Amid rumors of a Russian invasion, “no hysteria” in Ukraine

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KYIV – For weeks, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have gathered in positions north and east of the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which Moscow took control in 2014 .

And amid provocative comments by President Vladimir Putin aimed at Kiev and the Kremlin demanding that Ukraine be excluded from NATO forever, US and Ukrainian intelligence agencies have warned that Russia is preparing for a possible military offensive that could start in a month.

I just don’t care anymore. We have lived next to a volcano for almost eight years.

But in Kiev this holiday season, there are few signs of concern about an impending invasion. On the one hand, Ukraine has been at war for almost eight years, battling the Russian-backed separatists who have held parts of the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, including their capitals, since April 2014.

“I just don’t care. We have lived next to a volcano for almost eight years, ”Valentyna Tarpishcheva, a 33-year-old fitness instructor and mother of two, told RFE / RL in Kiev, some 600 kilometers northwest of the country. area known as Donbas.

“We have bills to pay and children to take care of,” she said, browsing through discounted clothes in a crowded shopping mall in southern Kiev.

“There is no hysteria, for sure,” said Ihor Kozlovskiy, a Donetsk university professor who says he was tortured in separatist prisons.

Utility bills and severe economic hardship are more on the agenda for many Ukrainians than the prospect of war, according to a Rating Group survey released on December 9.

There is no hysteria, that’s for sure. In general, things are balanced and calm.

Three quarters of respondents noted that rising tariffs for natural gas and central heating, as well as “escalating” economic unrest in Ukraine, were their biggest problems.

Regarding the war, less than half of those polled said they believed a military escalation was possible, while 23% said such a development was “unlikely”, according to the survey.

“There is no hysteria for sure,” Ihor Kozlovskiy, a Donetsk university professor who moved to the capital after his release during a prisoner exchange after nearly 700 days in separatist prisons where he says he was tortured. “In general, things are balanced and calm. “

(Kozlovskiy, who was known for his pro-Kiev views and helped organize a multi-faith prayer marathon for a united Ukraine in 2014, was seized by Russian-backed separatist forces in January 2016 following a raid against his home. Unofficially accused of espionage and other activities, which he denied and for which no credible evidence was presented, he was held until his release in the exchange in December 2017.)

Perhaps one of the factors fueling this attitude is the fact that Ukrainian officials, on the whole, have been less alarmed than their American counterparts about the chances of another major Russian military operation.

Russian-backed separatists are seen on the front lines near the settlement of Frunze in the Luhansk region on December 24.

Russian-backed separatists are seen on the front lines near the settlement of Frunze in the Luhansk region on December 24.

“For a full-scale invasion, it would take at least three, four, five – a lot more [Russian forces] than there are today, ”Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told Current Time in an interview this week.

“But is there a threat? Of course, for us there is a constant threat. We have been living with this threat for seven years now. Danilov said. Current Time is the Russian language network operated by RFE / RL in cooperation with VOA.

It could become the beginning of the end of Russia.

Some war-weary Ukrainians have developed a form of fatalism that resembles the mindset of other countries facing the threat of protracted and unresolved military conflict, observers say.

“The attitude towards the war in Ukraine is starting to resemble that of [South] Korea or Taiwan. It is a hellish force that will affect someone sooner or later, just like the death of an individual, ”said Oleksiy Kushch, an analyst based in Kiev.

However, not everyone shares such attitudes. Opinion polls show a range of views.

One in three Ukrainians said they would join the army if Russian forces entered their hometown or village, according to a survey by the Kiev Institute of Sociology which was published in mid-December.

But nearly 40 percent of those potential volunteers live in western Ukraine, further from the Russian border and the frontline of the conflict in Donbass, while around a quarter of those polled in the provinces from the east said they would engage in these circumstances. – figures which echo the differences between the predominantly Ukrainian west and the predominantly Russian-speaking east and south.

Almost 19%, meanwhile, said they would “do nothing” in the event of an invasion, and nearly 25% would prefer to escape the war by moving to another region or leaving the country.

"The Ukrainian army is ready to repel this attack, ”said Vladyslav Sobolevskiy, a veteran of the Donbass war.

“The Ukrainian army is ready to repel this attack,” said Vladyslav Sobolevskiy, a veteran of the Donbass war.

Vladyslav Sobolevskiy does not belong to either of these two groups.

A Donbass veteran who fought in the conflict in the east for three years, he says he is ready to re-engage at any time – and maintains that a Russian invasion would likely end up having a positive outcome for Ukraine.

In the dark guessing game of whether Putin is likely to launch a major new offensive, a key question is how much he thinks he can accomplish, and at what cost.

“Why positive? It sounds strange, but it all has to be resolved one way or another… And now the Ukrainian army is ready to repel this attack, ”the burly 32-year-old told RFE / RL.

Sobolevskiy, a football fan and avid martial arts enthusiast, joined the Azov Volunteer Battalion in 2014 – and saw how demoralized, under-equipped and poorly trained the Ukrainian military were.

He and thousands of other volunteers helped the Kyiv Army stop the separatists from advancing further and were instrumental in transforming the military into a better trained and motivated force that now has sophisticated weapons. such as the American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles and Turkish-made Bayraktar drones.

Ukrainian soldiers use a US Javelin anti-tank missile during military exercises in the Donetsk region on December 23.

Ukrainian soldiers use a US Javelin anti-tank missile during military exercises in the Donetsk region on December 23.

Sobolevskiy’s confidence in Ukraine’s chances in the event of a major new offensive is not widely shared by military analysts – although most agree that the country’s armed forces have improved considerably since the start of the war. war in 2014.

Either way, Sobolevskiy believes that if Russia attacks, Western sanctions will cripple its banking sector, thwart the Kremlin’s hopes of securing final approval to deliver natural gas to Europe via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. – bypassing Ukraine – and turn Putin into an international outcast.

“It could become the beginning of the end of Russia,” he concluded.

Mikhail, a former steel plant manager who fled the separatist-held city of Luhansk in 2014 for Kiev, does not share Sobolevskiy’s enthusiasm.

The 48-year-old father-of-two, who has withheld his last name because he fears both sides of the conflict, is worried about a potential further upsurge in hostilities in Donbass, where the fighting is far less fierce than ‘in 2014-15 but continues, despite numerous ceasefires and the Minsk accords – agreements that were supposed to resolve the impasse but have hardly been implemented. Over 13,000 civilians and combatants have been killed in the conflict.

A Ukrainian soldier participates in military exercises at a shooting range in the Kharkiv region on December 20.

A Ukrainian soldier participates in military exercises at a shooting range in the Kharkiv region on December 20.

Mikhail, whose parents and siblings still live in the separatist part of Luhansk Oblast, is very critical of the de facto authorities there – and of Putin.

But he accuses the pro-Western government of former President Petro Poroshenko of the conflict. And he said he believes the government of current President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is unable to win the hearts and minds of those who live in the separatist-held quarters of Donbass.

In addition to improving the military, civilians could put up strong partisan resistance, leading to prolonged bloodshed in some areas.

In the dark guessing game of whether Putin is likely to launch a major new offensive, a key question is how much he thinks he can accomplish, and at what cost.

Ukrainian analysts and officials suggest that in addition to improving the military, civilians could mount strong partisan resistance, leading to prolonged bloodshed in some areas.

But Nikolay Mitrokhin, a researcher at the University of Bremen, said Moscow could hope to count on a substantial number of people in the east and south whose sympathies go to Moscow, and not Kiev, both for support. real and to “provide imagery” for Russian state television in the event of an invasion.

“Putin feels a weakness. He uses these things. And… we know and understand that some people can act this way, ”Ihor Romanenko, retired lieutenant general and former deputy chief of staff of the Ukrainian armed forces told RFE / RL.

He said that in 2014, some civilians in the east hampered the Ukrainian army by blocking roads and even stealing ammunition.

“But such actions will not stop us when it comes to our defense,” Romanenko added.


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