Amid war and mounting losses, a mood of resignation and little appetite for compromise
By Valerie Hopkins and Maria Varenikova
In the first months of the war, Yulia Fedotovskyh found a coping mechanism to help her sleep at night: She scrolled Telegram every evening and looked at photos of burned and blown-up dead Russian soldiers.
Initially, she said, looking at the images helped her feel safer. But now as the conflict drags on, she said she feels exhausted by war. She tries to avoid the news and no longer gets gratification from the photographs.
“I would scroll Telegram every evening before going to bed, it was hard to fall asleep otherwise,” said Fedotovskyh, 32, a public relations manager for an information technology company. These days, she added, “I realize and have accepted that I can die at any moment, and so I just live my life.”
Nearly five months into a bloody war in which Russia is steadily making territorial gains, many Ukrainians remain angry and defiant about the invasion. But there is also a creeping sense of resignation as the losses mount, and the mood is becoming increasingly somber.
The fall of Lysychansk over the weekend, which handed the heavily contested eastern province of Luhansk to Russia, was just the latest in a series of heavy blows including some of the worst attacks on civilian targets since Russia invaded in late February. There was a missile strike on a shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk that left at least 20 dead. A strike on a holiday town near Odesa that killed at least 21 people. A strike on a residential building in Kyiv, the capital, that shattered that city’s fragile veneer of security.
The routing of Russian troops from the capital at the end of March gave Ukrainians a strong sense of pride in their country and military, and a hope that victory could be swift. With the war showing little sign of abating, however, people are becoming angrier about the losses and express frustration that the Ukrainian government is downplaying the challenges ahead in a bid to raise morale.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, who has captivated the world with his determination and signature green T-shirt, continues to address Ukrainians in nightly speeches suffused with resoluteness and defiance.
“Something needs to be done about the policy of informing the population,” Sergii Neretin, a journalist and the former deputy head of the Ukrainian State Film Agency, wrote on Facebook.
He noted that Ukrainian officials had justified their forces’ withdrawal from the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk by saying it would help defend Lysychansk, its last major stronghold in the Luhansk region. Then Lysychansk fell.
“Almost every day we are given weapons, more and more powerful, and the footage shows how they coolly smash the enemy,” he wrote. “How should we perceive information about our achievements, power and supply of weapons in the future?” he asked. “Read between the lines or take them for their word?”
The war also has spurred a massive humanitarian crisis, sending millions of people fleeing their homes and severely impacting Ukrainian’s livelihoods.
Only 5% of Ukrainians report living comfortably on their current income, according to a poll released this week by the National Democratic Institute.
Still, a large majority of Ukrainians nevertheless retain a strong faith in the armed forces as well as in Zelenskyy, according to the poll.
Svitlana Kolodiy, 34, a crowdfunding expert, said she has been raising money to support Ukrainian soldiers and was resigned to the fact that the war would last beyond the fall.
And few Ukrainians are interested in compromising with Russia. Ukrainians are “demonstrably uninterested in trading land for peace,” the NDI poll found. Eighty nine percent of respondents said that the only acceptable scenario was the reclamation of all territory occupied by Russia, including the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
“There is no compromise with Russia,” said Mariana Horchenko, a 37-year-old dental worker from Kyiv. “Not after all the people who have been killed.”