
- Vinodh: Clever, clever, you can’t argue with that! — Vinodh grinned widely…. What are your thoughts on war? — having paused literally for a second, Vinodh finally smiled slightly maliciously — Or whatever you call it? Looks like some kind of ‘operation’?
- Lyoha: Special military operation, yes. But seriously, this is nonsense, of course. This is a real and serious war. It’s hard for me, Vinodh, it’s very hard to come to terms with this war… After all, we are at war not with some aliens, but on the contrary this is a war with our closest people in the world — literal brothers, uncles or even sisters and aunties. We share the same language, same culture. Yes, they are slightly different, but the differences — accent, some words they use, other small things, we may joke at them sometimes, are something that we love and cherish…It’s like…(Shall I say, England vs Ireland? Nah, I will go with this one — Lyoha was thinking of the best analogy in his head) India and Pakistan probably, you know. On the other hand, on the contrary, it’s very simple. The war has begun, the Ukrainians don’t call us anything other than ‘orcs’. They maim, torture and brutally kill our prisoners, literally cut off their genitals and gauge their eyes, mutilate corpses proudly showing this stuff on the internet, and up to 90% of their population consider all Russians to be their enemies. FUCK THEM I SAY.
- Vinodh: I watched several videos about this Azov battalion… They are the real fascists! — Vinodh mildly slammed on the table.
Lyoha quickly realiszd that he had fertile ground here to promote his message on this topic…
- Lyoha: Vinodh, it’s not only Azov, a lot of their ordinary soldiers are no different..as are ordinary Ukrainians… Nazis from all over the world go there to fight for Ukraine — Lyoha almost cringed when pronoucing those last 3 words … There are quite a few coming from Britain, by the way. But the BBC and The Guardian won’t tell you that!
Vinodh, frowning in agreement, nodded in response, and Lyoha continued.
- …and think about it, what kind of views will these Ukrainian refugees be bringing here with them to our multicultural Britain? You probably saw, Vinodh, how these Ukrainians treated the Indians and Africans living in Ukraine during the evacuation, right? In Britain, there is already enough racism and fascism…Do we really need more?
Vinodh continued nodding in agreement. Lyoha felt the excitement and continued his propaganda efforts even stronger. He almost felt a bit of a shame using the rhetoric he despised just a few weeks ago, but at the same time he thought that if all the mainstream White World with hundred of millions of its normies and fucking subhuman Eastern European nationalist scum have officially designated his people as the mortal enemies of ‘the civilised world’ and ‘Asiatic moskal untermensch’, why can’t he betray some of his former ideals like ‘White solidarity’ (as if it ever existed)?
- ….and have you noticed… how quickly the whole of Europe began to help these refugees, right? They have already accepted 5 million people in about 5 or 6 weeks! And now compare this with the refugees from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and other regions. Europe just revealed its poorly hidden White supremacy and does not even hide it anymore.. Don’t forget inflation, the cost of electricity, fuel and other bills, and the livelihood of these refugees with swastikas … that you and I have to pay for from our taxes, right? (Oh my god, I probably do sound like a bloody antifa! Jeez… – Lyoha exclaimed to himself slightly disturbed)
Vinodh bent down a little and said: and, therefore, I and most of the Hindus are for you!
Right at this moment the waiter arrived with the food.
Satisfied with his work as a propagandist, Lyoha began to eat, having just prior to that clinked glasses of lemonade for ‘the Russian-Indian friendship and brotherhood’ with Vinodh.