top of page

My Son - an Anglo-Saxon from Ukraine

by Justin Robinson, translated by Iryna K.

© copyright Justin Robinson  email:

My son is from the city of Cherkasy which lies at the heart of my Ukraine, my homeland. The place where the river is so wide you can imagine all the water in the world is flowing past to create the oceans of the world. And you are at the heart of our Ukraine, from our Kyiv Sea to our Azov Sea, from our Carpathian mountains to our Donbas. I want him to remember always where he is from and exactly where his homeland lies.


When the foreign armies of the Russian Federation invaded last year, they finally betrayed what shared history we had – in that one moment. They fired rockets and flying bombs and artillery shells all over the sky like some kind of fire-works display for psychopaths. But it was my people, speaking Ukrainian and Russian, who lay dead in the rubble of their own homes.

I stood looking up in disbelief and watched occasional rockets streak past in the sky with a hideous rumbling sound. And what were these Russians doing – trying to kill my only child, my son. If you want to kill him, you should at least know his name. His name is Sasha. Remember it well. His name means “defender”; he is small and did not want to hurt a fly. So, aged nine years old, Sasha of Cherkasy started hating Russians.


And so, I tried to hide my trembling hands from my son and packed him one bag and left all his toys behind. And I took him from his home and made him kiss his father good-bye at the crowded station and hauled him onto train crammed with people weeping and left for a destination called “anywhere else”. He said he hated me. And for days he queued in dirty clothes, he slept in filthy railway stations and he ate stale bread and cheap biscuits. And I forced him to say “thank you” to every stranger who helped us. He could not believe what I had done to his life. In those moments, I hated myself too.


Then when we were living in a sports hall in Poland with hundreds of others we got a sort of invitation from Her Majesty the Queen that her government was inviting us to stay. It was almost funny but I wasn’t laughing. I felt humiliated. I knew then that my son and I were officially “homeless”. And I felt useless. As a wife and a mother. Even though we knew nothing about her country, little of her language and had never met personally – I could not possibly refuse this offer. But this is not exactly how Sasha sees it a year later.


Now he’s a Ukrainian in this Anglo-Saxon kingdom – or perhaps more correctly, he is becoming an Anglo-Saxon from Ukraine. Perhaps he believes he’s making allies for Ukraine. He knows from his English school that in ancient times, the warriors came across the sea from many directions in their long ships and eventually created this kingdom. And he is learning to be an Anglo-Saxon, speak their English language, understand their British culture, go to school in Oxfordshire. He has a restless energy that often drives me crazy.


Now Sasha of Oxford is aged ten years old and has some basic rights again. His most important right is the right to life itself. Yet I am washed up here like driftwood on a beach, exhausted, almost speechless and without my husband. I found work and friendly hosts but I feel empty, empty of a future I can shape or home that is my own. As I try to sleep at night, I find myself wondering about my own rights. Not just as a mother but as a woman. What about my Ukraine that we left behind? What about my husband I left in charge? It’s not my own dream to be an Anglo-Saxon.


How long will this war last? My son is getting taller - will he turn into a man in this country? May we please return while he is still a boy - so he can tell stories round a camp-fire, not at the bottom of a freezing trench? Or must I remain here watching my son turn into a man? One strong enough to carry a sword, bear a shield and wield a spear in battle? Or wear a helmet and body-armour, raise a kalashnikov tight to his shoulder?


Is this my right as a mother – to watch my son grow old enough to return, fight Russians, stand like in a shield-wall and risk death with his comrades? Is that what fate decides for me? That the years turn my son into a warrior who gathers his Anglo-Saxon friends to sail back across the sea like vengeful falcons gliding back to the dangers in the hills and forests of our homeland. All this so that one day I may finally return to my crumbling old house that will at once be both familiar and yet estranged.


Finally, my grown-up Sasha may lead his ageing mother to a door in Cherkasy that I will hesitate to open; a threshold that was mine once but which stares coldly back at me. Even if this door was once mine, I am no longer the same woman who was forced to abandon it. Even I don’t recognise that woman. 


Will my only child step forwards to turn the handle for me if I don’t reach out swiftly as I used to? To cross the threshold into a house that should have been a peaceful home for our children. Will he even remember this door, these rooms, the garden he once played in, our bank on the river Dnieper? How many Ukrainian warriors died for this bloody moment? And even a few Anglo-Saxon volunteers among them.


And then, my consolation will be to watch Sasha of Oxford start his own family in whatever Ukraine is finally preserved. And when I wake suddenly in the middle of the night, I will have to settle myself with the hope that the hordes of “orcs” to the East have finally been forced to behave. Will I believe this?


And I see that is how I am expected to live, each day and each night. And when I wonder what we all lost, I hope his youthful energy shall force a wry smile in my wrinkled face.

bottom of page