The Orphanage by  Serhiy Zhadan

The Orphanage

Serhiy Zhadan

The backdrop is a generic warscape in which the sides and locations are never named, but it's so clearly Zhadan's home city of Kharkiv. With the streets, fields and hospital under attack – and filled with immediate dangers, we share in the nightmare experience of negotiating a way through to the orphanage, but also the random encounters with human compassion. A terrifying feeling of what may be now or very soon on Ukraine's front line 2024.


The train station is painted yellow, but the paint has become dark and heavy in the rain. The national flags have been prudently taken down from the columns - the army's leaving the city, don't want to agitate the newcomers. The wastebaskets attached to the columns are filled to the brim with bright wrappers and plastic. There are several bloody bandages on top, draped over empty Coke bottles. The blood's bright, too. Nobody has emptied the wastebaskets in a while. Even the pigeons are steering clear of them. 'Yeah, where are they?' Pasha thinks, squinting all around. 'Where is everybody?' Remnants of snow on the roof, gnarled trees nearby, the skies settling frigidly. Pasha's eyes slide up and then down, and he suddenly notices them - hundreds of warm clumps of birds are clenched like fists, hundreds of bird beaks are aimed down at him, hundreds of round eyes, frozen from constant fear. Pigeons are huddled against one another, perched high up above the columns, under the awning of the station, nestling into one another like they're cold. But they're scared, not cold: scared of the racket behind the factory, scared of the silence of the surrounding streets, scared of the mercury gleam in the sky, scared that no-one's around.

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