What If Life Is a Waterfall

Kateryna Zmytrovych (+Video)


Russia began its siege of Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022, marking the start of the  most crushing  period in the Kateryna’s life. Written during  this time, this story offers a glimpse into what happens to people in every war. While Kateryna admits that her narrative is extremely dark, she knows it will have a happy ending because of the light of faith within her.


I am from a family in which I, as a younger sister, used to get some hand-me-down clothes and shoes when they had become too small for my older brother. 

My very first pair of shoes that I remember is the pair I got from my brother. Light brown, chunky, and masculine-looking, these warm winter boots were really good. But I hated wearing them. They made me feel poor and ashamed. I wanted to have something new and girlish to feel prettier. I think one day I just grew out of them, but it’s funny that when I can buy any shoes I want, I choose the same style because now I am conscious enough to realize that my beauty does not depend on my shoes.

By the way, my family fell apart when I was nine, but we were always there for each other. And since October 29, 2022, we have been broken again. My brother’s life, torn by war into fleeting random painful fragments of always elusive happiness, ended. My brother and five other soldiers were killed in one single hit. 

I am from that ruined life in Mariupol. I experienced war for the first time when I was 21. At the time I was going through it, I was not brave enough. But now I am. 

I remember that day in the middle of March, 2022, when shelling suddenly stopped. I went outside for the first time in four days. I can still feel the trembling in my knees from the very first steps—and the dizziness that came with the very first breath of fresh air. I saw that several floors in the building next to ours were on fire because something had hit an apartment on the second floor. It was a huge fire, but the residents of the burning apartments just sat on the nearby benches so quietly as if they were waiting for something. 

To protect myself, I closed my eyes and imagined that instead of seeing hopelessness in its purest form, I was feeling the warm sun on my face, the smell of a campfire, the crackle of firewood, the buzz of people. For a moment, this vision gave me a delusion of security.

I am from my father: his strong shoulders and a cold mind. I am from my brother: daydreaming about everything and nothing, from his kind heart. I am from the strict rule to be a good girl, but nightmares like this should not happen to good girls, should they?

I was almost sure I did not exist anymore as I lay on the cold door we used as a bed while we were living in the basement. It was so cold there that I had trouble moving because of the many layers of sweaters and pants I was wearing, but I felt frozen. It was so dark that I began to feel the room and every single thing in it. It smelled terrible in there: some unthinkable combination of urine, damp, dust, and despair. Our days were so useless. We slept more than twelve hours, but felt weak and dog-tired. We were always pretty hungry, so we played the “What would you eat now if you could” game. 

Perhaps, just having escaped this hell on earth, I feel much more alive than ever before. Now I know how to enjoy the simple things like fresh water, clean hair, and silence. It is so good to be alive, to breathe, to wake up, to wait in line, to eat, to work, to take a bus, to love, to be so busy and tired, to smile, to have sex, to choose, to feel and to remember, to forgive and to forget, to hope.

The day I will meet my brother again will never come, but I believe he can hear me now, so here is what I have to say: “Hi Stas, I’m so sorry. I will always keep your hand in mine, and I am going to be happy for the two of us.”

Kateryna Zmytrovych is from Mariupol, Ukraine. Before her city was destroyed, she was a manager for the city and developed a project to improve the parking system. Along with her husband and cat, she fled Mariupol in March 2022. Now living safely in Canada, Kateryna works at an information centre where she helps new immigrants. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, and dreaming a little.

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