Katya Petrovskaya’s Picture of the Week column

GYesterday I drove through the fields in northern Berlin. My elderly mother, who came from Kyiv and from the war – I still refuse to say “escaped” – is in the hospital there. It is far, but thanks to this trip I see the suburbs of Berlin with their single-family houses and fields with here and there windmills that are so huge that you feel like a small child, just as you do in front of it the war feels small. It’s hard to say why I love Kornfelder so much, or rather why they move me every time. Where does this unconditional sentimentality come from? Is it the unexpected breadth of the horizon, the free breath? Or do I immediately think of “our daily bread”? Because all civilization comes from rural “cultivation”? Or is it the magical cult of bread in my family, a late consequence of World War II and famine? Yesterday I saw combine harvesters, those big machines, walking through the field like giant insects, leaving behind a blond carpet and a cloud of dust above. How normal, how quiet. And I thought how hard it is now, when the summer bliss descends, to keep the sharpness of war in focus, without losing sight of your own life. The war has not eased either from the summer or from our weariness. War is not a discussion forum, an image or an article. And for me the war on the road to my personal “refugee” is a perception without representation.

What can you use to keep your focus on the war? Through the faces of the people at the front? Through the stories of refugees? Is it possible to use a single image as a source of information and at the same time declare it as a seismograph showing our emotions and possible actions?

We need warning signs

The war rages on, it is still photographed, but finding a place for it in our lives here has become more complicated. I see hundreds of photos. In Ukraine, huge granaries have been set on fire, fields have been filled with bombs, forests and even private vegetable gardens have been mined. My Facebook timeline has become a book of condolences: an endless stream of photos of funerals, faces, grief. And yet weddings are taking place everywhere, people are in a hurry to make love. Images of cleanup work, reconstruction, everyday life. Images of resistance army, front and back. I googled Odessa, the port was just being shelled by Russia, despite an agreement to end the blockade of Ukrainian ports to allow the shipment of grain expected by millions of people. In recent days an image has been making the rounds that also haunts me: a man from Kharkiv holding the hand of his dead son and praying. I do not want this violence, in fact, in words or images, and I want to protect this man from our eyes. I am looking for an image that mimics the conditions: summer, fatigue, boredom, fear, compassion, everyday life in wartime. But this image does not exist.

We see a wild green plant that catches the eye. The sign reads the Ukrainian word for “mines,” as if mines were growing in the vegetable patch or at the edge of the forest. Such homemade signs are common in vegetable gardens, but usually have the names of the herbs written on them. If it were art, if it were a trick in the spirit of René Magritte, the word would reveal that we do not see what the picture shows us. Green hides the wounds of the earth and I wish green grows above war. War has entered our lives, creeping and masquerading as the new normal, the new nature. We need warning signs, reminder signs that prevent us from accepting it.

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