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Geopolitics

A Mother's Choice — And Molotov Cocktails That Need Mixing

A reporter arrived from elsewhere in Europe, posing the questions so many others have begun to ask themselves since all-out war began last week.

A Mother's Choice — And Molotov Cocktails That Need Mixing

Residents prepare Molotov cocktails to be sent to the frontline in western Ukraine

Serhii Hudak/Ukrinform/ZUMA
Francesca Mannocchi

DNIPRO — One of the most memorable books by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, first published in 1984, is called War Does Not Have a Woman's Face.

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Born in Belarus after World War II, Alexievich had collected hundreds of testimonies from Soviet women who had enlisted in the 1940s in the fight against Hitler, working as nurses and telegraph operators, but also serving as aviators and in tank battalions. These female veterans told her about the sacrifices and the fear, but also that at the war’s end, no one had remembered them or their service.


Who knows what they’ll remember about Irina, who was busy Sunday arranging bottles in boxes, while her 7-year-old son Yaroslav circled around her playing with a ball. Irina is a teacher here in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, and four days ago like everyone else she was awakened by the sound of bombs.

Bottles and Polystyrene 

Irina and the mothers here, unlike those elsewhere in Europe, do not need to explain to their children what war is, because it has been present in Ukraine for years.

Still, Irina understood that this was different, even if choosing whether to stay or go was never a question. It was natural not to flee, just as it is natural for her to be here leading local volunteers in Dnipro to help prepare to fight the enemy.

Polystyrene sticks better to the targets.

Together with little Yaroslav, she had filled the car with bottles recovered from supermarkets, bought polystyrene plastic — because the polystyrene sticks better to the targets — and they started filling the bottles. With gasoline. Yes, mother and son were together preparing Molotov cocktails.

Face of war

But if Irina’s is the face of this war, she also has a face that resembles us. It can only prompt the question: What would we do if war came to our home?

If they were our children that we had to dress to sleep and carry wrapped in blankets into the air-raid shelters, running, for fear of bombs? What would we do, with an army invading our cities, and the streets where we walked the day before to pay the bills, buy a sticker book for our children, choose what to eat for dinner? Would we pack our bags and race toward the borders, or would we remain to fight? Like this friendly teacher, Irina, would we be preparing these bottles to be used to blow up enemy vehicles?

We don't know what we would do. Indeed, we know that we didn’t even have to ask ourselves until a few days ago, when the word war still seemed distant to us and the word refugee was fading in repetition. Today the war is no longer far away for any of us; and in a woman's voice, it asks the question: What would you do?

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