In a Kyiv Subway Station, A War Diary is Written. In Lincoln, it's Translated Into English
Published for Nebraska Public Media
For the past 40 days, Alyona Bychkovska has been sleeping in a Kyiv subway station. On the first day of war, she started writing a war diary and posted her entries online. Her friend, Viktor Khanzhyn, a Lincoln-based economics professor who grew up in Ukraine, translates it into English.
It’s become a ritual.
She calls Khanzhyn every Tuesday and Friday morning at 8 a.m. Lincoln time to start their private lesson. For the past five years, Bychkovska has been teaching Khanzhyn Japanese, even when he moved to Lincoln to teach economics at Nebraska Wesleyan University. He’s in between Stage 3 and 4. There’s five stages, with stage one being proficient.
Usually Bychkovska teaches her students, like Khanzhyn, at her apartment, but nowadays she’s on the floor of the Southwest metro station.
“It’s the best place I think because it's not dangerous here,” she said. “We have police here and some volunteers bring us food. Also, at least we can sleep here because we do not hear these sounds of bombs and all these aircraft attacks. So, it's calm here."
Calm, despite young children playing at the station, subway cars passing through until 6 p.m., but there’s no privacy. Bychkovska, her husband, and sister-in-law sleep with their clothes on, and lay over a yoga mat and some blankets. Many friends and former students around the world offered their homes for Bychkovska to stay in, but she didn’t want to leave her husband and country behind.
“Staying here in Kyiv, we show to our warriors that we support you,” she said. “We are not running, we are waiting for our victory, because only you can help us, only you can help save us.”
She describes her life in a strange time loop: “Breakfast. Classes. Cooking. Lunch. Classes. Dinner. Road to the metro station. Diary. Sleep. Next day — just the same.”
Bychkovska writes entries like these every night then posts them on Facebook. The diary helps her cope with her fear as she puts all her emotions on paper.
At his office at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Khanzhyn recalls their Japanese lesson, the day after the war started.
“We did not speak Japanese, we did not have a lesson, we just talked for the whole hour,” he said. “We just discussed what's going on and what we think is happening and where this is going to go.”
The next three lessons were the same. Having a degree in political science, Bychkovska shared accurate information about the war with Khanzhyn. However, by the third week, she asked if they could go back to the lessons, to keep their mind off the war.
“This is a very strong person, a very resilient person, and that's what I saw,” Viktor said. “It was that resiliency that actually calmed me down.”
On the third day of war, Khanzhyn read Bychkovska’s first diary entry posted on Facebook. The platform automatically translates the entry, but he noticed some Ukrainian words, imagery, and expressions didn’t translate directly. He thought everyone should be able to read her words. So, he started translating the entries and sending them to Bychkovska for her to re-post.
It became a nightly ritual.
“It felt like it was an important part of the day that I could finish,” he said. “It also gave me some sense of completion, because you're so helpless in this situation."
Now, there are fewer families in the shelter, no long lines at the grocery store, and Bychkovska can spend the day at her apartment. Still, at night, she takes the 10-minute walk to the subway station and sleeps there, at least until next week. Khanzhyn hopes all Ukrainians, including his friend, never have to be forced to leave their home.
“They will always have the choice to just stay where they are, stay in their home, and be able to return to normal life,” he said. “Just a place where you have some plans, and you have some aspirations, and you work towards them, and you build something that makes you happy. That's a very simple human need, and I hope that they will be able to return to that.”
To read more war diary entries, visit Alyona Bychkovska's Facebook profile here.