Moment is publishing regular updates from Helen, a Soviet American Jew living in Kyiv. Read all the diary entries here.
Today, August 24, Kyiv is celebrating Independence Day in commemoration of the Declaration of Independence from the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
In the center of Kyiv, where I live, on Saturday, an exhibition was installed along Kreshchatyk, the central street of the city. It featured Russian military equipment destroyed during the full-scale war against Ukraine. Russia planned to conquer Kyiv in a matter of days and have a military parade with the very same tanks on the very same street. The local authorities engaged many workers for the display of equipment, which stretches for over 200 meters. A lot of streets were blocked and this created huge traffic jams. The sound of cars honking was drowned out by sirens once in a while but people were still strolling along the street, gazing proudly at the war trophies and taking pictures.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy believes that Russia might attempt to carry out particularly violent attacks on Independence Day. “We have to be aware that this [coming] week, Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, particularly cruel,” he said. “Such is our enemy. But Russia has been doing this every week over these last six months—doing terrible and violent things.”
Zelenskyy noted that one of Russia’s key goals is to humiliate the people of Ukraine, to undermine their potential and their heroes, and spread despair, fear and conflict.
It is quite disturbing and unsettling to be so viscerally reminded that the war goes on and young lives are being lost. Before that exhibition, Kyiv looked and felt as if the war was happening far away, even in the abstract, and people seemed to keep on with their lives despite the sounds of sirens. (I don’t remember a day when I have not heard these heartbreaking sounds less than three times throughout the day or night.) But viewing this exhibit feels like being in an avalanche of war developments in the wake of the horrific Russian invasion of a peaceful independent state. It is a profound reminder of all the casualties not only of young defenders but also of children killed and women violated.
Although the trophies look quite impressive, people do worry and feel threatened by the possibility of direct attacks on Ukraine in general and Kyiv in particular. I hear people praying for safety. One can feel the tension and fear in the air.
A woman from my gym lost her son to war. He was 22, an IT engineer with a promising career and about to start a family. However broken the mother is, she told me that she would sacrifice her own life for Ukraine without thinking twice.
Another gym friend is an actress. She is in Germany with two young children and she plans to stay there. Due to the war, her husband lost her job and there is no employment for her in Ukraine since the entertainment business is on hold. So, this lady stays in Germany living hand to mouth on German financial aid to refugees. She stays just for financial reasons and she even manages to save some money and send it to her husband, who is unemployed and looking for job opportunities.
In my opinion, the money spent on these installations should have been allocated as financial aid to those who lost their jobs. There is no social security for the Ukrainians: token unemployment insurance does exist, but in no way could it cover living expenses.
Despite all the casualties and troubles so many families are going through, Ukrainians feel united and look forward to a brighter future as a prosperous, independent European country.