The Woman with Red Fingernails

An aspiring blogger and mother with two grown daughters, she was just beginning to revel in her newfound independence. Now was her time. As she pushed her bicycle home on the war-torn streets of Bucha, it was another day in the life of everywoman. Her dream to become a make-up artist energized her. As she turned that street corner, what was she thinking? The blog post she wanted to write? The cosmetics class to take? Friends to see that weekend?

Then, nothing, darkness, gunned down by a Russian tank. Iryna Filkina, 52, lay among the rubble of ruin. Her lifeless hand with polished cherry red fingernails would mark her grave, making her recognizable only to her daughter. 

Photograph by Reuters

While the senseless and brutal killings of innocent people in Ukraine are too numerous to catalogue, it is hers that haunts me. In photographs seen round the world, her smile shimmers. I listen to a daughter’s recollections of the joy her mother expressed at turning the page and exploring a new passion. Iryna could have been me more than a dozen years ago. That’s when I first began tapping into the independence and freedom of exploring my creative passion, writing and teaching. Free of the routine of a dead-end job, my sons grown and on their own, now was my time. I would start a writing group in a small independent bookstore with low-lying Moroccan coffee table and red Turkish rug. Each day brought anticipation of meeting with other writers, sharing our stories and our craft.

Iryna could have been any one of many women I know who find themselves on the brink of starting over, of renewal. I meet them in my writing group, at church and at social gatherings.

“It’s just so horrible,” a friend of mine said as we walked the street of the neighboring townhouse community. Children skateboarded and men and women walked dogs on leashes. An Amazon Prime truck delivered packages.  “So many murdered,” she said when I told her about the woman with red fingernails.

“She was just starting a new chapter in her life,” I said. “She could have been me.”

But, of course, she wasn’t. The simple act of rounding a corner resulting in my life interrupted—ended—on a random day in April remains surreal.

There are no words to express the incalculable tragedy of a life in full cut down. Still, words do offer a pathway … “a sturdy ladder out of the pit,” as Alice Walker put it, a concept we discussed this weekend in my writing workshop. As I think of Iryna I offer, in my own way, a little legacy. A woman she never knew living thousands of miles away from Ukraine writes this testament. Iryna, you are not forgotten. Your life brought me in touch with my own.

Writing brings comfort and reflection. Even though I know it to be wishful thinking—magical thinking—selfishly, I hope that when my time comes, someone remembers me too.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd

Published by Susan G. Weidener

Join me as I share reflections, always with an eye toward the challenges and struggles we women encounter and embrace in both creative and personal ways. My memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, was selected as a 2011 editor’s pick by Story Circle Network. Its sequel Morning at Wellington Square has also achieved critical acclaim. A Portrait of Love and Honor, a novel based on a true story, is centered around a story of two people, Ava Stuart and Jay Scioli, who are destined to meet and Jay's commitment to honor following his years at West Point. My new novel And the Memory Returns continues the story of Ava Stuart who begins asking herself those questions so many women face as they age. What had it all meant? Where does she go from here? In 1991, I joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer and worked as a reporter covering news and writing feature stories until 2007. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs, I attended the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, I started the Women's Writing Circle, a critique and support group for writers in suburban Philadelphia, which meets the second Saturday of the month at the Chester Springs Library. I live in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania with my Yellow Lab, Lily.

6 thoughts on “The Woman with Red Fingernails

  1. Susan, your piece resonates with me as I’m sure it does with many women.
    I experienced no tragedy or trauma, but retired from a job that had grown tedious.

    Deliberately, I did not jump into pursuing another pastime, but I let myself pause and reflect. From that peace, various pursuits grew organically into passions.
    I now play piano and garden.
    I have taken up needlework; I bought a camera; I write frequently.
    My reading has begun to include some tomes on spirituality, universal truths, our connectedness with each other and with nature.
    I feel I am settling in to myself.


  2. Iryna could have been one of many women, and yet it wasn’t our time. Your post about Iryna and her hopes and dreams resonated with me as I read on. She represents the whole of her country, Ukraine, as life after life falls to the ground at the hands of another person. I appreciate your journalistic background when you write a post such as this. Thanks, Susan, for being you and being here.


    1. Thank you, Sherrey, for reading the post and taking the time to comment. Iryna’s story particularly struck a chord, as I wrote. My travels around the world have often led to the same conclusion … some of us have so much and some so little … and where we were born and our life circumstances are the luck of the draw.


  3. Your words are an enduring legacy, Susan, and you multiply the effect by inspiring your Circle. I have a personal interest in this story. My American friend, Kathy Gould, is approaching the 30 year anniversary of her mission to children and families in Ukraine. She left Kiev last year in February but returned in July and is still persevering there in spite of missiles flying and other imminent danger. She said with conviction even before the war began, “I want to die in this land that I love.”

    So much of what happens is out of our control, but we persevere in spite of it all. What else can we do?


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