Translating Anton

Sometimes I commit without considering consequences. Like translating Anton Filatov’s war experiences. From Ukrainian, which I do not know. Stories full of horrific information. When four days pass without hearing from Anton, when I read of another Russian missile barrage, I worry. War scenes invade my dreams. Translating Anton brings this war home for me. I’ve given money for meals, but translating is the service I can best provide.

As of February 24, it’s been a year, this war everyone thought would be over in weeks. The surge of support among the American people has lost momentum. We have the attention span of a puppy. We have our own problems. Not that we aren’t still giving aid: we are. Americans are reliably generous.

Photo by Anton Filatov

Anton often records the experiences of his fellow soldiers. An excerpt:

Rain was falling relentlessly. If you squeezed your fist, water would drip out of your glove. We were sent to a position to dig and fortify trenches, but as soon as we got there, we were in a firefight. I ran into the first uncovered trench. There was water past my ankles. The first thing we did was to pull corpses out of the way. I took their assault rifles because they were regular AK-74s and I had this piece of shit AKS-74U.

“Without your help,” Anton wrote me last month, “we cannot succeed.” If we stop military aid, a dictator will take over a democracy, setting a precedent that endangers other democracies. If Putin wins, would he stop there? Fourteen countries share borders with Russia. Some think Ukraine’s fate won’t impact us. But no country is an island anymore. We are all part of the main. What happens to Ukraine—or Finland or Georgia or Poland—happens to us all.

Sometimes the firefights were so intense, they reminded me of fuckin’ Vietnam. Exploding shells and bullets mowed down the trees. During one of those assaults, “Doc” was on duty at a nearby observation post. A shell exploded right next to him. I crawled to him and lifted his helmet, saw blood and pieces of bone under it.

                                                                               —Soledar: Ros’ story

Anton is a film critic, a young father and husband and he’s extremely near-sighted. As soon as Russia invaded, he volunteered, afraid his eyes would keep him out, but they took him anyway, as they took men over fifty. Ukraine needs every person they can get. Ukraine is little. Russia is big.

I began this commitment because the robot translations on Anton’s Facebook page were so bad. Without knowing Ukrainian, I knew I could improve that pathetic English with its obvious misunderstandings. At first, I worked with a generous local Ukrainian speaker. Then Anton said: “I don’t know the nuances of English, but I can translate literal meanings of words.” I send him drafts with questions and he sends back answers and I, who do know nuances of English, revise. Easy example: Anton told me one word I could not find was “dugout.” I saw a photo he took of it and said: ah, a “bunker.”

War scars all who it touches. I’m against it. But when a big power invades a smaller one, as when a big kid attacks a little one, we’re morally bound to intervene. Especially if that smaller country is our ally. To turn our backs now would be the worst kind of dereliction. Ukrainians do more than their part: they’ve held and even recovered ground; during a missile attack ordinary citizens yell out their windows: “Putin’s a dick!”

As long as it helps him and Ukraine, I’ll translate Anton’s posts.

From Anton Filatov’s posts:

Before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022…I watched thousands of films and wrote hundreds of reviews. But now, being at the front, I reevaluate my entire experience. Explosions and gunshots knock everything out of your head. You only think about … the most important things: how I played with my child, words I said to my family…moments when I was filled with a stream of joy…

…Once, during a heavy shelling, I sat in the bunker and watched the earth shake from the explosions. Chopped off pine roots stuck out of the dirt walls of our shelter. Sap flowed out of them, immediately hardened. It shone like mercury and resembled tears. A few months later, I didn’t remember how many explosions there were that evening or what weapons shot at us. But I clearly remember the image: how the earth cried with heavy cold tears.


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11 Responses to Translating Anton

  1. Normando says:

    War is not beautiful, but a man like Anton knows how to see. Deeply. So glad you are bringing these messages to life.

  2. Sylvia says:

    I can only cry.

  3. Denise says:

    Thank you for helping Anton bring his words to those of us safe in the warmth of our own homes. The horrors he has witnessed must be shared so that the atrocities committed by Putin do not go unpunished. My heart is with him and with Ukraine, and the world is coming together to help them repel the invaders. Please let Anton know that Ukraine is not being forgotten, for every day our newspaper, even in little Spokane, brings us stories of the war. And Ukrainians who have businesses here are generously supported by the community so that donations can be sent home. We are all one….

  4. Bob Jaeger says:

    Thanks, Pat. These should be read on news programs before the reporting starts.

  5. Ann says:

    I just read your blog post. It is riveting! The topic of war in not one I would read about but your writing and translation of his emotional narrative held my attention from start to finish. The photo was stunning, as well. Thanks for sharing.

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