“It’s the relatives in Ukraine trying to reassure those in New York,” de Freytas-Tamura said.
But there is also something universal at work. In all the wars I’ve covered – in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and more – the choice to stay or leave is deeply individual and divides families. There are always people like Guzik, who have been kicked out of a house and refuse to flee again, or the Lubchenkos, whose beloved garden makes life worth living.
Even after close calls, and even after horrific reports like the recent revelations of atrocities in Russian-occupied cities, many remain. To survive, they are hard-wired to adapt.
Perhaps fiction captures it best. In Mohsin Hamid’s novel “Exit West,” a couple constructs their marriage as war gradually deconstructs their nameless society. A bomb is shocking; the frequent ones become background noise. Soon it seems normal to dodge bullets on the way to the grocery store.
When staying is your only weapon
Alexander, 65, a mathematician in Kherson, told a niece from Brooklyn that he was used to Russians arresting his neighbors for protesting. He was like someone leading a normal life in a sci-fi movie, he said, “You know, the aliens are out there, and once in a while they steal people and then give them back.”
Ultimately, some conclude that staying is their only power. A Syrian once told me that the government forces had destroyed his family and his house, but they could not take his country. The Palestinians call this steadfastness, or “sumood”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, addressing his country on the eve of the invasion, put it this way: “We are here.
“Someone has to keep the roots here,” Guzik told his niece.
Recently, the alcohol ban was lifted for a few hours. Guzik had grabbed a bottle of her favorite red wine and was saving it, she said, for the win.