One late morning in the beginning of March 1994, a strange natural phenomenon occurred in Western (Transcarpathian) Ukraine, between the cities of Stryj and Ivano-Frankivsk (formerly Stanislav), 65 and about 100 km. southwest of Lviv, at the site of Stalag 371, German concentration camp for captured military officers, in 1944 liberated by the Soviets over the camp ruins and uncultivated fields behind the abandoned ”Sheriff's Magazine” (hardly readable in Ukrainian cyrillic on a dilapidated board): A catabatic wind, connected with the anticyclone at the height of about one kilometer and with the same diameter, gave birth to a strong movement of air masses which in at least three languages and countries (Rumania, Bulgaria and Serbia) where it is known, is called koshava. Koshava, formed above former Stalag 371, rose, began to turn clockwise, spread to the left and strengthened over the Carpathians, gained more ice power, hit the Danube’s Đerdap Gate and like a lightning kite flew from the straits to its first target on the wide, the city of Belgrade. Koshava was young, springy, eager to do as much damage as possible, and to play on the streets for as long as possible. It shook doors, windows and street lamps, wires creaked, cars swerved, and people bent down and resisted, their faces flushed and bruised, their bones aching and their fingers frozen. The sky brightened completely and shone with an icy glow, enough to intensify the blow and blind the eyes with light, so the koshava would seal them with icy tears.
Slobo covered his eyes with reddened hands as he entered the kitchen, where Ela was making coffee. She had good news for him, he got a Swedish visa and a plane ticket, and he has to take a van to Budapest today to catch an early flight to Stockholm. Militsa was in a meeting with Dara.
After the meeting, Simka called Dara because Dushan fainted. Militsa went with her. They held hands to climb Nebojsha Street, while the koshava was hitting them on the forehead, neck, chest, knees.
Dina and Schliemann crawled into bed with Julka, the safest place in the house. They knew the koshava was coming at least an hour before humans could feel it.
Shemsa was sitting with the one-armed man in an almost empty cafe under Bajloni's market. The windows shook, the smoke of his cigarette curled to one side. She met him the day before in front of the herbalist's stall, he told someone something about her city, Vishegrad on river Drina: Yesterday was warm and sunny, the first daffodils and tulips appeared on the stalls. It seemed that she would finally find out something about her family.
Zoritsa did not know where Shemsa was. Yellow, Dara’s dog was hit by a car that night, barely making it home. Zoritsa managed, with the help of the taxi driver Boba to bring him to the vet. They sat, both calm, in the icy waiting room, while the upper windows trembled, and the koshava howled a death song between the worn-out benches.
Half of Mladenka’s face was swollen and reddened, she had difficulty swallowing. There were icicles on the windows, and the hand of death shook them incessantly. The curtains were in constant motion, cold waves were coming from under the door, alternately with warm waves from the radiator. She was alone.
Simka raised Dushan's head on the pillow, put a warm compress on his forehead and sat down by the bed. There was so much blowing from the window that she wrapped herself in a woolen scarf. She called for an ambulance immediately. When she finally got the line and described his symptoms, an almost cheerful voice there told her that they couldn't get to every junkie right away. She could expected help only from Dara. Something new was there between her left arm and her body, a large pulsating machine, climbing and descending and taking her breath away. She put a nitroglycerin pill under her tongue.
At the corner of Carnegie Street, Beau held his frozen hand on the fence around the University Library. He chose the worst possible day to search for data in the Archives of Serbia - first he was freezing because there was no heating inside, and then outside he ran into this murderous wind. With a red nose and cheeks, he advanced step by step along the fence, until the whistles of the koshava eased down a little in front of the large building.
Slobo and Ela carefully descended the Crnogorska Street. Taxis did not stop. When they reached Karađorđeva street, the koshava roared like a monster between the pillars of the bridge. They huddled at the magazine kiosk, which the salesman had already locked. They shook in the wind there, just like the kiosk, for more than half an hour. Finally, a taxi pulled up and a familiar face appeared through the window.
"Come in," Boba shouted. - I come from the vet, there your Zoritsa is waiting with the dog. Where are you going?
- Dedinje, Swedish Embassy. We have to arrive by noon to pick up the visa.
"It's going to be crazy," Boba said. - from the Mostar overpass everything is congested, it looks like the army is passing.
The taxi shook as Boba turned around the pillars of the bridge to head in the opposite direction.
"Koshava overturned a truck," Boba said, "back there at the tram turntable."
They immediately got stuck behind the many trucks that chose the same route. But they were in the car, nothing else could be done. Slobo was ready for the trip, he had no luggage except for a small bag. He will not see Militsa ...
Dara and Militsa reached Simka's apartment. Dushan could barely come to his senses. He couldn't fix his gaze, saliva dripped from his lips, he couldn't keep his head upright. His face was gray and green. Simka didn't look any better either. Dara sat down with her notebook and started making phone calls. Only after a dozen calls did she get someone to talk to, describe the condition of the two patients, and then listen carefully for a long time. She finally hung up, and said calmly,
- You, Simka, have a pre-infarction condition. Sit still as you are, the doctor will try to come as soon as possible.
- Private practice, right? - Simka said quietly.
- Of course, what did you think? Dushan will be taken to the hospital, don't worry about him.
Dara gave Militsa a quick glance. They lifted Dushan from the bed and moved him to another room.
"She’d better not see him," Dara said quietly. - I can't even ask her how long he hasn't eaten ...
The doctor showed up in less than an hour. Two paramedics lifted Dushan, tied him to a stretcher and took him downstairs. The doctor examined Simka, gave her an injection and concluded that she was better at home than in hospital. They paid him hand to hand, no bills.
Dara left with Dushan, Militsa stayed with Simko.
Shemsa had a hard time starting a conversation with the one-armed. It started only after the third brandy. He knew hers, he knew their house - a beautiful house, next to the Drina river, from there you can see even more bridges. Her mother was nice. She was, yes. It was June, he saw it all: they filled the first, then the other bigger house with people, they shot them, dropped bombs and finally burned the houses. Her father and mother were in another house, at the end of June. He also knows a woman who got out of a hole and survived? All the time they played music at loudest. What was left of those people was thrown into the Drina.
"This mutt of yours will get away with it," said the vet, taking off his bloody green apron. - He might be a little lame. Be careful, he should not eat too much as he will not be able to walk much for a while.
- Can I light a cigarette? Zorica asked.
"We'll do it together," the vet replied. - See that there is no living soul around. You can also wait here till he wakes up so we can call a taxi. If you want, make a phone call, it's on the table.
Mladenka picked up the phone, but with her tongue swollen, she could hardly answer Zoritsa.
Someone unlocked the door to Simka's apartment. Beau peeked into the room, all disheveled and red in the face. Militsa pointed a finger over her mouth. Simka sighed half asleep.
Shemsa watched the one-armed man eat the beans with the sausage. She cut his sausage, he ate with a spoon. He was hungry. He had to travel tonight, by van to Budapest. He was afraid of his war pals from Bosnia.
Dara held Dushan's hand, the one with the infusion needle. The nurse struggled to find a vein that would leak a drop. He felt somewhat better, and smiled to her. On the adjoining beds were old men, who were evidently dying. It was cold, the window was shaking from the rush of the koshava. The nurse brought another blanket for Dushan.
"He's young," she said.
Ela had been sitting for more than an hour talking to someone from the embassy. Slobo was sitting in the waiting room of the consulate. Smoking was prohibited there. He was thinking about Militsa's neck, and elbow.
All the taxis were busy. The vet finished his shift and with the help of Zoritsa, he transferred the dog to his Renault 4, which had a grid between the driver and the animals. Yellow let out a long, sad sigh as they drove through the potholes and tram rails of Dushanova Street.
Militsa phoned Dara and her mother in vain. No one answered. Beau made tea.
Ela waved her documents triumphantly when she left the room, Slobo could travel. They got out where Boba, wrapped in a coat and scarf, was smoking. Ela gave Boba a big tip.
Shemsa paid and let the one-armed man finish his beer in peace. She could barely get out - it was blowing so much that the door kept slamming back, hitting her hard.
Zoritsa thucked Yellow on the couch and went out again.
Trying to reach for the glass, Mladenka fell off the bed. She lay there, face down on the silk Persian rug, until Zoritsa came to her apartment, picked her up and placed her on the bed again.
Dara came out of the hospital. A large lamp illuminated the morgue on the other side of the path. She sat on a bench at dusk. The traffic was roaring at the big crossroad, the trees were shaking with koshava.
Shemsa went out and to Branko's bridge. Deep down, the river Sava was choppy, it was blowing and she had to hold tight to the fence. A man passed by pushing his bicycle and cursing - it was too dangerous to ride. Who knows where the wind could throw her, so thin and frail.
- I am free - Dushan said to himself, when they turned off the light in the hospital room.
Militsa finally got in touch with Ela, who returned home. Slobo went directly to the Slavia square, where the van was waiting for the passengers to Budapest.
Beau checked to see if Simka was O.K., and spread out his notes on the table.
Dara came down from the hospital to Slavia.
Militsa ran across the park below the Yugoslav Drama Theater towards Slavia.
Shemsa went down Belgrade Street to see if the one-armed man had left?
Slobo was smoking his last cigarette in front of the former cinema when Militsa approached him, panting and with an icy face.
Shemsa saw the one-armed man walking towards the van from a distance.
The van left. Three women met in front of the Slavia Hotel.
"Let's go to my place," Militsa said.
There were several taxis waiting there. They squeezed into the back seat of one.
Ela was going through family photos. When the three women entered, the draft scattered the last pile she wanted to arrange all around the room. One fell far in the center.
"Look, Dobrivoje," Ela said.
"This koshava is a killer," Militsa said, locking the front door.
Dobrivoje Goldman, with the approval of the German command of Stalag 371, sent to his nieces in Serbia his picture in front of the barracks, in the company of a Polish, English, French and Russian officer – convict friends from the officer camp, in 1943.
"Well, poor Dobrivoje ..." Ela said. - He survived because a kind English officer, who served as a scribe, wrote him down as "Dobrivoje Galdanov", thinking, I guess, that he was Russian. He returned from the war, but disappeared in 1948, when Tito broke up with Stalin and purged the Russian sympathizers: Stalinism upside-down. By the way, he never got married: he had an affair with a cabaret singer in Istria, while he was training, a certain Loba, allegedly from Spain. The family objected, only my mother, his sister, was on his side... The singer admitted to him that she was not from Spain, but it was too late anyway. Dobrivoje became the king's officer, she disappeared somewhere across the Adriatic. And Dobrivoje was handsome, blue eyes, tall, well-groomed, such a good opportunity.
Koshava’s name and origin was thus revealed. That was her end. She stopped her rampage in Belgrade and continued towards the cyclone over the Adriatic only to slowly die away. Before dawn, a prehistoric pebble in the Archaeological Museum of Ancona, with the carved naked body of a woman and the head of a wolf, covering her stomach with her hands, shone strangely.
My father was in Stryj, in the officers' camp, from 1943 to 1944. He sent my mother a photograph with fellow officers from various Allied armies. He added the address - Stalag 371. The data show that the name of the camp was Stanislau, Russian Stanislav. The Ukrainians later changed the name of the city of Stanislav to Ivano-Frankivsk. Maybe the prisoners came through Stryj on arrival, maybe they never saw the town of Stanislav, bigger and more beautiful than Stryj. When the Russians liberated the camp, my dad set out with them to conquer Berlin. He stopped in Bydgoszcz, in Northern Poland, where he saw a mountain of corpses of Germans killed in the battle for the city, on the banks of the Vistula River. He concluded that he had enough of the war, and returned to Belgrade, which had already been liberated.
He was a Royal Guards officer, captured in 1941. He was first taken to the Strasbourg prison, then to various camps in the East. Stalag 371 was the last. In 1942, he sent my mother his portrait on a piece of board, painted by his friend from the camp. On the back, my father promises his then fiancée that he will return to Yugoslavia, with our king. In 1943, in a new camp, he became a communist . When he returned to the country, he was given the position of pontoon officer in the Yugoslav Army. I was born in Belgrade in 1948, six months before Tito broke up with Stalin, and I was given the name of Stalin's daughter: my mother and grandmother secretly baptized me in the church and gave me the name Natalia. My father survived the purges by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia against Stalin's supporters without consequences, because he had left the army a few months before: as a true communist, he did not like that the officers and ordinary soldiers ate different foods. It was neither the first nor the last time that stubbornness saved someone in our family.
My parents divorced when I was four. PTS was not known or cured at that time and my father apparently suffered from that. He became violent. I would see him occasionally. He could sing Russian songs and played the guitar, he had a nice basso. He told me several times that there is nothing as cold as the Ukrainian mud.
On March 11, the first Russian missile hit Ivano-Frankivsk. People from Western Ukraine, Lviv, Stryj and Ivano-Frankivsk do not have to flee to safety yet, they probably will in some near future. There are hardly any important military or industrial facilities in these cities. Until 2009, there was a military airport in Stryj, but it was dismantled and the lot was not rebuilt. There are many historical monuments in this area, created by Polish, Russian, Austrian, German and Ukrainian rulers. Before World War II, there were about a third of Jews in all three cities, as many Poles, and a mixed third of Russians, Ukrainians and Germans. About 15,000 Jews were killed or taken to death camps from Stryj, and about 50,000 from Ivano-Frankivsk, mostly to Belzec (now Poland). In Belzec, archeological excavations on the site of the camp were carried out by experts from the University of Torun. Today, there are practically no more Jews in those cities.
Footage from the train stations of the three cities in the first days of the war show women and the elderly with children, middle-class in appearance, with minimum luggage but well-dressed, with pets and telephones. About 12,000 refugees from Ukraine have come to Slovenia, where I live now. On behalf of the government, the Minister of the Interior sent a tweet stating that they are "culturally acceptable" refugees, not like those from Asia and Africa. The state has been behaving inhumanely with immigrants for at least seven years, contrary to international agreements and with signs of racism and xenophobia, including a ban on citizens taking immigrants into their homes. Now the Minister of Health gave a statement that polio, tuberculosis and measles have not been eradicated in Ukraine, and that this must be taken into account.
On the Polish border, many African and Asian students, now refugees are encoubtering all kinds of obstacles and difficulties trying to enter the country. An elderly gentleman from Rijeka (Croatia) appeared on the Hungarian border with a printed banner: He would like to marry a willing Ukrainian woman.
A Ukrainian child, crying, hits his father's helmet at the moment of goodbyes. Another Ukrainian child walks down a ruined street and screams in fear. Sarajevo residents remember a boy who rode around the city on his little bike during the siege, singing loudly and without fear of snipers. It's scary when kids go crazy.
There are many abandoned newborns in maternity hospitals in Ukrainian cities. Their mothers, hired wombs for mostly Western buyers, fled after giving birth, with the money they earned. Clients, new parents, cannot reach their already paid children. Nurses and other staff, and in fact no one else, can take care of these children. Paid and planned for a better life, these children, just born, are doomed. Some will survive.
Koshava disappeared on the stomach of the woman with the head of a wolf (Donna Lupa) in the museum of the city of Ancona. It is a sizeable pebble with an incised drawing. The woman is slender, attractive, completely different from Willendorf Venus, of which she is some 280,000 years older. She keeps her hands on her stomach, the position of her legs is such that we assume she is walking, maybe she is running away. Run, run, you who ruled the land, the sea, the wind and your womb 300.000 years ago. Run, you who will pay the highest price for people with helmets and crazy children. We, the similar ones, are waiting for you.
Svetlana Slapšak was trained in Classical Studies/Linguistics at the University in Belgrade. Retired professor of Anthropology of Ancient Worlds and Anthropology of Gender at ISH, Ljubljana Graduate School of Humanities since 1996. Dean of ISH 2004-2014. Published cca 70 books. Writes academic books/articles, essays, novels, travelogue, drama and translates from Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, French, English, Slovenian and SCB languages.