Epochs of wars and revolutions give birth to ballad heroes and epic villains. Social lifts rush up and down. A careless word turns a hero into a traitor at a speed of a broadband Internet. Friends are turned into enemies, idols – into outlaws, loved ones – into outcasts, and vice versa.
Volodymyr Rafeyenko has no chances to become a hero of our time. He was not baptized with icy jets of water by specialized forces in Hrushevskoho Street. He did not change the history with passionate speeches from the stage in Maidan. He did not scarify a vehicle for the Anti-Terrorist Operation. He does not try to sing in the people’s choir of the “voices of the Donbas”. Nothing epic, nothing worth creating ballads. He writes books. He tries to preserve sense and idea of his life. This is not considered to be courage, a feat, and is not enough for glory.
Rafeyenko was born in Donetsk and lived there for 45 years. He has written prose for intellectuals under his name (“Demon of Descartes”, “Moscow Divertissement”) ruining a popular stereotype about children of slagheaps, wild today. Intellectual prose made him a laureate of a Russian prize. Under pen names, he has also published criminal novels which brought him the most devoted readers. Prisoners bombarded the publishing house demanding continuation.
And Refeyenko was also the bell-ringer of the Svyato-Preobrazhenskiy Cathedral in Donetsk. At the end of May, 2014, on the eve of “Akhmetov’s horn” campaign, he was asked whether he would ring. He answered positively and ascended the bell tower with other two ringers. Rafeyenko rang the small bell dancing the pattern of the melody.
He said, “I saw 12 men with bats and in masks running toward the cathedral. I shouted to the guys, ‘Stop ringing and run down’, and stayed there to tie the ropes as clappers could break the bells because of the wind…”
I hear the story for the second or the third time; and for the first time Rafeyenko’s eyes are dry. We are in a café, and my interlocutor, who spends most of his time at the desk, is a bit “hunted” looking around at the visitors who do not care about his feelings or the city of Z.
Up to July, 2014, he was sure that Donetsk would not be surrendered. He understood that a company of specialized forces would be enough to get rid of scatty people with bats and in balaclavas, local ones and those brought from Rostov. Despite logic, there was a feeling of an impending catastrophe, the feeling of life in the epicenter of a typhoon.
On Sunday, June 5, 2014, he, together with other ringers, was atop the bell tower. It was fifteen to nine, just after the ringing for the second liturgy when he saw armed people coming to the center of the city. In the news program, he had heard about the column of militants who were let to come to Donetsk from Slovyansk. The armed people were not in a hurry. It was clear that the logistics had been planned in advance: they knew where to go, what buildings to occupy; they placed patrols at crossroads.
They entered Donetsk on July 5; Rafeyenko took the train to Kyiv on the 12th to get as far as possible from the “Russian world” with its Russian spirit, Russian award, and tankers from Buryatiya who were “on holiday leave”. On the way to Kyiv he “died”. It happens. No surprise in the country with hundreds of thousands of IDPs who left trees planted by them, houses where their children will never live. They are stuck in purgatory between the past and the future, clinging to the thing which is useless in such situation – to memory.
Several months later Rafeyenko was invited to the Publishers' Forum in Lviv where he had not been before.
“There the feeling that I ‘had died’ became more acute, that I “had been killed” on the way to Kyiv, but then God decided that I should live a little longer. I had died, but somehow continued living. I am not in this world, but I am. I want to go home, but I have no home. That lasted for half a year, then the life and a book, which I began writing, started treating me”.
When speaking, he often repeats two phrases. The first one is from a pray: “My Lord, me pull myself together and strengthen me”. The second one is “What is needed for your life will be given to you”.
“Once I had a trip by metro, and at “Vokzalna” stop my purse with 600 Hryvnyas was stolen; it was everything that was left to live on for two weeks. I came home. I had about 40 Hryvnyas. I could buy some vodka, but I felt it was not the time. I put on headphones and turned on Beethoven. And I calmed down. The phrase came to mind: “What is needed will be given”, and immediately after that there was a telephone call. I was asked to do an urgent translation”. So, this is my life today: some texts help me earn for living; other texts help me cure myself”.
In the purgatory, where Rafeyenko occurred the most vital task is to learn to forget. For that some people write books; others drink vodka.
“Before the war, I wanted a lot, and a lot of things were important to me. The war made the life simple. 90% of what seemed to be important are forgotten now.
Rafeyenk's parents and two grandmothers are in Donetsk.
“If my father could, he would go to Russia. I call him when I am ready to hear stories about wonderful Russian TV in “DPR” and successes of the “young republic”. He refuses to take any help from me , only medicines, sometimes. He does not ask me about my life”. — Volodya speaks about that reluctantly.
“Do you call your friends who are in Donetsk?”
“The bridges have been burnt”. I feel pity for these people. Some people who are in “DPR” seemed to be sane. But, judging by their posts in social networks now, I understand that horrible things are happening to them. Protecting mechanisms are working. In order to accept themselves at present, they have to justify those filthy things that are taking place there now”.
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