Kira did not flee Ukraine when the war started. More than the bombings, it is the new habits that affect her the most. Between censorship, air raid sirens and infidelity, her confidences to her childhood friend, journalist Yana Sadivska, are a source of great concern.
Kira (name changed), is my best friend from school. For 30 years, and even despite me living abroad for the last decade, we have been close. We’d meet every time I traveled back home, no matter how busy we were. Since the war broke out, we’ve been having only brief chats online. I was absorbed by working on the news, dealing with testimonies of those fleeing the war, not knowing what was happening to my best friend who stayed behind. Last week, we finally talked.
“I was scared to go anywhere in the first days of the war, and the railway station was crowded with people storming evacuation trains,” says Kira. “There were no Russian soldiers here, but we constantly heard explosions and missiles often flew nearby. Thank God, the Ukrainian army managed to intercept them in our area. Our territorial defense unit was just great. I felt safe thanks to them. That’s why I decided to stay.”
In the first days of the war, Kira was close to a nervous breakdown, and only simple manual tasks kept her calm. Previously an account manager, she now works at a pharmaceutical warehouse.
“Half of the customers stopped ordering. Some pharmacies simply disappeared in Mariupol, Kherson, Chernihiv, and the Luhansk regions. The Russians bombed big warehouses when the war started. In Makariv (near Bucha in the Kyiv region - ed.), there was a major one, where raw materials and medicines were made. Because of this, big quantities of these drugs disappeared and their prices skyrocketed. Our warehouse is relatively small, but I am afraid it could be destroyed too – with us inside it.”
Then Kira slips into a more private conversation. It is not the war that shattered her, but what it brought into her life.
“Many women with children had to be evacuated abroad. And sometimes under these difficult living conditions, their husbands started seeing other women. That was truly shocking. Some of them tried to approach me directly or indirectly. This includes people who I knew before the war and who seemed like ideal family men. My illusion about the institution of marriage completely vanished.
I hope sociologists explore this phenomenon, to learn how many women experience the same. However, there is the other side of the stick, like that young Ukrainian woman hosted by a British family who, after two days, ran away with the husband. The press picked it up immediately. I think we all need a psychologist nowadays. The world is upside down.”
Kira follows the Ukrainian news, but says she lacks comprehensive information. In her opinion, the authorities are taking the opportunity to try and remove the opposition from the media space. This includes two TV channels associated with former President Petro Poroshenko. Although she recognizes she is not a media expert, her observations lead her to such a conclusion.
“Many things remain unreported. Recently they cut independent channels’ digital signal - Espresso, the 5th channel, and one other. The only way for me to follow them now is on YouTube or cable networks. Reportedly, Poroshenko was not allowed to travel abroad for a meeting, where he was our official representative. And among journalists, the rumor grew that he wanted to escape. At least, that's what my colleagues said. People mostly listen to the official news, and the opposition is almost unheard of.”
Kira says her salary hasn’t changed since February, but compared to the current high prices for food, medicines, and fuel, it is almost nothing.
Kira wants to help her country and the army. She was recently thinking about donating her blood to wounded Ukrainian soldiers. She has a very rare blood type, the only one Ukrainian hospitals lack nowadays.
“While I was discussing donating blood with a friend who works in a military hospital, he briefly mentioned that they just received dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war traumatized by their time in captivity, but then he cut the conversation short.
Perhaps we should not talk about this. We will never be able to verify this information or read it in the news, right?”
Kira says many people are now returning to her town and trying to pick up their previous lives, but it is practically impossible: “like some ‘nouveau riche’ who are preening with their expensive cars on empty roads,” she laughs.
“Air raid sirens still resound here,” Kira says. At that I confess to her that, as I am living abroad, I have never heard these, even recorded.
“It's tough. Not so much here, but on the other side of the town, they’re so loud, unbearable, unpleasant, and scary. They resound a couple of times a day. I don’t react to them anymore - which is actually wrong. In any case, we have nowhere to hide when we are at work. That’s the reality. But we have to keep our economy running. Many people have downloaded an air raid app, and when all the phone alerts go off at the same time, it feels even worse. I deleted mine. Since then, I can finally sleep at night, even with sirens wailing, and wake up every morning happy to be alive.”
For those who want to listen to the sounds of Ukrainian air raid sirens, follow this link.