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Elaine Elinson: Diaries of War

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When Elaine Elinson stumbled across her grandmother’s diaries, she discovered that she had much in common with today’s war-torn Ukrainians.

Over the din of explosions and the glare of fiery missiles, Ukrainians have somehow found the presence of mind to write diaries of their experiences. From improvised bomb shelters in apartment buildings in Kyiv to the trenches of the Donbas, teachers, mothers and newly-drafted soldiers keep journals as bombs fall around them.  Even children, trapped for weeks in the dark basement of their elementary school in the small town of Yahidne, crayoned pictures on the walls to tell of what they saw – and what they hoped they would see when they were freed.  Sun and sunflowers, the Ukrainian flag, hearts and butterflies.

I find these tenacious diarists especially moving because we recently discovered my grandmother’s diaries written about her life in Pavelitch, a shtetl southwest of Kyiv – more than 100 years ago.

As a young woman, with just a few years of schooling, my grandmother wrote in Yiddish and Russian about seeing her father come home from the war in a tattered uniform, the ravages of tuberculosis, refugees from destroyed villages – and her own journey into exile to Chicago. She also wrote by hand, at night, by candlelight, seeking solace in a world torn by strife.

That was a different war (the Russo-Japanese War) and different destruction (pogroms, not Russian tanks), but I feel that her impetus for keeping a journal was just like the Kyiv diarists of today.


We are so grateful to have these books of her memories, and I hope that the children and grandchildren of the journal-keepers in Kyiv will be able to read of their relatives’ lives in peace and security someday.

With a Perspective, I’m Elaine Elinson.


Elaine Elinson is a writer and teacher in San Francisco.

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