One theory is that you know you have arrived when you can get yourself good and lost without worry over getting home. This assumes no one is waiting for your arrival, or the meal you would make, or the rent––difficult to pull off in a given day, and yet in the suspended space of making what we make, I suppose it happens all the time. But just as I am starting to think, here is something, I am back to thinking of the birds falling from the sky, whole flocks of them discovered in the aftermath––but also once a snowy owl, living, in a tree near the local library, and the punk defiance of the tiny nest that once appeared on the electrical box, and the lizard that looked back as we crouched to see him beneath the cabinet, the cat and I, and maybe the point is only to lose the trepidation over being fatally human––into a wider web, woven of strands this limited sight is still unable to detect.
At first, it was the usual set of former pets in wartime––cats and dogs. She stayed with them as the shelling continued. The ground was shaking, she says, of her arrival. The dogs were tearing holes in the fence with their teeth.
Later, it became clear that there was no one else to watch the turtles, the peacocks––and who would feed the lion? They left a land mine near his cage. She tried bribes. They detonated. The lion lived. They locked her in a room, killed her dog. She buried Jina under a tree. When they locked her in a room, they told her she would die if she tried to leave. She left the room. It was time to feed the animals. It is always time, she says. Always.
It haunts her, to imagine the noises the horses made, neighing in the burning stables she could not reach. The shelling continues, and she continues here. It doesn’t matter who you protect, she says. You rescue what you can to remain human when war would make you forget.
On the work of Asya Serpinska, a seventy-seven-year-old Ukranian woman sheltering over 700 animals in Hostomel, roughly twenty miles northwest of Kyiv.