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The Five Stages

It was a little after midnight. I was checking my social media before going to sleep as usual when I saw something alarming, which quickly became terrifying. I came across my friend’s post of horrifying content - I swiped forward. I saw the same post - then I swiped forward again. I swiped over and over until I could accurately predict that the following post would contain the sound of an explosion, the night sky illuminated by the light of a flame, and another shocking caption highlighting that the war had begun. “The war has begun?!” I exclaimed with horror. Shock. Panic. Fear. Trembling. There was no sign of sleepiness on my face anymore - only apprehension. I did not know what to do - it was early morning in Ukraine. No one expected to hear the echoes of a bombing at 4 a.m., and only later would I recall that we had already experienced this before. Ironically, in 1941, without a declaration of war, another terrorist also invaded Ukraine early in the morning to catch people off guard. Nevertheless, I decided to call my mum first. The prolonged silence on the other side of a phone hinted to me that, in the wake of shock, a zero stage of a grief model can be characterized by a defensive reaction. Nervous laughter, false optimism, and soothing behavior - all serve as a defense against inevitable realization. My mother utilized each defense she possibly could. She started laughing optimistically, trying to settle me down - or rather, settle herself down. At once, I rushed out of the room to avoid my roommate and burst into tears as quietly as I could. Obviously, my hysteria did not go unnoticed; my roommate reached me upstairs with a glass of water. Set apart by seven hours of the night, I held a lengthy conversation with my mother. We discussed what happened, when it happened, how it happened, and, of course, why the hell it even happened. With trembling hands and wet eyes, with an overwhelmed mind and an intimidating sense of chaotic uncertainty, I entered the first stage of dealing with the inevitable: denial. It is often said that even the most terrifying things can ultimately become routine, and the feeling of deep terror fades behind a growing sense of commonness. A human is an exceptionally adaptive being. Despite the flagrant nature of the tragedy, through a progression from denial to acceptance of a sorrowful reality, I believe a person can overcome a crisis of any scale, even this one.

The first stage was simply denial. I finished my conversation with a promise to go to bed and continue my obligations here, 5 thousand miles away from the site of a newly ignited war. Expectedly, I did not go anywhere - I locked myself up in the bathroom and absorbed the coming information with the speed of the IBM. The news I wanted to see was not going to appear; yet I kept looking because I desperately wanted to find out that the bombing was a mistake, or that it was not Russia, or anything else contradicting the fact of a new European war launched in my motherland. My endeavors were in vain, and the more I researched, the more I became convinced it would not reverse. My first prayer was anguished and full of rejection; still, I pleaded with God to prevent this war, denying the fact that it was already impossible to halt. The next day and the day after I denied everything. I refused to admit this war would suspend the lives of the entire nation, but it very soon did. I naively believed there would not be any civilian casualties, but, obviously, the number began to grow rapidly. I did not believe Putin found his approval among Russians, our so-called brotherly nation, to massacre their siblings ruthlessly, but seventy-one percent of them exclaimed “yes” patriotically. Lastly, I could not accept the fact that the war would drag on for weeks, if not months, but reality sobered me with a bitter truth: war will be prolonged until God sees the Ukrainian nation paved the way to victory through the pain and bloodshed, sacrificing its developmental potential for the sake of sovereignty and justice.

Next, I faced my rampant anger. I turned angry conditionally and unconditionally. Hatred enveloped my mind, and I could barely handle it. My thoughts were not virtuous, and I pictured dozens of vengeful scenarios that would doom all those involved. Photos of annihilated residential districts, fleeing refugees, murdered children, and torn limbs in the wake of the explosion did not invoke tears on my face anymore. I was overtaken with rage, triggered by the abomination that was inflicted on my country. I watched as Russians immorally cheered their pseudo-majesty, blindly overlooking the growing sentiments of fascism, and I fell in anger at the thought that their ignorance and savagery could go that far. I was even angry at myself. My peaceful existence far away from my people irritated my sanity. I was angry at my own helplessness, the impossibility of sharing these hardships with my nation. Being apart from my compatriots, in a life of tranquility, free from common survival and popular resistance felt like a betrayal, like a surrender of my Ukrainian identity. Evidently, no longer held inside, my anger started to spill over onto those around me. I was annoyed by everyone who asked me if I was okay just for the purpose of asking. Of course, I am not okay! You better remain silent if you can't understand such obvious things, I wanted to answer, barely restraining myself. It was destructive for me as well as everyone around; therefore, in my attempt to rein in my wrath, I progressed to the stage of bargaining.

Many possible outcomes ending this terror fought in my mind. What if? I reckoned. What if the Russian economy collapses sooner than estimated, and Ukraine triumphs, admired by the entire world? What if Putin eventually begs China’s reinforcement and the West, always “greatly concerned,” swiftly retreats? Simultaneously, the rest of the world also stepped on the stage of bargaining, with analysts of all kinds — pseudo-specialists, alleged experts, and genuine professionals — filling the Internet with “personal prophecies.” I immersed myself completely in their ephemeral forecasts. However, fed enough with these dissatisfying analyses, I imminently fell into depression.

The war had already gone on for two weeks, and nothing indicated a swift ending. No longer was every death perceived as a national tragedy. Instead, the continued military and civilian losses gradually turned into statistics. The hearts of observers hardened, and the new, seemingly catastrophic events could not empty our spirits anymore. Depression fogged our minds and our souls. I remember waking up with the same thought in mind: how many losses had Ukraine suffered the other day. At that moment I realized the war had become, in some sense, routine for me as well. How many more children will die? What cities are yet to be devastated and national heritages to be destroyed? I pondered with disillusion. I was not frightened, looking at the debris of what once was national honor — I was just exhausted. I was tired of the ceaseless flow of information not ushering in anything optimistic. The horizon of a promising future refused to get any closer. There were only endless reports of bombing, genocide, ruination, breakdown, brutality, and terror. But once I had depleted all my emotional capacity by empathizing with every broken Ukrainian and with every killed national hero, then I could approach the final stage. Acceptance ultimately arrived.

When I put up with a current situation — a situation I cannot change but can influence only through my prayers and actions — solace settles in my heart. In this case, I had to face my own incompetence, ignorance about substantial questions that go far beyond a single human’s intellectual potential. How long will it last? — I had no clue. How much more of cultural heritage will be subject to the savage occupiers? How much more legacy will Russians destroy? How many more innocent lives will they sacrifice to build their illusionary “russkiy myr” no one asked for? — I did not know this either. What I knew, however, was that until it was over, I had to make a difference. I would have to persist with all those bravely resisting the evil, defending our fatherland, our sovereign state, our right to break the bonds with a dark past and move towards a bright future. I also knew oppressors would not persist, but my strong-willed people would persevere undoubtedly. My concession enabled me to switch focus and notice the world around me. People whom I tried to push away still embraced me. Regardless of my unintentional rudeness, they continued praying for me, aiding me, and caring about me. For those people, I should have readjusted myself – and I did. I even evolved from anger into pity, by realizing that holistic un-enlightenment of Russia prevented them from comprehending the extent of the misery they represented for their government and, indeed, themselves. Although some contempt, maybe rightfully, remained, the most crucial insight came with the realization that my despair and bad temper would not make any difference.

I faced reality and came to reason from a new perspective. I overcame the grief of the war and its losses. Further, I realized that I can only stand up to it. Viciousness and immorality have always existed, and innocent people have ultimately suffered. Speculation on the notions of justice and morality should be left for God. What mere human beings should deliberate is how to overcome this viciousness without falling into immorality themselves. We can experience denial, anger, or depression, but only earnest and right-minded intentions can confront evil and survive a crisis.

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