This year it will be ten years we’re together.
At first there were over 50 women in a closed Facebook group. In the evenings after work, we just chatted about life, kids, husbands, lovers, work, diet, fitness and complained of course.
But it’s impossible for 50 women in one room, albeit virtual, not to argue. So a year later we set up a separate group with a silly name and a funny photo. We were eight women aged 40+ from Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Turkey, Georgia and Italy.
We couldn’t meet on the terrace of a café or at someone's datcha, but we logged on to our group there every day for ten years. Life had scattered us in different corners of hte world, but we were all the children of a big Soviet country. We laughed at the same things and had read the same books.
Together we went through two divorces, three big couples’ fight and uncountable family arguments. We also graduated from high school, studied to become a chef, moved to Australia, and resigned to become a skiing coach.
We survived two major surgeries and a bunch of minor ailments. We cried as we saw off our moms and husbands for the last time and raised money to pay for their funeral at the other end of the world. We picked out dresses to wear at the weddings of our exes and thought about the names of our grandchildren together. When we weren’t nagging each other, we gossiped about Russian celebrities and became ruthless film critics.
With Covid, when virtual meetings became the norm, we sometimes called each other with video. Each of us dressed up, did our hair and makeup and had a glass. We would laugh and yell so much at each other that occasionally our bewildered children would come into the room to ask if everything was okay. We couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over so we could meet in Tbilisi.
But in April 2021 our world crumbled.
Marusya died from covid in three days. She lived in Kharkiv, which she loved nearly as much as her sons, her old dad, and her two dogs. She was cheerful, resilient and the head of her small family. In ten years of friendship, it had also become our family, and we loved her city like she did.
Today, we feel a strange relief about Marusya’s death. She doesn’t have to see what her hometown has become, and she doesn't know that her sons and her father hid in a basement for days. She also doesn’t know that we are unaware of their whereabouts.
We no longer laugh on the group where we used to post photos of kittens and flowers. Instead, we talk about Ukraine everyday. We read the news in the morning, at noon and at night. We listen to economic forecasts and share gloomy thoughts about the future that awaits our children. We cry.
Our group became smaller when one Kiyv friend recently left. She didn't blame those of us that live in Russia, but we couldn't find the right words either to make her stay. Another one became seriously ill in a country at war and we don't have the means to pay her expensive surgery and medications.
We don’t dream as much as before, but those of us that remain are more tighlty knit than ever. As our former President Dmitry Medvedev replied to an angry pensionner in Crimea in 2016, “there is no money, but hang in there!”. We still serve as a shoulder to cry on for one another.
One famous Soviet anecdote illustrates our situation well. A man is brought into the intensive care unit with a knife in his back. The doctor asks if he is in pain. “No, doctor”, the wounded man answers, “it only hurts when I laugh”.