NIKOLAS The smell of fire and ashes was all that little Nikolas could smell. For the entirety of the week, all that was in the air was dust and ashes. Lately the bomb drops had been so restless to the point that the thought of their little basement collapsing on itself from its sheer shaking seemed real. His little sister, he remembered, kept trembling hours even after the bombing ended and the sobbing went through the night. Like every other night. His mother’s blood-shot eyes vacant of anything but despair, hunger and fear, asked him to go find milk the next morning. The nuns and monks that tried to give out food every week had no milk to give out and mother had stopped producing milk since she gave up the little bread she had to Nik. Now, with his mother too weak to leave the basement, Nik, at the brave age of eleven, was gathering the food. Or trying. The grey streets were silent on that morning in March. There was nothing to be seen except the destroyed buildings, ruined streets and deafening silence. And little Nik was walking, trying to navigate through the once familiar streets. There was nothing around to remember. All was ashes and silence for his ragged leather shoes made no noise as he walked down the streets. Nik turned to the street of his old school. The building was not destroyed but the windows were open, the doors were no longer on their frames and the walls had the grey tones of all the other buildings. The gate was open, and there was no one around so Nik, forgetting his quest for food, went to school. With the dirty little clothes that he wore for the last two weeks, he entered his old classroom. All the beautiful drawings that he and his friends drew were either ripped, gone or sprinkled along the dirty floor. Drawers were scattered, all the supply’s gone or broken. Nik looked under desks, getting down on his skinny knees, around the chairs, everywhere he could still remember. And then he found a pencil. A black boring pencil. One of those Mrs. Olga used. The boy looked closer, and the tip was still intact! Nik smiled. He found a pencil. A good pencil! He hurried to find a piece of paper. The back of an old drawing that was not that dirty. Little Nik sat on one of desks that were still standing and grabbed a chair. And then Nik made a drawing. It didn’t have any colour, and it was boring, but Nik was glad to do it. His feet dangled from the chair at the sound of a cheery song he recalled while the charcoal scratched the paper. He even practiced his writing. He was finished in a few minutes and stared at the piece of paper and smiled. He was done! A warm feeling filled his body for a second. It such a nice feeling that even made him forget how hungry, cold, hopeless and scared he was. His tiny body jump down from the chair and carefully folded the paper, placing it in the pocket of his old pants. Still humming a tune, Nik left the building. His stomach growled. Louder this time. And he was colder now. His bony shoulders couldn’t get any warmer no matter how much he shock. He rubbed his arms with his hands. His stomach growled again. How long was it since he saw his mom? His feet were tired. He failed to find food for himself. He failed to find his way home. He walked more. All he saw were the gray buildings. All he smelled was ash. All he felt was cold and hunger. And then, no more. The sniper bullet went through his brain, not even the sound of the shot was captured in the last second of little Nik’s life. Nikolas Kushnir, aged 11, died in the streets of his hometown of Dzhankoi, in Ukraine, in the year of 2015. In his pocket was a drawing of a rough looking carton, with the word “milk” on it.