Oksana Lushchevska, ‘Our Big Imaginary Family’

There are quite a lot of buses that stop here because our town sits right where two highways cross. Over there, two very old roads to Uman and Cherkasy intersect. Any bus you might take to Korsun, Zvenyhorodka, Kaniv or Kryvyi Rih, even if it’s only local transit, will come our way. It’s summer now, though, and there are fewer passengers. Maybe they’ve all gone away — who knows where, on vacation, what do you think?

It was Lily who started waiting for the buses and watching the passengers as they got off. It’s sort of a game she made up — she calls it ‘finding our family’. I don’t really like Lily’s games, but, having a younger sister, what can you do but play along? She’s only seven, and what she makes up is real to her. I would do anything for her, so I have no choice. Right now, she’s sucking on a peppermint popsicle. From time to time, she pulls it out of her mouth and tucks it back into its cellophane wrapper to save it for later.

‘It’s better to eat it now’, I say to her, ‘or it’s gonna melt.’

‘No’, she shakes her head. ‘I’d better not. It’s the last one.’

Lily jumps up from the bench we’re sitting on and asks a man who’s passing by for some of his sunflower seeds.

‘Hey Mister! Can you hear me? Give me some!’

‘What are you doing?’ I glare at her. ‘You can’t do that!’

‘I’m not asking for money, Nadia.’ She opens her palm and shows me the seeds. ‘Here, take some. Go on, take them.’

‘If you beg it’s embarrassing. I will not let you beg. We may be “orphans” but we are not beggars. We have a roof over our heads. We get breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have you and you have me. We’re together, do you hear me? Do you understand?’

‘I get it, Nadia. What’s not to understand? We’re going to have a mom and dad soon, anyway, maybe even a brother and sister…’



Lily doesn’t want to listen to anything I have to say… She stubbornly keeps playing her game: she’s determined to find us a family here. As more people arrive at the bus station, she has more people to choose from for our imaginary family. It’s nonsense, of course. But I won’t let her sit there alone, so we sit there huddled like a pair of mushrooms.

‘We already have a mother, Lily!’

‘Where?’ From the look on her face, you’d think it’s the first time she’s heard it.


‘Where, Nadia? Where?’

‘Money for some ice cream?’ Lily has stretched her hand out again to another man passing by.

‘I’ve already told you, Lily, so many times’, I’m getting really angry now. ‘How many times have I told you? Lily, how many?’ I explode.

‘Nadia… Why?’ She opens the wrapper and takes out the popsicle.

Lily doesn’t remember our mother at all, so my words mean nothing to her. Mum went to England to pick strawberries when Lily was really small. One of our neighbours looked after us for a while, and then she gave us up, and we went to the orphanage.

Auntie Ania was lucky that there was an orphanage we could go to right here, in our town. If there weren’t one here, she’d have to take us to Babanka in the Bucha district and that’s not very close. You have to go way towards Uman and then keep on going. So it’s a good thing we stayed here in our town. We don’t actually have any other relatives. Our father lives somewhere near the Moldovan border with his family, but they didn’t want to take us in. They do come and visit us occasionally. Not that often. Only once or twice a year. Lily and I don’t really care. If our father doesn’t care about us, then why should we care about his family?

‘What do you think of these people?’ whispers Lily in my ear, nodding towards a couple exiting a bus. ‘There’s a “family” resemblance, our hair sort of looks like hers, don’t you think? She has straight, shiny hair, Nadia!’

I take a look at the woman she’s pointing at. There is something… she does remind me of our mother. I let myself imagine for a moment that she is our mother. That she’s come for us, with her husband, who will be our new father. He’s pulling a stroller out of the bus now.

‘Oh, they already have a child.’

‘Maybe it isn’t theirs.’

‘Too bad, it is theirs.’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll find another family.’

‘Yeah, right, we will, we will, you’re always saying that.’

‘And what will you say if, all of a sudden, a great big family, a humongous, ginormous family just magically appears?’ Lily points her popsicle-laden finger at another family standing by a blue Jeep.

‘Lily, you poor thing, just look at them.’

‘Too big, Nadia?’

‘Yes, too big.’

‘You know what, Nadia, I don’t actually like them that much.’

‘Neither do I.’

‘What about those people?’ Lily shows me an older couple. The man pulls a cap over his eyes. The woman supporting him is small and round with a long grey braid.

‘I think they’re picking up their grandchild. Take a look at how they’re watching who’s arriving.’

‘I think you’re right. Here she comes now: a granddaughter.’

‘Phew!’ Lily spits out a sunflower seed husk.

‘Lily, you do know it’s just a game… a game you made up.’

‘I guess so, yeah, only a game.’

‘Where are they? Where are they? There they are!’

We turn around — Yulia. She works at the vet’s near the bus station. When she’s done at work at half past five, she always catches the last bus.

‘How are you today? We operated on a cat today. We managed to save her, but I’m beat. Would you like some tea? Let’s go to my place. I have some there.’

‘Are we going?’ I ask Lily.

‘Denys is at home. He’s waiting for us.’ Denys is Yulia’s boyfriend. Lily and I both like him. He’s always friendly, makes jokes, and never talks to us about anything sad. He never asks where our mother is.

After dinner, they walk us back to the orphanage. Denys suggests we take a taxi, but Yulia says she wants a bit of fresh air. We take our time going up the hill. Denys is holding hands with both Yulia and Lily. I’m meandering off to the side.

We reach the door of the orphanage. Beetle is lying in his usual spot — he’s a stray dog and doesn’t have anywhere else to sleep. He starts to bark when he sees us, even though he knows us. He thinks he’s a guard dog.

‘Poor thing’, Yulia nods with her chin towards the dog and says to Denys. ‘Should we take him home?’

Denys doesn’t answer. Maybe he’s thinking. All four of us look deep into Denys’s eyes: Yulia, Lily, me and the dog.

‘Take us insteeeead! Take us!!!’ Lily wails.

‘We have to go now!!!’ I pull Lily by the shoulder. She plants herself in place, like a rock. ‘We have to go, have to…’

Yulia takes Denys by the hand, nods to him and smiles at us.

‘We’ll think about it’, says Denys. ‘I promise we will.’

Inside the orphanage, I bark at Lily:

‘What have you done? Whaaat have you dooone?’

‘What, Nadia? What?’

‘Don’t you understand that when they’re married they’re going to have their own children?’

‘We’re going to have a brother or sister? Maybe we will have that big family after all, with dogs, cats, hamsters, a parrot. We won’t be any more trouble.’

‘Lily, you can’t say such things, you can’t! You can’t!!!’

‘But Nadia, they’re going to think about it. They said they’d consider it. Nadia, they said so…’

‘You’re right, they’re going to. Don’t cry, Lily.’

Mama, you have to see this…  I imagine talking with my mother, picturing her on a strawberry field.

‘Don’t cry, Lily, don’t cry…’

I look out the window. I can’t see Beetle. Maybe they’ve taken him?! Maybe they’ve taken him?

‘They’re going to think about it.’

‘Yes, yes, Lily, they are.’

Summer flies by. There are just a few days left, and it will be a new school year. Lily and I have already gotten our textbooks. We sit on the window ledge and swing our legs. Lily’s turning the pages of my books instead of her own. She’s curious about what I’m learning. Her favourite illustrations are in my biology textbook.

‘I’ll catch up with you in a few years, Nadia.’

‘Yes, of course you will’, I laugh at her.

I look past the dingy curtains and see Yulia and Denys slowly walking towards the orphanage. Denys is carrying a clear folder full of papers. Yulia is carrying all sorts of goodies: pastries and candies.

I catch their eyes, and they smile back. They look a little overwhelmed. Then I look at Lily, and she looks at me — and we stand there, speechless. What pops into my head at that moment is the image of our mother picking strawberries in a field. She stops what she’s doing, straightens her back, looks over at me and nods.


Translated by Lesia Waschuk from Oksana Lushchevska, ‘Наша велика вигадана родина (Our big imaginary family)’ in Мама по Скайпу (Mum over Skype), ed. by Mariana Savka and Kati Brunner (Lviv: Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva, 2013), pp. 51-62.

The UIL Literary Translation workshop was funded by the Embassy of Ukraine to the United Kingdom and coordinated by UIL Kultura Fellow Maryna Dubyna.

Cover Image for Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

For the eightieth anniversary of the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars, the London Ukrainian Review dedicates its second issue of 2024 to the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula and its Indigenous people’s ongoing fight for justice.

Sasha Dovzhyk
Cover Image for The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

The mass deportation of Crimean Tatars in May 1944 is rooted in Russian settler colonialism which Martin-Oleksandr Kisly traces to the subjugation of Crimea by Catherine II. Eighty years after the grievous crime against the Indigenous people of Crimea, Crimean Tatars are under Russia’s occupation and banned from marking this historic date.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly, trans. by Larissa Babij