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.
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