I started reading a short story in a New Yorker from last April. Its title is “The Ukraine.” The narrator and his girlfriend are Ukrainian, and she had lived in the U.S., where some people were used to calling her country “the Ukraine.” I remember growing up and calling that part of what was then the Soviet Union “the Ukraine,” and it sounded strange for some time, after the Soviet Union fell apart, to call that new country “Ukraine.”
The story is about the narrator and his girlfriend traveling around their country, Ukraine, stopping or passing through Luhansk or Donetsk, places we’ve read about in the news since February. Then, the narrator describes taking a selfie in Khotyn. This town is not in the news (it’s far from the front lines), but it is where my mother’s parents came from when that country was Russia. It stops me, to see the name of this town, which I feel has meaning only to me, to appear in a New Yorker short story. It makes the town feel more real, but more exposed. It no longer belongs only to me.
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