Bogus referendums to annex territories and dictator Putin's threats to use atomic weapons do not seem to affect the morale of Ukrainians who discuss these serious issues with astonishing coolness, while preparing for the worst.
Putin is due to announce today the annexation of Ukrainian regions currently occupied following referendums denounced in the West.
This raises fears that he regards as an attack by Russia any attempt by Ukraine to regain its territories.
“Russian referendums are not new. But this time it's different,” says Mariia Shuvalova, from kyiv.
“We worry about our relatives in the occupied territories. They didn't want to be killed for expressing not wanting to be part of Russia. They don't want Russian passports. As long as you accept it, you can be mobilized. The best way to avoid problems was not to vote. It angers me when I read articles that 99% of people voted for annexation with Russia. They are threatened by weapons. They have no choice,” she explains.
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Irina, fictitious name to protect her identity, lives in Lviv, near the Polish border. She has family in a small town in the east under Russian control.
“What can you do when invading soldiers observe the box you are going to tick? Yes there are people in this population who would like annexation with Russia. But a real referendum would never have passed. Otherwise, why did Russia invade this region in 2014?” she asks.
“It is a challenge to communicate with our loved ones in the occupied sectors, adds Ms. Shuvalova. They no longer have internet access. People are trying to keep working, but they also have to hide (from the Russian forces). They are under constant threat and it is difficult not to be able to help them.”
She points out that Ukrainian internet providers are blocked in the occupied territories. To have the service of a Russian supplier, you must have a Russian passport. But there is a parallel internet network that regularly changes places to continue to operate.
Irina specifies that in the occupied territories the climate is heavy. His family members avoid speaking Ukrainian so as not to attract attention. Are they worried that Putin will carry out his nuclear threat?
“Yes, but not for them. It is the big cities that will be attacked. They are more afraid for me. It could happen tomorrow, next week, we don't know. We talk about it without much emotion,” she says fatalistically.
Nolan Peterson, an American journalist based in Ukraine since 2014, noted after Putin's threats, a large increase in messages from Ukrainian friends and contacts on social networks.
In a tweet on Tuesday, he wrote that these messages indicate “what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. People are calm, but seriously discuss this possibility. It's eerily similar to the situation before February 24 when friends were discussing what to do in the event of a full-scale invasion.”
Preparing for the worst
“I cannot say that we are scared,” agrees Mariia Shuvalova.
“We have a reserve of gasoline, luggage already ready and equipment in case of a chemical attack. We also have instructions in the event of a nuclear attack. Preparing for a return of Russian forces to Kyiv has become a regular task like cleaning or washing the car. Despite all these months of war, we are doing everything to help the people around us and help the economy.”
The young woman who is a lecturer at a university in Kyiv concedes that in the capital, people have less opportunity to socialize as before.
“We are all very busy. Everyone after work does a lot of volunteering. But, in general, life goes on and everything works. I am fascinated with how our services work. Everything is constantly being repaired.”
The Russian Scarecrow
After the surprise of the February 24 attack, the Ukrainians recognized the Russian modus operandi.
“Rapidly after the start of the war we realized that the Russians wanted to scare us and push us into negotiations to reach an agreement that we did not want. The Russians have a long history of threatening others. They want to make people believe they are powerful and dangerous to prevent resistance. Ukrainians have been under Russian oppression for three centuries. The history of Ukraine is one of long resistance, so we are ready to resist for a long time!”, promises Ms. Shuvalova.
The mobilization decreed by Putin is obviously not good news for Ukraine. Ukraine.
“Putin can mobilize 300,000 or one million troops, that means we will have to work even harder, protect ourselves and do everything we can do,” Ms. Shuvalova believes.
Less brave Russians
But this mobilization also seems to have a harmful effect in Russia. Western media have reported conscripts fleeing abroad and other maneuvers to evade conscription. Ms. Shuvalova also senses the unease in the general population.
“At the beginning of the war, we contacted our family members and friends in Russia hoping that there would be a reaction from the population to stop the attack. I was answered in a very relaxed way by playing the brave that we deserved it or that there was nothing to do. They thought that Ukraine would no longer exist in a few days. The mobilization gave us the opportunity to contact them again. It doesn't play brave anymore. It was pleasant to see that their arrogance disappeared and to no longer hear that we no longer have the right to exist. It’s a major change!” she laughs.
“But even if the mobilized soldiers will not be motivated, continues Ms. Shuvalova, they will still have to be confronted. You don't have to have a lot of respect for yourself to agree to kill other people.”
Arnaud Dubin, director of the Franco-Russian Observatory and based in Moscow, also feels a tension since the mobilization.
Wednesday, he tweeted “regular interlocutors, representative of this urban and Europeanized class (in Russia), begin to reproach us in private – but in a virulent way – the deliveries of 'weapons to Ukraine.'
As under the German occupation in France during the Second World War, being favorable to the occupier and collaborating with it brings benefits for some people in the territories under Russian control.
“I was told that a janitor in a school became the director. A person who repaired cars now has an administrative position in a city. They use people with little education, alcoholics, people without families and give them important positions. These people feel indebted to them. But it also shows that they can't convince smart, competent people to work with them. They have to make do with the marginalized”, she denounces.
Paying for the mercenaries
The Ukrainian resistance fighter is not kind towards the soldiers Russians in the occupied territories.
“Cases of false accusations to extort money are increasing. They steal goods, food products from farmers and resell them at high prices in Russia. They are here to make money. They don't have those opportunities in Russia. They are very happy to be here and do not have this comfort at home. They are disgusting. But they won’t be very happy to see reinforcements coming,” she thinks.
The Money War
Mariia Shuvalova continues to find ways to raise money for the war effort. Beyond this mission, she also seeks to convey the threat she believes Russia poses to the world.
“In the first four months of the war when I was collecting money was for basic needs, for food and for new army volunteers,” she explains.
Now the money is used to buy clothes for the army. , tourniquets, thermal and night vision equipment, vehicles, “lots of observation drones” and parts for recovered Russian tanks.
“But the most important thing is to speak with people around the world to show them the danger that Russia currently poses. The Georgians and the Syrians also experienced it”, she recalls about two other of the many conflicts recently carried out by Russia.
Those who hope for a quick end to this murderous conflict will not be reassured by the words of Mariia Shuvalova
“For me, victory means feeling safe in Ukraine, repelling all the Russian soldiers of our territory. But we will continue to share a border with Russia, which is undemocratic and has great imperial ambitions. We can win this war and remain in danger. We are preparing for extra long resistance until it becomes safe to be Ukrainian. We are in Europe in the 21st century. How is it possible not to be able to live safely in Ukraine? We must stop this imperial culture,” concludes the resistance fighter.
Katrine Johns has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Gal Post, Katrine Johns worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my email@example.com 1-800-268-7128