Katya had just turned 15 when she was arrested for treason.
Earlier in the year she had discovered a wounded soldier in the hills outside Myshkino, his right arm shattered by bullets. He bore the red star of the Chedaki.
She knew the stories of genocide and atrocity committed by the Chedaki. Good Chernorussian citizens despised them. Her father in particular, a CDF officer, hated them for injuries that they had committed against his country and his wife. But this soldier was not a faceless entity. This was an injured man only a few years older than herself. A gentle and soft-spoken one. Ignoring her own common sense, Katya sheltered him in her father’s barn.
It was the season when fresh, lime-colored leaves unfurl to replace the dirty, winter snow. As the mornings grew warmer and flowers began to sprinkle the Myshkino hills she went from bringing the soldier medical supplies and food to books and handwritten poems. They were cautious with each other at first, careful with their words. But the man’s sincerity inspired such trust. His warmth was to Katya a 180 turnaround to what she experienced at home, where hatred and plotting ran rampant. Warm summer evenings spent with the soldier became a sort of sanctuary away from the abrasive, extroverted hatred demonstrated by her mother and father.
Not to suggest that their hatred was unwarranted, however. At 14 Katya was old enough to understand the whispered stories of what the Chedaki had done to her mother that night when she had traveled to Chernogorsk for medicine that could have saved her younger sister. Those soldiers were evil. The cost of their two nights of fun had been her mother’s mental stability and her sister’s life. So Katya understood her parents hatred toward the Chedaki, and even bore some of it herself. But this man was not one of those monsters. She could never make them understand that though.
The end of summer brought an end to her happiness.
Her soldier had been a POW before his escape and locals suspected that he was hiding in the hills of Myshkino. Now that he was healed, Katya and the soldier planned his escape to the Russian border. Katya built a kit for him with an old backpack full of food and supplies. The night he left Katya gave him a checkered jacket. It was technically her father’s jacket. She had gifted it to him last Christmas, but her father had never worn it nor seemed to recognize the fine quality of the stitching detail nor the softness of the wool. But her soldier did. He didn’t even mind that her father’s name was stitched into the pocket. Katya remembers his fingers touching the brass buttons. It was for his soft-spoken kindness and sincere gratitude that she loved him.
They planned for him to reach Russia and then to bring her over as well. When she was old enough they would marry. The night he left for the border was filled with emotion for Katya -- A mix of fear for his safety and delirious happiness at the way she envisioned her future.
But that future would never come to be.
Twenty-four hours after his departure military men showed up at Katya’s house. Her father sent Katya and her mother upstairs, but she could still hear their angry voices until late into the night. She could not quite understand them though.
Then Katya’s father called her into the office. All eyes were watching as she entered and looked toward her father. He held the checkered jacket. But the fine wool was shot through with holes and stained with drying blood.
Years later, Katya would write in her journal that losing a loved one causes people to point at their most recent interaction with that person and argue with the fates that the nearness in time of that interaction somehow makes the loss impossible and illogical. It doesn’t make sense, so take it back. Katya remembers that jacket for example, and remembers thinking that it didn’t make sense for it to be ruined and bloody, because only a few hours before her soldier had fingered the collar, admiring the soft wool. Katya remembers pointing to the nearness in time and arguing that it was illogical. But time doesn’t give a shit.
Her soldier was dead and Katya was charged with treason and despised by her family. Her father was humiliated. Rather than healing with time, his feelings festered. He developed a loathing for his only daughter and years later he would take those feelings to his grave.
On account of her age she was not executed. But she did sit in a jail cell for the better part of a year. She was released to a women’s institution in Chernogorsk where she stayed for years. She gained her freedom, but never returned home. Instead she moved to Berezino and worked at a cafe and that’s where she was when the infection began.
Katya has felt like an outsider ever since the spring with her Chedaki soldier. She has learned that she rarely finds understanding among her own people when it comes to matters very close to her heart, but she feels ill-at-ease with foreigners also. By nature, she is warm and trusting, but the events of her life and the past year have left her tired, conflicted and anxious.
A friend once described her as “ambivalent”, but to Katya that seems wrong. “Ambivalent” suggests that she doesn’t have deep convictions and doesn’t really care one way or the other. But Katya knows that she cares deeply - It’s just that she has strong feelings toward opposing causes. Katya carries the burden of being both deeply ashamed of harboring her Chedaki soldier, but also knowing that she wouldn’t change her actions for the world.