By Ela Kolesnikowa
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
And this is good news.
Now, the bad news: Today I saw with my own eyes what the people of my generation only know from memoirs or memories of their parents, as well as people of their generation.
I came much earlier than my lecture was scheduled so that I could write my letter of resignation. The department Chair signed it without saying anything. I could tell he was expecting this from his reaction. I still had an hour, so I went outside. When I came back and went to the department to hang my jacket in the coat closet, the department Chair, a lab assistant and two colleagues were sitting at the table. I said hello. Actually I only greeted the two colleagues because I had already seen the department Chair and the lab assistant. They didn’t answer me. Not deliberately, no. They just continued sitting there as if they didn’t see or hear me. We’ll gently leave one of them out of the equation: a year ago, I had caught her for plagiarism. She has every reason not to glow with love for me (but before today, she used to greet me). But the second colleague had always been friendly. She asked me for my book not long ago and when I brought it, she asked me to write a dedication. That is not something I like or do well, but I signed the book. She said: “I’ll show it to my grandchildren.” That was a joke about the grandchildren, I understand. But she asked for the book. And asked me to sign it. Today, she was silent. And this is when I remembered from the memoirs of the past:
the person who crosses the line, becomes an disembodied ghost, a phantom that no one can see. I never thought that I would become that phantom.
I thought it would be difficult to give that last lecture. But I managed. I think it was my best lecture of the semester. At the end of the lecture, I said goodbye to my students and told them why I was leaving. I could have said it to them with more warmth, but the words stuck in my throat. All I said was: I’m leaving and it was nice talking with you. My lecture room was on the third floor. I had reached the second floor and they were still applauding. Still applauding. Not me, the empty lecture room.
And for the first time through all this last period, the occupation of Ukraine, the salute in honor of the annexation, local matters at work, the dismissal of [MGIMO history professor Andrey] Zubov, the shame and desperation, the birth of a frightening new world where you cannot expect anyone to help you, that’s when I cried for the first time.