Thursday, 27 February 2014

The comfort of storytelling - Lily Hyde

Last week, for anyone who knows or cares about Ukraine, was one where reality outstripped most scary stories or fairytales.

Any story that was being told, of a choice between the European Union and Russia; of ultra-nationalists versus a democratically elected government; of a gradual exchange of power from president to parliament; of things reverting to normal once all the homeless bums realised they couldn’t live in protest tents forever and went back to whatever gutter they’d crawled from – whatever the story was, however coherent and persuasive the narrative, it was utterly overtaken by events.

Who could make up police snipers shooting down unarmed protesters with live ammunition? Or charter flights of the wealthy and well-connected with their suitcases of cash queuing nose to tail to take off for Russia or the West? That the tanks and soldiers allegedly heading to Kiev would never arrive? That the president would sign an agreement to hold early elections and then disappear? That next day his country residence would be open to the public to wander around and gawp at his ostentatious and thoroughly kitsch display of stolen wealth?

Truth stranger and more fantastic than any fiction. I’ve been making stories out of Ukraine for several years, both as a journalist and as a fiction writer. This last week I’ve just stared in horror, astonishment, awe, sadness, cautious hope. I could never have guessed what would happen, let alone made all this up.

Barricades in central Kiev (photo by Max Bibik) 
In the face of all the confusion and upheaval, people continue to make up stories. It’s what makes us human. One Ukrainian city greeted riot police returning from Kiev as heroes; another made them walk down a ‘parade of shame’. The Russian press narrative is that the interim government is made of bandits and extremists; the West’s story is that it’s a triumph for democracy. Many protestors in Ukraine call it a sell-out. The proposed new prime minister has his own story: “this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell.”

History will make its own story out of these events. We don’t know yet who will write that version. Who will evaluate it, embellish it, censor it, cross out and rewrite it, turn it into poetry, a children’s story, a romance, a tragedy – a happy ending…?

Memorial for those killed (photo by Max Bibik)


Penny Dolan said...

Who knows? Exactly. So many sad situations around the world. I would like to believe that cautious hope might win, but fear otherwise.

Sue Purkiss said...

Very moving, Lily. It's bad enough witnessing it on the TV, never having been there, but for someone who knows and loves the country, it must be awful.

JO said...

It seems to be the season of upheavals. Students are dying in Venezuela, too - their stories are largely lost here, as our eyes are fixed on Europe.

We all know that killing people solves nothing. So this slaughter breeds nothing but bitterness. It's so hard to watch, knowing there are people like you and I caught up in all this.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

When I looked through the newspapers this week, the photographs have struck me as being so beyond the ordinary that they appear as surreal paintings from an artist who specializes in the macabre. Post apocalyptic chaos... yet real people are living there and its not post apocalyptic... its the now.

Lily said...

Thanks for your comments. Yes, Jo, it's awful in itself isn't it, how our news is so subjective and short-memoried and filtered - yesterday Syria, today Ukraine, Venezuela never gets a look-in.. but for the people there, the troubles just carry on.

sorry, didn't want this to be a depressing post