I started this letter-writing endeavor in March in a corridor in a borrowed apartment in Lviv. Now I’m writing in a cafe in my Kyiv neighborhood, but this too is a result of russia’s relentless missile strikes of Ukraine.
Yesterday I heard at least 10 explosions in half an hour around 8 AM. That the booms are soft and don’t scare me just exhibits that Kyiv is a very big city. Some of them occurred in the air, but some definitely struck critical infrastructure.
In February russia gathered its massive army, reputed to be the 2nd strongest in the world, to invade Ukraine—this is an act of war, even though they call it a “special operation.” Now that the Ukrainian armed forces have staved off this attack for over 8 months, russia is aiming its (and Iran’s) missiles and drones at Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in an attempt to make the entire country unlivable.
These are NOT the army’s supply lines. Nor the fuel or ammunition our armed forces need to keep destroying enemy forces. No, these are power stations, water lines, train tracks, which ordinary people, all of us, depend on to keep moving. Movement is life.
The russians failed to achieve their military objectives, so they’re resorting to terrorism. Terrorism, according to Merriam-Webster, is the systemic use of violence (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands.
Does it make a difference whether russia is terrorizing or waging war against the world when it pulls out of the agreement to ensure the safe transport of Ukrainian grain from Ukrainian ports that russia has bombed repeatedly? What matters is that you, in the West, understand that this gesture is addressing you directly. What you do and say and how you see it matters. In fact the future of our world depends on it.
I hear the morning explosions and acknowledge that they are nowhere near me. I am not in any immediate danger or suffering that requires action to survive. Still I am in a city that is being struck by missiles (I don’t know how many there will be or where they will land or how long this rain will last). We are creatures of our environment. And so I cannot go on in the same way that I would were the missiles not arriving, were the air raid siren over or never had begun. So… what? Where? I move and act in fits and starts. Sometimes I just pause in the kitchen and stand. Larissa, what is the most urgent thing you need to do right now?
Listen to the news, check the telegram chats to garner snippets of conditions in other parts of the city and country that the general news won’t mention. Send notes to family abroad assuring them that I’m okay. Check in with friends. Chat a bit once we’ve established contact. I don’t like being alone in war. Not because I’m scared or don’t know what to do. But it seems like whether I’m alive or dead is irrelevant if I’m not in contact or interacting with anything living. In this situation the only thing that matters is to write. To send a signal toward the world.
This constant flux of unpredictable events—explosions, air raid alarms, repeated erratic power outages—without endangering my life, make it impossible to rely on anything. This disrupts the natural condition where you orient not only to your immediate surroundings but to the expectation of continuity—that what is here now will be here in the next moment, that cycles of light and darkness will repeat in their established rhythms.
Life out of rhythm is bearable but disorienting. I suspect this is a test, challenging ME to be more decisive. This is a war after all.
The power goes out at 4.30 PM. The sudden plunge into darkness throws you from your habits. Even the streetlights, which have been blazing indiscriminately for the past few weeks, are out today.
It’s jarring for the eyes to switch between the darkness of my room and the brightness of the screen in front of me. Or the patch of ground illuminated by headlights and the surrounding darkness with people moving through it. The number of pedestrians killed by cars in Kyiv over the past two weeks is 51% higher than usual.
Zelensky was right: I’m not afraid of the dark. And the darkness is nothing you can fight. It’s a different condition, and my state changes to adapt, like any creature tuning to its environment.
Two and a half hours later the power returns. I’ve gotten used to losing power once a day for 2-3 hours. Of course you never know at exactly what moment it will happen or how long it will last. Today it went out twice.
My greatest fear is that the power would go out while I’m in the elevator. Sometimes I take the stairs (think of it as exercise) just in case. Other times I try my luck. So far so good.
Sitting at a cafe overflowing with people at their laptops, charging their devices, entangled in wires crammed into every visible outlet, I feel an ambivalent solidarity. We understand the Ukrainian electric utilities and government are working superhumanly to keep the country running, powered, connected. Nobody complains. Still just grinning and bearing it, running my washing machine at 4 AM, is not going to win the war nor is it going to stop russia.
These new attacks threaten my life in a different and possibly more insidious way than deadly fire, for this survivable disruption teases my body with the possibility of adaptation. Ultimately this is an expression of power. The ones with more missiles, with a greater supply of weapons, are in control. Am I a citizen fighting to live in my country? Or am I a slave surviving whatever conditions are set by the commander of the concentration camp?
In this moment, it is still up to me to decide.
PS People in Ukraine need power banks. If you are interested in buying or funding any, please contact me personally for details.
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I'm going to share this on my Facebook page, thank you for writing.
"But it seems like whether I’m alive or dead is irrelevant if I’m not in contact or interacting with anything living. In this situation the only thing that matters is to write. To send a signal toward the world." I agree, writing is for me a manifestation or a proof of being alive or of being myself.