A letter from Kyiv

Aug 4

Svitlana Moronets

I’ve been back in Kyiv for a couple of weeks now, and as I write, an air raid siren screams outside my window. When it sounds in the small hours of the morning, you have a dilemma: do you go to a bomb shelter, or stay put and take your chances? I’m doing the latter. Such is life here in Ukraine – a constant mental battle between the fear of death and the hope of it passing you by.

The air raid alarm – an apocalyptic sound, which rises and falls – lasts for one minute. I also have the Air Raid app, and its notifications are so loud that I keep my phone on mute. When all-clear is sounded, I open the Ukrainian air force’s Telegram channel to see what destruction Russia has sent our way. ‘Four Tu-95 strategic bombers took off from the Olenya airfield in Murman region,’ the message says. ‘They fly in a southeast direction, presumably to the Caspian Sea area. The approximate time for the aircraft to reach the launch point for cruise missiles is 02:30.’

It gives me enough time to decide whether to hide or not. Often it simply says ‘Kyiv region – Shaheds!’ (referring to Iranian drones) or ‘Kyiv – ballistic missiles!’ In this case I have minutes or even seconds to choose: do not give a damn and hope for the best; follow the ‘two walls from the outside’ rule and hide in the bathroom or corridor without windows (safer, in theory, as these walls are less likely to collapse). I could run to an underground car park or the metro – or a bomb shelter.

Kyiv is the most protected city in Ukraine – most missiles and drones get shot down. But the chance of being killed by the debris, even from a successful intercept, is very high. You run the risk of being hit by such masonry while running to a bomb shelter (which may be closed anyway) or by debris flying into your window and exploding. This happened to my best friend’s apartment block, below, just weeks ago. Five people died. Now, nobody lives there.

(Credit: Svitlana Morenets)

Not all air raid alerts mean Russia has sent a missile or drone. Often their pilots take off in a MiG-31K Foxhound, one of the most lethal Russian fighter jets, and fly it near the Ukraine-Belarus border. Such flights can last for hours, and you never know if they are playing with you or getting ready to launch a missile. Last month, Russia fired 100 rockets and 265 Shahed drones into Ukraine, with 70 per cent of them being shot down. You wonder why they’d waste millions of rubles on drones when they could simply terrify Ukrainians with the prolonged alerts – fuel is cheaper than missiles are. But Russian forces do both: physical damage and psychological terror are an effective combination.

Last year, Ukraine’s health ministry predictedthat around 15 million Ukrainians (of a population of 44 million) will need psychological support, and up to four million will require prescribed medical treatment. Having heard eight air raid alerts in the past 24 hours – and shaking walls from distant explosions – I can understand why. Perhaps the Kremlin hopes the sheer trauma and sleep deprivation will lead Ukrainians to seek a deal with Vladimir Putin in exchange for peaceful nights. But as Britain discovered in the Blitz, it has the opposite effect: people’s resolve hardens. They want revenge and find relief only in paybacks like drone attacks on Moscow.

I’ve noticed how Ukrainians living in Kyiv rarely complain. Those in eastern and southern cities die much more often. What the soldiers are going through in the trenches is scary to imagine. So the capital adapts, learning to live in a constant state of war – which can have small upsides. There is, at least, something romantic in learning to live every day like it’s your last.

With love from Ukraine,


Quote of the week

‘Some 90 per cent of the male population in the country should be prepared that all of them will take a direct part in the war… Many people are already talking about [coming] victory – I don’t know where they get this idea from.’

– Denis Quebec, a Ukrainian veteran


The war in numbers

Global oil supply halted by Ukrainian attack on Novorossiysk port


A Ukrainian sea mine has damaged a Russian warship blocking access to the port

Exports of Chinese drones to Russia and Ukraine


China has now banned exports to drones and drone parts over fears they are being converted for military use

Grain damaged by Russian attacks on Danube port

40,000 tons

Wheat prices have risen 5% since the attack


A note from the author: Thank you for your interest in this newsletter. I hope it helps you to understand my country – and the war – better from a Ukrainian perspective. If you enjoy the Ukraine in Focus newsletter, please forward it to someone you know: you can sign up here. My writing for The Spectator can be found here. This email is a work in progress: all feedback welcome: svitlana@spectator.co.uk

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