A pocket guide to the horrors of war - Janet Christie's Mum's the Word

When there's no escape from grim reality

Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The night before Russia invaded Ukraine Middle Child and I are sitting watching the news and he’s on his mobile talking to his mate, then hangs up.

“He’s worried about Ukraine, what’s happening there,” he says, “it’s really bad.“

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He looks back at the screen where footage from Ukraine shows mothers and grandmothers training to use rifles, and boys his age in military uniforms, with helmets and guns in their hand, talking about getting ready to fight, about how some have been fighting for years.

To me they look just like him and his brother and their pals, all raised in the international melting pot that is Leith in Edinburgh. Fresh-faced kidults in their twenties who should be studying, working, skateboarding, listening to their music, playing with their toddlers, planning which festivals to go to this summer, but instead they're putting their lives on the line. And I’m guessing many of the young Russian conscripts who didn’t manage to avoid the draft on education or health grounds look just the same.

My boys are already older than their grandfathers were when they were handed guns and began fighting in Europe on opposing sides in the Second World War.

Eighty years on, it looks grim, and I don’t really believe it, but I hear myself saying:

“Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll all be OK. It’s probably just posturing and threats from Russia and they’ll climb down and everything will be all right. Why don’t you go out and play pool with your mates or something?”

Next day, as we’re watching the tanks rolling, sirens wailing, missiles striking and refugees fleeing as war arrives in Ukraine, he says simply: “You were wrong.”

“I was.”

Wrong about Russia’s true intentions, but also in trying to ‘make everything better’ and sanitise the world for my kids. A luxury mothers, parents, in Ukraine, and Russia, no longer have. I’ve been doing it for twentysomething years, trying to fix things and protect them from the horrors of reality. It’s behaviour ingrained in mothers, but it’s time to stop because our children are already out there in the world watching, judging, acting for themselves, and the world out there is right here in their pockets, playing out in real time. If they’re lucky. The unlucky ones are holding guns in their hands.

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