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Three journeys to Ukraine, 2014 – 2022

Journeys of the body. Journeys of the mind.

By Roderick MakimPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 6 min read
Gena and I. Gena was a 1974 Dnipr motorbike that I bought from a farmer near Dnipro for about $200 to ride across Ukraine.

(First Journey)


Pickled tomatoes and vodka and

Distressingly dill-flavoured chicken in Kiev –

(No, Kyiv, I am told)

In the grey square where

Pictures are posted on the Maidan.

Young people dead too young,

Flinging the defiance of youth

Into the face

Of an old, dead empire ,

Skeletal fingers clutching still

Around old possessions.


A new energy in an old city,

Older than Moscow

Grander than Russia.


Even the dead can feel envy,

Envy enough to wake the dead.


Near Biden’s black-tinted SUV

As other journalists try to get photos of the VP

I interview

A young man in the street, a student at university

In Kyiv.

He's from Crimea and he can

Never go home again.

"If I go back, I will have to be


And who wants to be Russian?"


My mate Carson arrives and

Hungover as hell

We catch the train to Kharkiv.

All the journalists have gone down South,

Down to cover all the

Death in the Donbas

And Kharkiv is silent.

Surely, there must be a story there.


On the overnight sleeper,

Rattling Eastwards,

A woman tells me West is the future,

West is the hope of waking up bright

After the long nightmare from the East,

Long, long years of

Invasion and oppression,

Rape and murder and famine.


In Kharkiv,

Protests beside Lenin in the square

And bullet holes in the wall

Near where my new friend Alex

Used to work.

Then the Mayor is shot,

Irina (my interpreter) is shocked,

Then springs into action, arranging interviews,

Getting us into the hospital to speak

With the surgeon.

We have the story – the only press at all

To show up, even the BBC

Relies on faulty reports from afar, stringers

Saying he was shot in the back.


That evening,

In defiance of the violence in the air,

The young people gather in public gardens,



Sharing a vision for a future far better than

The shooters could ever see.


And I get a byline in the Herald.

Kharkiv - 2014


(Second Journey)


In Dnipropetrovsk –

(No, Dnipro, I am told) there is

Distressingly dill-flavoured spaghetti

(Fuck me I hate that herb)

And a listing on OLX that catches my



A ragged old Dnipr

With rattling old wheels

Roaring old engine

Rusting old sidecar

Sitting in an old farm shed

Of Victoriia’s family,

Since 1974.


The boys in the механік

Vova and Vladimir,

Check Gena twice-over and

Check on Facebook to make sure I

Made it to Poltava and Victoriia

Follows my progress

In posts and photos

All across the country.


Before I leave Dnipro

A pretty girl

(Somewhere in Slovakia I lost the

Notepad holding her name)

Steals my hat and writes a note for me

In a language I cannot read

To show the police when I get stopped.

Hi – my name is Roderick, and I’m travelling across Ukraine.

Don’t worry that I am smiling so much –

I am not crazy

I am only Australian…’ the note begins

And in Lubny and Kyiv

The police smile,

Then laugh, then let me and Gena

Continue on our way

And I remember her shy sly smile

Wearing my hat

As she writes a joke knowing

I will hear the punchline

Hundreds of kilometres away.


The moon rises above a nameless

Truckstop on the highway

As Gena rolls to a dead stop.


A night above a garage

Oil and grease and old parts and morning light

Rising through slats in the floor

And Roma the Master of Motorbikes

Takes Gena apart

Puts him back together and gets him running again.

We race down the rollercoaster hill

In the long summer grass, the bike

Bouncing over the field to

The swimming hole,

Cool water deep

And life is good in the sun.


Finally, at Rivne

Gena roars no more

Spluttering to a final stop.


And I eat fried hog fat with salt

And drink vodka with pickles

And sing with old army vets

Who remember Afghanistan and By the River of Babylon.

I leave Gena with them

And I hope they get him

Started again



Lviv in summer

Is a place of colours amid the grey.


A place of music.

Flowing like blood

Pumping oxygen

Throughout the city,

Played by anonymous virtuosos for a handful of

Change and

A smile from a passing audience.

Clear and pure

The music mingles and flows

Over the cobblestones.


Anastasia is a Russian-speaking

Ukrainian living in Lviv

And laughs at the mere suggestion of Nazi-discrimination

Of Russian-speakers.

It does not exist, she says.


From Kharkiv and Dnipro

To Rivne and Lviv


It simply did not exist.


(Third Journey)


Years don’t pass,

They blend into a life –

Sweet and sour and bitter,

But my blend is sweeter than most,

I hope.


I meet some of my Ukrainians

Out in the world.

In Bali: Sergey and Hanna and

Sunsets on the beach in Kuta.

In Mexico: Andrew and Vika and

Sunsets on the beach in Xcalak.


The pandemic grounds me

Two years

In Australia, cut off from my life

Out in the world

Until February and Ukraine is in the news



Journalism and I are long parted,

But I still pay attention and Putin

Is calling for invasion and the world seems to think

It won’t happen and

I wonder if it's time to take

A third journey to Ukraine.


I ask my friends –

Andrew and Vika are married now

With a little daughter. Andrew thinks Putin is

Riling up trouble for the sake of it. The


Catches them off guard.


Anastasia got out early, already

Escaped to Poland.


I should go to Ukraine but instead

Choose Pakistan.

I've never been to Pakistan and

Australia is having its first cricket tour there

In 24 years.


Invasion begins and

Horrors of Bucha unfold

As Paddy Cummins and Uzzie Khawaja

Lead Australia to victory over Babar Azam and Shaheen Shah Afridi

And I cheer in the stands with Amna

And Ahmad and Timmy in Lahore and

The Pakistani crowd cheers with me and everyone

Wants to shake my hand

Because this is the first tour in 24 years and

Because “cricket connects”

As Usama so pithily puts in Karachi with a wide

Smile and the love of Pakistan enfolds me but

I can’t stop remembering Ukraine.


An email from Carson.

He wants to run guns

From Moldova or Slovakia or Poland, getting

Ammunition to fighters running

Out of bullets but

I think it's just drunken ranting and I don’t go



The third journey to Ukraine

Unfolds in my mind as I get back to

My life out in the world and there

Is just a whisper a whisper

My mind whispers



Go back to Ukraine

You coward’.


For 160 days

And more

The third journey unfolds in my mind as


Bombs explode in Lviv

And fires burn in Kyiv

And buildings crumble in Kharkiv and everywhere

Good people die.


As the grasping dead hand of

Undead empire reaches out in smoke

And fire

And horror

And horror

And horror

In Mariupol

In Kherson

In Bucha.


Good people dragged back down into the mud

Churning blood of a

Long-dead creature trying to rise.


As a small bald dying old man,

Dying in the smallest possible way, holding nothing

But power

Kills the hope of

A better future, determined to drag us back

Into darker times

His times

The times he never left

In the cold

Old war

Of his mind.


Some people, these

Blowhards and grifters and frauds

Say there are two sides to this.


Ask the people in Georgia if

Ukraine was wrong to fear Russia,

Mistaken to look Westward? Ask Irena

Or Dato or Nina in an art studio

Near Marjanishvili and

See the blue-sky and golden-field flags

Flying all over Tbilisi.

Ask Estonia

Ask Latvia

Ask Lithuania

Ask Poland

Ask Finland –

Since you clearly don’t believe it when the

Ukrainians tell you themselves.


Since the horrors of decades of deportations and

Murders and rapes

And Holodomor

And Chernobyl

Are apparently not enough and now

(Apparently) neither are the horrors of 2022.


They are right (in a way)

In their wrongness

When they say there are two sides to this.


There is right.

And there is wrong.


And that is it.


And that is all.


This is an edited, much shorter version of a poem I wrote in 2022. The full version can be found in my book Cracks in the Walls.


About the Creator

Roderick Makim

Read one too many adventure stories as a child and decided I'd make that my life.

I grew up on a cattle station in the Australian Outback and decided to spend the rest of my life seeing the rest of the world.

For more: www.roderickmakim.com

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