War is one of the most horrible things that you can possibly adapt to

By Olena Kuk

What had changed since the full-scale Russian war began? To answer that question, I want to show you one of the almost regular mornings in Kyiv nowadays:

February 7th, 2024

5:55 AM – Air Alarm.
6:57 AM – Explosion in the distance. That sound woke me up because the warning alarm before didn’t. I took my phone to check the monitoring telegram channels to understand – what was that?
“Cruise missiles are flying toward Kyiv”, – the message from Air Defence I overslept.
“The air defense is working in Kyiv”, – current statement.
“Rockets heading west”, – next information.
7:05 AM – I put down my phone, turned on the other side, and went back to sleep. The day before I had to work until 00:00, came home, and went to bed at 2:00 am. Because of the exhaustion, I couldn’t even hear the air alarm and decided to risk and continue sleeping.
7:40 AM – Loud explosion sound. My windows shook. One more strong explosion.
7:41 AM – I took my blanket and went to the hall to hide behind two walls. You cannot ignore such a powerful strike.

While sitting there with my roommate, who also was woken up by explosions, we monitored the telegram channels to observe the situation in Kyiv and generally all over the country, chatting with friends to check if everyone was ok.

“One of the rockets was shot down in our area of the city, that is why it was so loud”, – I was telling my friend Iryna next to me.
“Another rocket hit a residential building in the Golosievo area, the Kyiv Government said”, – Iryna reading another message.
“The rockets are also moving to the west. To Lviv region, Yavoriv area”, – me reading with the significant concern. There is my parents’ house. – “Poland raised its fighter jets, it is said”.

Next time it could be me in that victim statistic
After an hour in the hall and several more explosions later we went back to bed for some time. A few hours later we continued working. I’ve got a lot of tasks at both of my jobs. I had to analyze the consequences of the attack. As the director of content and communication of the online platform Svidok.org – the Ukrainian war journal – we had to collect as many testimonies about the strikes as we could, to pass them to law enforcement agencies afterward. As an editor of the TV Channel Suspilne Ukraine I had to prepare for the next broadcasting. According to the official Air Force information, Russia attacked Ukraine with 64 air targets. Four people were killed in Kyiv that morning, among them – a relative of my colleague, approximately 40 people were injured. There were also injured people in Kharkiv and Mykolaiv.

Boiling in all that horrible news, I cannot let myself fall apart, because there are so many things to do. But at the same time, I understood that next time it could be me in that victim statistic.
It was one of the latest among hundreds of such nights and mornings after I returned to Kyiv in July 2023, and not the worst one…

I was so excited to have the ability to walk on the streets of my capital again, to see Ukrainian flags and hear the Ukrainian language around
I spent one and a half years in Lviv after evacuation from Kyiv since the full-scale war began. Only in March 2023, after a year of the Russian full-scale invasion, I started not only to watch but to see the bright colors again, to enjoy the smell of the flowers, to appreciate the sunset. I could not feel anything but horror, anxiety, and pain for more than a whole year. The dynamic was slow but at least it was something.

In July, Suspilne Ukraine decided to move back to the capital. It was clear that it was not the same city that it was before the invasion and never will be. But I was so excited to have the ability to walk on the streets of my capital again, to see Ukrainian flags and hear the Ukrainian language around. It is priceless. But at the same time, it was clear, that life became more dangerous in Kyiv than it was in Lviv. After a week of my return, the pieces of the Russian drone hit my friend’s neighboring building, which hosted me before I rented my place.

The pause between shelling was not so long – sometimes days, sometimes weeks. So eventually we got used to that and started ignoring the alarms if there were no exact air targets in the air yet. You kind of have to: it is a choice between safety and common sense. If you will run to the shelter or even to the hall every time you hear the alarm you might turn mad. So, the instinct of self-preservation atrophies on this background. It’s not ok at all, but it’s our reality.

War is one of the most horrible things that you can possibly adapt to
The longest period between shelling was at the end of autumn. The Russian aggressor was accumulating resources and waiting for the cold weather to massively attack Ukraine during the frost. December in Kyiv was horrible not only because of the shelling a few times a week but there were ballistic strikes more often. It means that you first hear the explosion and then the air alarm. In addition, that is a kind of inaccurate rocket that is the hardest to intercept. As a result, I woke up because of the enormously loud series of explosions and immediately ran to the hall, and only then was the alarm sound.

Unexpected bombing is the most terrifying. It kind of flashbacked me to the first day of Russian full-scale invasion, when there was no alarm before the first rockets attacked Kyiv. But at the same time, almost two years later, I am angrier than scared now.

So, what has changed since the 24th of February 2022 in comparison to February 2024? We unoccupied Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv regions as well as a large part of the Kharkiv and Kherson regions – it’s an amazing achievement. The air defense is definitely stronger, but the attacks are more massive and combined, which is more deadly. The situation on the frontline is super tense, especially during the last year. A week ago, one more Ukrainian city – Avdiivka –fell. The best people paid with their lives on the battlefield to win one more day for all of us on the back. There are always requests for drones, and means of electronic warfare, cars, etc. from our military friends. We are trying to collect the appropriate amount to buy it, based on donations of 10 to 20 hryvnias, but by uniting, we succeeded. However, what we can do is only a little, they need much more weapons, tanks, and aircraft.

All Ukrainians are traumatized, and the longer it will continue the worse the circumstances
So, what had changed, overall? Basically – our perception of reality transformed. We got used to life at war, and this is one of the most horrible things that you can be used to. All Ukrainians are traumatized, and the longer it will continue the worse the circumstances. I’m not sure that we can stabilize our mental well-being to the “before times” at all. But the most frightful thing is, that we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel of this war. Especially now, based on the decreasing attention on Ukraine in the world. But it is always important to remind the international society – the more territory of Ukraine is occupied by Russia the closer the war is to Europe.

Olena Kuk is an editor at the Ukrainian TV channel Suspilne, communications director of the platform Svidok.org and M100 Alumna

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