Ukrainian sentiment: Wary of Russia’s ‘imperial ambitions’ but hope war doesn’t happen

?url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalifornia times brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2F49%2F94%2F02e342024bce8823ff854c647830%2Fgettyimages 1237623144

On the picturesque streets of the snowy capital, many ordinary Ukrainians have two thoughts: they see ominous war cloud On the horizon, but hopefully the threat may prove to be short-lived.

weeks, About 100,000 Russian troopsSupported by armor and artillery, it has been massed on the outskirts of Ukraine, encircling it on three sides.Moscow says it doesn’t want war, but Kremlin offers almost daily possibility excuse for conflict.

The time between Orthodox Christmas on January 7 and the Old New Year, which is still informally celebrated on January 14, is traditionally a festive interlude.This year, the week is marked A series of Ukrainian-centric diplomacy has been launched in European capitals.

have US-Russian high-level talks In Geneva on Monday, NATO met with a Russian delegation in Brussels on Wednesday and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe held consultations in Vienna on Thursday, with Russia and Ukraine both participating.

Watching this unfold, ordinary Ukrainians express fatalism with a mixture of caution, contempt and suspicion. Many described Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and a bloody separatist conflict in the east of the country that caught them off guard.

“I don’t believe that total war is possible,” said Diana Kolodyazhnaya, a 29-year-old photographer who lives in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. But she regretfully admits she had the same suspicions eight years ago when she lived in the eastern city of Slavyansk, which was once occupied by pro-Russian insurgents.

Many Ukrainians describe a split-screen presence where their daily lives are undisturbed, but they are obsessed with events they follow in news reports and on social media.

“When I read our news or telegrams, I am thrown from one extreme to the other [app] Channels, it all looks very serious,” said Alexei Lyapin, a 26-year-old information technology worker who lives in the western city of Lviv. “On the other hand, sometimes I just don’t watch the news and live a normal life. “

Many people admit to a central contradiction: They completely ignore some aspects of the underlying conflict while constantly worrying about others.

“I don’t know where the bomb shelter is,” said Natalia Serebryakova, a 43-year-old film critic who lives in the northeastern city of Koh Samui. She said she didn’t read government instructions on where to take shelter in the event of a fight, or what to pack in an emergency “tote bag”.

But Serebryakova thought a lot about her 18-year-old son, who was eligible for draft even though he was a college student.

Deciphering Putin’s intentions is no easy task, and Ukrainians are more likely to be surprised than most Russian leaders.

“No one knows what’s going on in Putin’s head,” said Lyapin, an IT worker from Lviv.

But it was noticed when Putin suggested in an article last year that Ukraine and Russia are one and the same country, Slavic brotherhood. To many, that sounded in line with Putin’s ambitions to maintain Russia’s sphere of influence in the former Soviet republic – despite Ukraine’s 30 years of independence.

“We know this is Russia’s imperial ambitions,” said Anastasia Vinslavska, 34, who has trained in psychology. “Precisely because Russia wants to seize former Soviet land”

As tensions mount, many Ukrainians have gone through a painful experience of breaking with friends or relatives abroad who have embraced a nationalist narrative concocted by the Russian media, with flashy rhetoric portraying Ukraine as a true aggressor.

Kolodyazhnaya, a videographer from Kiev, said she has many relatives in Russia, including her mother, stepfather, aunt and uncle. But — in a scenario that may sound familiar to many Americans — politics is just off-limits for discussion.

“In the beginning, my mom and I were trying to talk about it,” she said. “But when you’re living in a completely different media space, it’s hard to agree on something.”

Film critic Serebryakova has been in touch with friends in Russia who are not Putin supporters, but on Facebook she removed those who “turned to the side of the Russian government.”

Geography is particularly important for many Ukrainians when assessing individual risk levels.

“We have some food and goods in stock just in case,” said Igor Kalinichenko, 28, who lives in the eastern city of Kramatorsk and was seized by Russia in 2014 before government forces regained control Backed by separatists, the frontline between government forces and insurgents is currently only 30 miles away.

“If it’s ‘hot’, we leave and bring our relatives with us,” said Kalinichenko, who works in technical support. But he said he knew many people with property and businesses would be reluctant to leave even if hostilities broke out.

In the event of a full-scale invasion, it may be difficult to find a safe haven.

“Where to go is a good question that I can’t answer right now,” he said. “I don’t want to think about it.”

Even in parts of the country that are considered relatively safe, people are bracing for the worst. Lyapin feels fairly safe in Lviv, less than 50 miles from the Polish border, but he has relatives in eastern Ukraine and Kiev.

“I can’t just leave,” he said. “For example, it’s hard for me to move to Poland to support my family from a distance. All I can do is convert my money into dollars and keep them in case anything goes wrong.”

Ukraine’s military is dwarfed by Russia’s armed forces, and it is widely acknowledged that if Putin decides to ignore increasingly harsh warnings from the West and re-invasion, it will be nearly impossible for Ukraine to stop the initial offensive.

But many Ukrainians also believe that both regular and irregular defenders can inflict some punishment on themselves.

“We are no longer helpless,” Kolo Diaznaya said. She noted that any Russian occupation would bring enormous logistical complexities, including deterring guerrilla attacks, controlling occupied territories and establishing reliable supply chains.

Psychologist Wenslavska started as a volunteer paramedic in eastern Ukraine in 2017 and has since trained as a nurse. She has a paramedic’s backpack full of bandages and medication, but lately she’s been researching what else she should have on hand.

“If something happened, I’d add money, documents, underwear, makeup bags and phone chargers,” she said. “And I’ll be ready to go to war.”

Special correspondents Huba and Kolotilov reported from Kiev and Moscow, respectively, and New York Times staff writer Kim from Washington.