Tetyana Strelchenko

Here’s to August, to the apple-fall season, the saddest time.

Here’s to Kyiv, my wounded city with its green hedgehogs of chestnuts and heaps of apples decaying on the street pavements.

I’m walking to see my tailor so she can adjust a few of my dresses for the upcoming fall season, and suddenly this summer agony strikes me with all its might.

The city is already touched with ochre yellow; tree leaves look rusty and burnt by the sun like old letters sent by someone who passed away.

Perhaps it’s the heat, or I am just tired, but there is something bizarre in the air; its bitterness tastes like Becherovka herbal liqueur and makes me almost tipsy. Yellow, copper, brown… when did the world turn into a vintage monochrome photograph?

…And then, there is a butterfly, a red admiral, the only bright spot in this tarnished daguerreotype of an urban landscape. No matter where I go, I see it, and the superstitious, mystical part of me starts wondering: what if these butterflies are the souls of people killed by the war? Or is it the same butterfly stalking me as if trying to deliver an important message? Or maybe it is ancient philosopher Zhuang Zou dreaming about being a butterfly, and we are all just stuck in his feverish dream.

The truth is that nothing can surprise me anymore.  

Things get crazy; people look quirky and vulnerable.

An enigmatic lady in a purple scarf is reading Tarot cards on a park bench, trying to predict if the missing soldier is dead or alive. His worried parents sit next to her, motionless and hopeful.

An older woman in an extravagant outfit is passing by. She looks like a time traveler coming directly from The Great Gatsby roaring party, her lace gloves and boa and colossal feather hat catch everyone’s attention, but nobody smiles or looks amused.

“It’s a very, very mad world!” -- my tailor says phlegmatically when I describe to her these street encounters, and immediately the old song starts playing in my head like a soundtrack to this whimsical movie.

“Look at these fur coats!” — she motions toward the coat rack. — “My client brought them to me in February, right before the war. Then she escaped abroad, and I was just stuck with them. When Russians attacked Kyiv, I would carry them to my shelter every night and pray. God, please do not damage these fur coats; my income will never be enough to cover their cost!”

I look at the fur coats with curiosity. They do look expensive but also sad. Their excessive luxury seems to be so inappropriate here and now.

On my way back, the red admiral is still following me, or perhaps, I am following her. She leads me to the corner of my street, where I see an older seller with a bucket of white dahlias, my favorite flowers. I ask for five but quickly change my mind and decide to purchase seven because it’s a lucky number, and the seller seems to be in desperate need of money. The dahlias are suspiciously cheap, and there is a tiny hint of guilt in the seller’s eyes when she packs them for me. So, I know they probably won’t last long and will die tomorrow. Well, who cares about tomorrow if it doesn’t even exist yet?

The following day my seven dahlias begin withering but somehow get even prettier.

On the contrary, the words inside me are in full bloom. They flit like butterflies, so I let them out without really caring if anyone would catch them or not.


August 2022

Kyiv, Ukraine


Tetyana Strelchenko Headshot


TETYANA STRELCHENKO is a writer from Ukraine. She has a degree in English, Spanish, and World Literature, and her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in publications in Ukraine, the USA, Austria, Germany, and Israel.

Instagram: @tetyanastrelchenko