There is no room for distant nuance in war. If you want to win, you need your legends. The grimy details, the moral compromises, will be worked out later. That’s one of the reasons why an Amnesty International report released earlier this month accusing the Ukrainian military of endangering civilians with their combat tactics caused such a stir.
The brutality to which Ukraine has been subjected has given its compatriots a strong sense of dignity that has to be experienced to be believed. But six months of anxiety, adrenaline and sleep deprivation also cause tension. Gaidai says the remarkable unity of the early months is giving way to a feeling, familiar from the previous eight years of war in Donbas, that some regions of the country have come to see the war as something “out there”.
In Lviv in western Ukraine, overrun with refugees and foreign diplomats, journalists and aid workers, there is a degree of annoyance – especially with wealthy Kievans parking their SUVs in the picturesque but impossibly narrow and congested cobblestone streets of the city. More than one annoyed Kyivan suspects that prices have been inflated to exploit wealthy people from the capital. Someone obscurely suggested that a somewhat more direct war experience would teach Lviv some compassion.
“F— them!” exclaimed one of them, fleeing west when the attack on Kiev began in February. “I think that when the war is over, Lvivians should visit Kiev. A lot of people support this idea.”
Irina Prudkova, an activist from Mariupol who showed me around the port city just before the invasion in February, is more diplomatic. “They’re just people who don’t know anything about war,” she told me. She has become accustomed to patiently explaining that Russian-speaking volunteers and soldiers from Donbas have been fighting for Ukraine since 2014. Much stranger, she said, was the way loyalty seemed to flip overnight in her hometown on the 24th.
“People who supported Ukraine, who I thought would defend Mariupol, are now working for the Russians. And those who were always for Russia and called me a Banderite, fight for Ukraine,” she told me by phone from Ternopil, a city in western Ukraine where a friend lent her a room.
She has no explanation for the strange reversal of loyalties and little time to philosophize. Her hometown has been virtually bulldozed. Her flat, neighbors tell her, was looted by a search team from the FSB (the successor to the KGB) as soon as the city fell. She and her husband Alexander have been reliably informed that their names are on the arrest lists distributed to Russian soldiers at the checkpoints.