The new ‘Cold War’
The residents of Kiev have learned to live in “instability” and lead a normal life despite the drums of war that resonate 700 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital
On January 14, the Police had to inspect 350 schools in Kiev for bomb threats. That same day, some metro stations also had to be evacuated due to similar alerts. All the ads were false. But, at a time like the present, pre-war between Ukraine and Russia, with 100,000 Putin soldiers deployed on the border, all warnings must be taken seriously. Especially the most serious.
Darina Trakchenko suffered directly from both cases. The school where his children attend had to be inspected and, in addition, one of his children was in the subway during the attack warning. In the ‘wasap’ groups, a mother began to ask if they were going to take the little ones to class the next day. Darina was clear. His children were not missing. Those threats were nothing more than another “maneuver” by Russia to “sow chaos” in Ukraine. “We’ve been like this for quite some time, but I’ve already learned how to filter out false information,” he stresses as he attends to two of his clients at a district center in the city.
These false threats that Darina talks about are part of what is called the ‘hybrid war’, which is nothing more than a campaign of disinformation and cyber attacks. There are experts who believe that these attacks may be the preliminary phase to a larger-scale military conflict, but in Kiev its citizens try to maintain calm and continue with their normal lives. The war drums that resonate from the Donbass, 700 kilometers from the city, where since 2014 more than 13,000 people have lost their lives in combat between ‘pro-Russian’ separatists and the Ukrainian Army, are not perceived so close at the moment in the capital of this country, key in the geopolitics of Europe.
The embassies of some countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have begun in recent days to evacuate their personnel due to the possibility that, apart from the clashes in Donbass, there may be an invasion by the Russian Army. In Kiev there are opinions of all kinds. There are those who believe that we are at the gates of an attack and are thoroughly preparing for it. Others think that it is just an intimidating maneuver by Vladimir Putin, that the Russian president just wants to “pull out his teeth” and show the world his military potential. The vast majority have no certainties and do not know what is going to happen. What nobody does is interrupt your normal life.
This Wednesday the schools, the factories, the stores, everything in general, was still open in Kiev, like any other day, as if the threat of a war did not hang over them. Iryna Dovmantovych is a Spanish teacher who studied for two years in Bilbao, the best experience of her life. This Wednesday his work schedule was still very tight. In one of his breaks, he attends to this newspaper. Iryna explains that Ukrainians have learned to live in “instability”. And that is why they are aware that it is best to adapt to the moment in which they live and “not make long-term plans.”
Iryna says that this feeling of provisionality is not something that comes from now. It has been experienced by generations and generations of Ukrainians, with constant threats of invasions from countries as diverse as “Poland, Russia or Turkey”. “Everyone wants this territory. And those who suffer the consequences are us, “he laments.
A few days ago, the Police inspected 350 schools for false bomb threats
«My great-grandfather was sent to Siberia for opposing the Bolsheviks»
“Many considered the Russians as brothers. But since 2014 everything has changed.
The Ukrainians are resilient. Tough people, who don’t complain if the thermometer shows 9 degrees below zero or if the subway is several minutes late. But many share the feeling of belonging to a country battered by history. It is what Darina, an expert in international education and who defines herself as a “nationalist”, calls “genetic memory”. That is, the testimonies of family suffering that are passed from generation to generation.
At a time like the present, when many Ukrainians fear that Putin is seeking to rebuild the “Russian Empire”, the insults of Russia and the Soviet Union against Ukraine are fresher than ever in the collective memory. Many speak of the Great Famine: some ten million peasants died after Stalin’s agricultural collectivization programs came into force.
enemy of the people
Iryna’s great-grandfather did not die, but he spent a few years in a concentration camp in Siberia for opposing land confiscations. He survived, but was in such poor health that he died soon after. He had fields and horses. “The whole 20th century was very bad. But after the Soviet revolution, the drunks and the idlers in the village became Bolsheviks and became the people in power. My great-grandfather became an enemy of the people because he opposed them,” he says.
Valentina Kobylyanska is retired and has a son who, after compulsory military service, fought for two years in the Donbass war. There he saw many of his friends die. This woman explains that, until 2014, when the Maidan uprising took place and clashes broke out in the border region, very few thought that Russia could initiate – or promote – a frontal attack against Ukraine. We must not forget -he insists- that we are talking about a country in which there are around 30% of citizens of Russian origin and customs. “Many considered them brothers.” Since then, everything has changed and even the majority of the ‘pro-Russians’ are against what Putin is doing,” he says.
The Maidan square was the scene in 2014 of a revolt. /
When the residents of Kiev are asked about the reason for what is happening, most reject Russia’s explanations that it is all a defensive maneuver on their borders due to the appearance of armed drones. For many, the key is that Ukraine is vital to Russia’s expansion and security. Without this territory “Moscow is cornered in the northern forests.”
Most of the residents of Kiev hope that the blood does not reach the river and is not, at the moment, taking measures. But not all. The following interview is in the City Hall of a city where imposing Soviet buildings, Orthodox churches and modernist constructions coexist. Waiting at the door is Vadym Vasylchuk, one of the ringleaders of the 2014 Maidan riots. These protests are decisive in the recent history of Ukraine: it is a series of nationalist and Europeanist mobilizations against some agreements with Russia and the breaking of other pacts that distanced Ukraine from the EU. There were weeks of protests that, after 120 fatalities, ended the presidency of Víktor Yanukovych.
In 2015, communist parties were banned in Ukraine. Vadym has been an elected councilor for Voice for several years, the majority party in Kiev that defines itself as economically liberal, pro-European and politically Christian Democrat.
– Vadim, do you think that Russia’s threat against Ukraine is real?
– Let’s hope nothing happens. But just in case I just bought a rifle.
The “odyssey” of traveling to a ‘pre-war’ country
Traveling outside of Spain in times of covid is cumbersome. You have to study the health regulations that prevail in the country you intend to reach and cross your fingers not to fall into a confinement that delays the return. Moving to a territory outside the European Union is even more complicated. And to travel to one in a situation as delicate as Ukraine, in a climate of maximum war tension with Russia, you cannot neglect any detail if you want to have certain guarantees that you will be able to cross the border.
At a time when various embassies are evacuating their personnel due to the possibility of an imminent outbreak of hostilities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises Spanish citizens against traveling to Ukraine “except for essential reasons”. “It is further discouraged” to move to the Donbass region, where armed clashes have been taking place since 2014, and it is requested “not to stay there beyond the essential time”.
In these circumstances, controls are rigorous from Bilbao airport itself. To travel to Kiev, you need a covid passport that certifies that the passenger has received the complete vaccination schedule. But also a medical insurance that covers the expenses of a possible hospitalization in Ukrainian lands.
The flight departing from Bilbao makes a stopover in Munich, Germany. There, several police officers wait for the passenger as soon as they get off the plane. They ask again for vaccination checks before entering the airport. Everyone is in order.
To take the flight to Kiev you have to go to the international zone and pass a border control. The flight to the Ukrainian capital is almost empty. Most of the passengers are Ukrainians who work abroad and return home. One of them is Andrey, a sailor, one of the few who has started the journey to Kiev from Bilbao. His ship arrived at port a few days ago in Santander and he wants to be with his family. “Afraid? How am I going to be afraid if I go back to my house. I don’t think there is an attack from Russia. But if there is, I don’t think it’s against civilians,” he says.
Controls in Kiev are rigorous. They ask for the covid passport again. They also clarify that without insurance you will not enter. But what takes the most time is the passport check. They ask passengers to lower their masks. They watch over and over again. But in the end they let the whole shipment through.