Peace and Justice, Stories

A Birthday Party in Donbass

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It had been over 4 months since Pola, Tola and Rascal had last met. The dog and the kitten were playing together very often but they were not visiting the bird’s clearing. This day, however, they decided to visit their friend.

– Hoo, hoo, hoo! I’m so glad you’re here! –friends suddenly heard a voice behind them. – Why haven’t you come here for so long? – Pola, not waiting for the answer, flew down from a tree branch and sat in front of her friends.

– It’s wonderful that you’re here! I’m flying to Ukraine today, to meet my cousin who lives in Donbass. The one you’ve met at Granny Amalia’s house. Pietia is celebrating his 12th birthday today! And because there has been an armed conflict in Donbass and many, many shops are closed, I’m afraid no one will prepare a birthday cake for him. So, I baked it myself and thought that we could give it to him together. I’m sure he will be happy to see you – Pola added, flying up to a tree. She reached behind one of its branches and took out the cake which was beautifully decorated with raspberries and blueberries.

– Wow… – meowed the kitten with excitement. – That’s the prettiest cake I’ve ever seen!

– It’s not bad… for an owl – confirmed Rascal, trying to banter with the girls.

– ‘Phew! I bet you wouldn’t be able to bake a better cake – oanswered Pola, shrugging her shoulders. – So, do you want to fly with me or not? – she asked, undeterred by Rascal’s comment.

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But before they managed to say anything, Pola grabbed her magical compass, covered the cake and her friends with her wing and recited the mysterious formula.

– „All that is good, all that is new, take us away, show us the truth. Pietia’s home, … Street 43″ – she added, whispering.

In a blink of an eye, they saw a gold cloud and just like always, everything started to whirl around them. Within a second, the friends found themselves in Ukraine, in the region called Donbass.

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– Pola, are you sure that’s the right address? – asked Rascal hesitantly, when the owl raised her wing.

They were not at her cousin’s house but in the middle of a devastated street. All houses looked as if a huge herd of elephants had trampled them down; there were holes in the walls, broken windows and plaster falling off the walls everywhere. Some of front doors were ripped off the hinges and lying on the street, other doors were boarded up. Debris, bricks and boards were covering the whole street. It didn’t look like a place where Pietia could live… it didn’t look like a place where anyone could live.

– Pola! – Rascal repeated louder. – I think we’re at the wrong address – he added, weakly.

But Pola wasn’t listening to him. For a while, she was looking around uncertainly, but finally she took out a sheet of paper and read out loud „Street 34”.

– Well, yes, I said 43 instead of 34! I’ve confused the house number while uttering the spell but this is the right street… – she added hesitantly, more to herself than to her friends.

– Oh, it seems like nobody has been cleaning up here for a long time – Tola said, breaking a minute of silence. – If I left such a mess in my backyard, nobody would give me anything to eat for a week – she said. So Pietia lives several buildings further, right? Pola, show us which way we should go because I don’t know numbers.

Pola showed the right direction with her head but still didn’t say anything.

– Let’s go then! – called Tola and started to jump from one pile of debris to another, heading towards the house at number 34.

Rascal and Pola looked at each other uncertainly, took the cake and decided to follow Tola. The owl remembered that Pietia told her about some kind of conflict and that he wasn’t able to buy such basic products like sugar or eggs. But he didn’t say anything about the fact that his street had been devastated. There was still something wrong here…

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The three friends managed to walk only a few steps when suddenly a huge noise echoed around them.

– Boom! Bam, bam, bam! Booom!!! – the noise was so loud that the walls of the nearby houses started to shake and one of the windows of the tallest one suddenly broke.

– Aaaah! Help! Someone’s throwing debris at me! Rascal, help! – yelled Tola, covering her eyes and tail.

Rascal dropped the cake and, at the last moment, managed to grab Tola’s and throw her a few meters away from the falling bricks.

– What’s going on here? – asked Rascal, feeling a bit nervous now. – Pola, this rumble is not fireworks or percussion caps, this is real, it’s fire from tanks and gunshots. We’re not where we’re supposed to be, we’d better run before…

– Hey, in here! Are you crazy? What are you doing here?! Run in here, quickly, before you get yourselves shot! – suddenly, they heard an unknown voice.

Everyone looked at the direction from which the voice came and suddenly, they recognised Pietia leaning out from behind a building. Pola grabbed the half of the cake that remained untouched, Rascal took Tola on his back and they ran towards Pietia. In a few seconds, they were safe in Pietia’s house.

– Are you mad? How did you get here? What are you doing here?! – asked Pola’s cousin, very annoyed. He didn’t look happy to see them.

– Well… – started Pola, hesitantly – I wanted… I mean, we wanted to make you a surprise…

– Happy birthday to you – sang Tola, all of a sudden – Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday Pietia! I haven’t met you yet, but I know you’ve already seen me in the past. And this is a cake for you, especially from Pola – said Tola proudly, pointing at the cake with her paw. Only then did she realise that the cake wasn’t as beautiful as before. One half of it was left somewhere in the debris…

– Oh, it looked much better a while ago… – she said, confused – but I’m sure it is still tasty!

Pietia looked a little confused and Rascal spotted tears in his eyes.

– Oh, спасибі [spasibi]… thank you… is this really for me? I just… I wasn’t expecting that anyone will remember about my birthday! I wasn’t expecting you here either… – said silently, even more embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry for yelling at you… – he added.

– It’s ok, we’re not mad! So, where is the birthday party? Where are all the guests? – ?’ asked Tola in a carefree manner, slowly jumping up towards one of the rooms.

– The party? The birthday party? – sked Pietia, uncertainly.

– Yes, your birthday party. After all, today’s your 12th birthday, right? – sasked Tola, satisfied. She was proud that she memorized how old Pietia is.

– Emm… well, now that you’re here… – he said – and we have a cake, I can at least offer you something to eat – he added, looking at the flat pie that used to be his birthday cake.

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They went into a dusty living room. Its walls were shabby, with numerous holes, and there was a pile of bricks on the floor – just like in the street. The table was covered with a tablecloth but the material was dusty and all the chairs were knocked over…

– Oh Pietia, you are more messy than I am – said Tola, looking around the room.
– Yup – answered Pietia, smiling weakly.

– Pietia, what’s going on here? – Pola finally asked the question. – CHas a tornado passed through here? Or maybe these buildings were destroyed because of this conflict you were talking about at Granny’s? You didn’t say a word that you live in such poor conditions…  – added the owl.

– Ah, Pola… for over a year now, there has been a serious conflict in my country. People don’t talk to each other but fight, shoot each other and do other very bad things. At the beginning, it wasn’t that bad, only few gunshots from time to time and far away from us but now… you see what is happening now. Almost all people and animals ran away to hide with their families. Shops and schools are closed, buses come only two times a day. There is no medicine, because all the pharmacies were destroyed. We don’t even have electricity, so my fridge is out of use and in the evening I have to use candles to light up rooms. Hardly anyone comes out, they are all afraid to die.

– And you? Why don’t you leave? – asked Rascal.

– Me? Oh, no! – said Pietia immediately.  – They need me here, I’m a nurse. I’m helping others in the town…

– But it’s really dangerous here! – Pola was also opposed to his attitude.

– Now the majority of the troops moved a few districts away. I think that within days we’ll be able to move around in the street normally. I’m perfectly safe at home and the other people who have stayed here need my help…

– Ha! Look what I’ve prepared! – Tola once again interrupted their serious talk. She took the flat cake and stuck a candle into it, the same candle that Pietia was using to light up his flat.

– Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you! – sang the kitten again.

– Happy birthday dear Pietia, happy birthday to you! – sang Rascal and Pola, joining in.

– Now, think of a wish and blow out the candle – instructed Tola.

Pietia finally smiled. A few hours before, he wasn’t expecting to get a real cake today. He was sure he’ll be alone on his birthday. He took a deep breath and blew out the candle.

The candle went out and only a dim light was dispelling the darkness.

– What did you wish for? – asked the kitten right away. – You can tell us. I wonder what you asked for… maybe a car or a bicycle? Oh, I know! You asked for a cool board game?

– No, no, it’s nothing like that. – answered Pietia, shaking his head. – Today it’s the International Day of Peace, so I wished for peace here, in Donbass but also anywhere else in the world. I wished so that no one was shooting each other…

– But it’s not a birthday wish! – protested Tola. – You should think of something nice – she convinced.

– My little Tola… – said Pietia silently, gently petting her head – tThis is the best thing I could ever wish to happen. If there was peace, children would show up in the streets again, there would be cookies in shops and instead of hiding from gunshots, I would be playing hide and seek with my friends. And when I blew out the candle, the room would be still full of light. You have no idea how happy I am that you paid me a visit. Thanks to you, I have a real birthday!

The owl hugged her cousin, took the candle out of the cake, lit it again and placed it on the table. Then, the four friends sat around it. The dust wasn’t that visible in the dim light… they all ate the cake and talked until the candle burnt out and complete darkness fell across the room.

– Oh, it’s so dark! I can only see our eyes shining –  laughed Pola. – This is the sign that we should go back home – she added.

Friends hugged goodbye and Tola took out a small package which she gave to Pietia. What was inside? Only Tola and Pietia, who felt very moved, knew what. After saying goodbye, Pola and her friends flew back home…

Questions for careful listeners

  1. What country does Pietia live in? Which country did Pola, Rascal and Tola visit?
  2. How did the street in Donbass where the friends landed look like? Was it clean and tidy?
  3. Why is that some of the houses were ruined and doors were boarded up?
  4. Which products are people in Donbass unable to buy because of the conflict?
  5. Why was it dark in the room after Pietia blew out the candle? Couldn’t he have turned on the light?
  6. What was Pietia’s birthday wish?
  7. Do you think that maintaining peace in the world is as important as Pietia said?