Story #134: Waiting for Your Loved One's Return From War: How Does It Feel?

January 25, 2024
Ira, 23, dives into her feelings about waiting for her boyfriend to return home from war for over a year.

"It will soon be 2 years since Oleh left to fight in the war. During this time, I've developed a habit, a reflex, where any vibration on my phone can wake me up at night. I'm always on edge because there's always the possibility that Oleh has written something, and I react to any sound from my phone."

Ira and Oleh first met in 2016, but they began dating years later when Oleh had enlisted as a soldier in the Ukrainian army. Ira had been waiting for his return from the army for a year, and now she's waiting for his come back from the war even longer.

They had a year and a half of living together, a small part of which was spent hiding from missiles in the basements.

"When we talked about the war, he mentioned that if a summons arrived, he would go. Naturally, I didn't want it to happen. However, when it came, he decisively declared, 'I'm going,' without even considering other options. Nothing could change his mind. We could have argued endlessly, but he was determined to go fight."

Actually, Oleh did not officially receive his summons. By law, a summons is only considered received if the recipient receives and signs it themselves. Oleh's summons arrived to his former address.

But it was that it arrived that mattered to Oleh.

The memory of waiting for him at the enlistment office is forever carved in Ira's heart. It was then she heard him say, "We are departing on the 26th of April". Meaning to the frontline.

"And that was it. My tears flowed immediately, and panic overwhelmed me. There were 4-5 days left. We didn't even know where exactly Oleh would be sent, as that was kept secret. The unknown scares you the most because you can only wonder where your love is being sent to and whether it will be a one-way ticket."

At that time, Ira couldn't keep the worst thoughts from creeping into her mind. The rumor had it that the soldiers 'do not return from there.'

Although Oleh was safe and sound during training, Ira's anxiety would appear reasonable later, when he was sent to Donetsk Oblast, one of the most dangerous parts of the front.

It was the day before Easter when he was sent to fight around Bakhmut. Even now, it is still hard to talk about it... When he was there, a missile fell right on their basement. He stepped outside to smoke and suddenly realized he had forgotten his lighter. If he hadn't returned to the basement for his lighter at that moment, he would have been hit directly.

His comrades, however, were there. One of them lost his leg that day, and another was killed by the strike.

"I remember him telling me that he was carrying part of his comrade's body, his leg, in his arms... And there were many such moments when he carried corpses or body parts."

Ira says her brain tried to suppress this information as realizing it was impossible, especially because she remained at their home while Oleh was living in a completely different, terribly cruel reality. 

Staying sane, Ira says, is a challenge for them both.

Familiar scents and views, constant reminders of their life together remain for her and are very far away for him.

"Everyday household tasks became challenging without him, especially at first. It's not a physical challenge but an emotional one. Doing alone what we used to do together, Oleh and I -- cooking, cleaning the house, swapping chores -- is now simply sad."

Also, comrades he got to know at war, the people she knew because of him, simply disappear from time to time. The people who would text Ira 'We're fine' when Oleh couldn't keep changing. It is one pain among many. And each time someone dies, she thinks, it could be him.

Not reevaluating important things in conditions like these is impossible.

"His respect for me has grown even bigger. I feel he appreciates me more, and he understands how hard it is for me too. He talks differently now, saying that I am strong, that we will make it through, that we can overcome it all. Once he told me that his life would have ended by now if I weren't waiting for him at home."

Ira has also noticed changes in herself.

Each time Oleh returns home for a few days, Ira avoids any unpleasant topics, not to waste precious time on even the smallest misunderstandings. The previous time, it's been 5 months until they could see each other.

In time, Oleh was relocated from the Bakhmut sector. Ira refers to the period he'd been there as the blackest. However, Oleh still remains in Donetsk Oblast, which doesn't let Ira breathe calmly even for a day.

The only thing that can change it is his ultimate return home.

We understand that this is for an important reason, and that he is there on his mission. We have a reason to look forward to until this war is all over, and we are stronger than it.

And that's it.

Oleh and Ira's strength, separately demonstrated both in war and peaceful life, forms a solid bridge high over the war. Yet it coexists in the same world with this numb machine, reminding us of how different things are from before.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld