I have been distracted all day. I’m struggling to work on my WIP and even resorted to cleaning my bedroom and bathroom to avoid sitting down and getting words on the page. Horrific events in Ukraine have been unfolding for many days. Why am I finding it so hard to focus today?
The answer is simple. Yelena Osipova was arrested last night in Saint Petersburg. Yelena is a pensioner who bravely took to the streets with her handmade posters to express her opposition to war. Yelena is no stranger to protest. She has been making beautiful posters and protesting, often alone or in very small groups, for many years. And she is no stranger to being arrested either. You can read more about her and see her evocative work in this article in Russian Reader.
I had never heard of Yelena Osipova before yesterday. But ever since I watched the video of her being hauled off by riot police, surrounded by protesters applauding and cheering her , she has been in my thoughts. There are many parallels between Yelena and the main protagonist, Galina, in The Girl from the Hermitage. They are from the same generation and both are artists. Both are proud residents of St. Petersburg. Yelena was born in 1945, just after the siege of Leningrad. Both women grew up in the shadow of the war.
Readers often ask if there will be a sequel to The Girl from the Hermitage. This is probably due to the open ending of the book. When I was writing it, I never considered a sequel and the idea seems strange to me as I would need a long arc of 10-20 years to carry on Galina’s story. Over the past few years, the world has struggled with big, common challenges–covid and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Throughout the covid crisis, I have thought about Galina–even though she is a fictional character. How did she react to the global pandemic? Did she retreat into her flat and behave with caution? Did she survive?
And now, as tragic events unfold in Ukraine, I ask: what would Galina do? While I would love to imagine that she would rustle up a placard and join Yelena Osipova on the streets, I know this is extremely unlikely. Many Russians, especially from the older generation, believe the narrative they are being fed on the TV news: Russia is on a peacekeeping mission, the Russian army would not possibly obliterate entire towns with bombs, it is beyond possibility that the whole operation is a built on a lie, the west is always against us-this is no different etc... Others, who do not believe the lies are terrified to join protests. It is only a scant few who bravely take to the streets. Would Galina join a protest and risk being thrown in prison for eight years?
There is a fierce divide between those who believe Putin’s version of events and those who don’t. Schisms are growing between people–mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends. Many of us can relate to this sort of painful wedge as we have all experienced similar over BREXIT, covid vaccination, Trump, etc...
Much like my novel, this rambling post has an open ending. I just wanted to spread the word about Yelena Osipova. I don’t know what Galina or Putin will do. But I do know that the heated argument I had with a friend on the tennis court over BREXIT seems rather silly now.