The following are unedited accounts from an old friend in Ukraine. I have received permission to share.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 41
April 4, 2022
The last time I wrote was on day 16 when we arrived in Kosice, Slovakia. Today is now Day 41 of the war and it very sadly shows no signs of letting up. But, we have now settled into an entirely new and different life in Louisburgh, Ireland, on the far west Atlantic coast of the country. Much has happened during our trip from Kiev to Louisburgh, which will be the subject of this email.
On Thursday, March 10, at 9 AM, we left our wonderful apartment in the center of the city. All we had were one carry-on suitcase, a slightly larger black bag, and two backpacks. Even that seemed too much but we decided that we could somehow make it work. A car with a driver from the Territorial Defense forces picked us up to make sure we could get to the railway station since cars were being spot checked to make sure of the occupants. We drove through now empty streets which what would have been in better times bumper to bumper traffic, now empty, and it was all very sad to see. A thriving, bustling city of three million had been reduced to near silence. Except for the air raid sirens.
We got to the main railway station. I was surprised to see that the numbers of people there were not as substantial as I had expected, having seen the huge numbers boarding trains from earlier news reports. The cavernous main hall was only about one third-filled with people looking at the arrivals/departures board. The morning trains are all arrivals from other regions, the first train out to anywhere in the west of the country was at 2 PM, with the train we wanted to take to Uzhgorod scheduled for 6:30 PM. Since we had a long wait ahead of us, we went and found a comfortable place in the main waiting room.
There was no heat in the room but we were warmly dressed and there were also several hundred people waiting, as well. We sat somewhat near the windows, and could occasionally hear the sirens going off in the distance. Fortunately, the main railway station has two large waiting rooms so we never felt that it was overly-crowded. During the course of the day, there were a lot of people coming and going for trains, not the massive numbers of the first week or so after the start of the war. I would occasionally take a walk and see just how people were getting on the evacuation trains and the numbers. It all appeared to be manageable, there were no massive crowds on the various platforms pushing and shoving, as before.
The evacuation trains were free of charge and on a first come, first served basis. The majority of trains were headed to Lviv, where most people would then transfer, if they wanted, to trains or buses to Poland. Other trains went to Chop on the Hungarian border or to Chernivtsi near the Romanian border. There were also trains to smaller cities in the west of the country not on the border where those who decided to be internal refugees fled such as Ivano-Frankivsk, Truskavets, Kovel and others. At this time, more than four million had fled to countries outside Ukraine, while a further six to seven million were internal refugees, mostly in western Ukraine. A recent poll of evacuees now in the EU showed that almost 20% will not return to Ukraine. It will be interesting to see just how the EU responds to this when or if it does happen that large numbers remain after the war ends.
While waiting all that time, we also managed to have some lunch in the hall which was given out to everyone, also free of charge. Starting at about 4 PM, I began to be somewhat concerned when the departures board did not show our train but did show even later departing trains. I did occasionally ask the staff in the waiting room if that was an issue but they said no, the train to Uzhgorod would leave on time. Trains arrive to the platform about 30 minutes before departure for boarding. When it was about 5:55 PM, and no with mention of the departure of our train on the board, I was worried but there was another train to that destination at 8 PM, just in case. Just then, an announcement was made that the train to Uzhgorod was at track 2 and we should board. We grabbed our belongings, first going up the stairs (the escalators were not working) to the departures hall located over the platforms, then again down more stairs to the platform. Mercifully, the platform was surprisingly empty of people and we managed to get on the train, along with our luggage. It is no easy feat since Soviet-era railway cars mean a climb up to the main compartment of almost a meter, up 3 or 4 narrow stairs, in a hurry, but we managed.
Once inside, we felt fortunate that this was a sleeping car, with each compartment having four berths. We stowed our luggage since we were first in to an empty compartment, others being full, then waited to see who would join us. Fortunately, several larger family groups thought of joining us but moved on to what were empty compartments further along the train. Shortly before the train was about to depart, our compartment mates arrived, a young mother and her baby daughter. We obviously were not happy with this turn of events but it proved fortuitous.
Our compartment mate and 11 month old daughter were most fortunate escapees from the now notorious city of Bucha. They were on the way to Uzhgorod to live with a friend while her husband remained in Kiev as a Territorial Defense volunteer. She was all of twenty-one years old but had gone through real hell during the fighting for the city. She only partly related the nightmare that she and her daughter had gone through while there and the subsequent evacuation that very morning, but it was more than enough for us to hear. Our annoyance with the sirens paled into insignificance compared to her terrifying reality of actual war. Only now do we actually see the real horror she went through.
Our train left on time. Since we four were to be cooped up in that compartment for the next 16 hours of travel, we made the best of it. We talked, we shared food and water, we helped our compartment mate with her daughter, relieving her with occasionally entertaining the baby as much as we could. The baby during the entire trip was a real doll, crying only twice while mostly sleeping or eating. I hope the quiet from her was not from any unknown trauma from the fighting in Bucha. We also managed to sleep about six or so hours which also helped make the long journey that much shorter. During the night, we also had to close the shades on the windows to black out the train so as not to become a target. Once we emerged into daylight and in deep western Ukraine, in the Carpathian foothills and later in the mountains, we could ride with the shades open and marvel at the wondrous scenery in bright sunshine. At least there were momentary pleasures on this sad journey away from home.
At about noon the next day, we arrived at our destination, Uzhgorod. When we got off the train, we were met by volunteers who took us to the waiting room where we were fed, again for free, and got in line to see about local accommodations. Our compartment mate was met by a friend of hers, we parted, wishing her and her daughter well and wishing for the safety of her husband. We had planned on spending two or three days in Uzhgorod but when we got to the accommodations window, there were no available rooms anywhere in the region. Since it was about 1 PM, we decided to change our plans and head immediately for the Slovak border.
The Uzhgorod authorities arranged for buses to take evacuees to the border every 20-30 minutes. While waiting for the next bus, I managed by phone to get the last available room at the Doubletree Hilton in Kosice for that night and the next three after that since we had planned on flying to Dublin from there. We then boarded the very packed bus for the twenty minute ride to the border. We got off the bus, took up our luggage and then had to walk uphill about 300 meters where a Ukrainian border guard stopped us and made us wait for about 40 minutes while the previous group on the Slovak side was finished processing through. Fortunately, there were tables nearby with food, water, coffee and tea.
Once released, we had to walk this time downhill to the Ukrainian post at the border, handing over our passports for inspection. This formality was quickly completed and we then walked another 100 meters to the Slovak border post where they only glanced at our passports. We went on to the refugee reception area, a huge field filled with tents, Red Cross and other emergency refugee services. Food and water were also available for all, along with helping others to find accommodations or onward assistance. We boarded a bus to our next destination and two hours later, at about 6 PM, we arrived in Kosice. It had now been almost 36 hours since we left the apartment and 24 hours since we boarded the train to Uzhgorod. A volunteer at the bus station helped us get a bus to the hotel, where we got to the room and then ran to have dinner at the hotel. That night we went to bed exhausted, but relieved that the worst part of our trip was now over.
As it was, it entailed a great deal of stress. However, I also understand that not every one of the refugees could allow themselves a few nights at the Hilton at the end of their journey. Interestingly enough, when we were checking in and in the hotel lobby and at various times during our stay, I noted that there were a fair number of Ukrainians also staying there. These definitely had to be those who were rich or very well off to stay at that hotel for any length of time.
The next morning, since I took along my laptop and had a Wi-Fi connection, I went online and checked out the Ryanair flights from Kosice to Dublin. Unfortunately, due to their algorithm, it was over $300 per seat from Kosice to Dublin, whereas it was less than $100 from Bratislava. I booked the Bratislava tickets which were for the 16th. We then became normal tourists in Kosice, wandering the old town, where we were located, as well as shopping in the local shopping center for items we had left behind but still needed. It was a few necessary mental and physical health days, including my wife visiting the hair salon!
Kosice is a lovely little town, worth visiting for 2-3 days, with a beautiful and fully restored gothic cathedral, St, Elisabeth. We went there on Sunday, after mass. While wandering about the church, the organist began to play the Ukrainian national anthem for quite some time, with variations. Not only were we transfixed by the playing, I managed to video the event on my phone. I uploaded the performance to YouTube, the link is here if you want to view it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nzo0081qMw
On the 14th, I made a reservation at a Marriott hotel in Bratislava and went to the railroad station, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, to get our tickets to Bratislava. With our Ukrainian IDs, the second class train tickets for the six hour ride to Bratislava were also free. While there, I saw an even larger welcoming tent that was not even there when we arrived, and far more refugees were now in the train station area. There were also two buses ready to take those who were willing to relocate to Portugal. People with luggage were already waiting outside these buses.
At 10 AM on the 15th, our train left for Bratislava. The six hour ride went relatively quickly with some views of the beautiful Slovak countryside as well as riding through parts of the snow-covered Tatra mountains. A taxi to the hotel, no unpacking, dinner at the hotel, a good night’s sleep and the next day, to the airport and a two and a half hour Ryanair plane ride to Dublin. Ryanair, which is notorious for charging everyone for everything, somehow let us through without any overweight charge on our measly luggage, being just a little over their limit. That was nice of them, but I think it was more due to the Slovak personnel at the airport than to the company.
We arrived in Dublin and had to stay at the Radisson at the airport. We were lucky to even get this room so close to the city since the next day, March 17 was St. Patrick’s Day. There were no rooms in Dublin city and rooms were almost unavailable within a 50 mile radius. As a long-time Radisson member, I was fortunate to even get a room there. On the 17th, we went into Dublin, saw a bit of the parade being held for the first time in three years due to Covid, did a little shopping, had lunch and then decided to return to the hotel after observing the post-parade drunken, rowdy crowds. This was not to our liking. At dinner, in honor of the revered saint, I had a Guinness. The next day, we returned to a now more quiet and sober, maybe even hungover Dublin, and it was much more agreeable. A fine city to walk about in.
On Saturday we went to the Heuston Street Train Station in Dublin to take a three hour train journey to Westport, Ireland (for free, again), and then a taxi 20 kilometers (12 miles) to our new home in Louisburgh. We again arrived by late afternoon and by 6 PM were at the front door to our house. Just after we walked in through the front door, there was a knock and our new neighbors arrived with three welcome baskets of food! We were very surprised and overwhelmed by this wonderful act of kindness. This was not the last such act of altruïsm here.
The next day and afterwards, we began to try and settle in as much as possible. We had come on a long journey from a city at war with a population of three million to a beautiful, small town on Ireland’s Atlantic coast with a population of maybe 400, but with also many thousands more sheep and new born lambs all around us! Quite a culture shock, especially for my wife, while in the past I had lived in a small town for several years after having lived in New York City, namely Stockbridge Massachusetts, home of the Tanglewood Music Festival and Alice’s Restaurant!
A very necessary word of deep and everlasting thanks to my friend Dave, the owner of this house. Dave’s generous offer to allow us to live here gave us the chance we needed to escape the nightmare we were living with every day. We are grateful for this opportunity and without it, we would probably still be in Kiev. Thank you, Dave, you are a hero. The house has three bedrooms, a large kitchen, living room, dining room, 2 ½ bathrooms, internet and cable TV and with a spacious back yard. It also comes with a spectacular daily view out the front door of Ireland’s sheep pastures, and its hills and mountains. The mountains include a view of Croagh Patrick, a pilgrimage site where St, Patrick spent 40 days fasting and then afterwards banished the demons and snakes out of Ireland. Too bad he cannot do the same for Ukraine today with other sorts of demons and snakes. While we do not have a car here, one of the neighbors gave me a bicycle I now use almost daily for errands and exercise for my knee, after my knee replacement surgery last year. More local Irish generosity and kindness and it does not stop.
While my wife almost every day, rightfully, says she wants to go home, now is not the time. She speaks to her friends who have remained in Kiev or elsewhere via the phone by way of Viber and WhatsApp. In Kiev, they are now unfortunately beginning to suffer from various physical and mental ailments, mostly from deep sadness if not depression. While food in the city is still mostly available, at times it is hit or miss. Public transport is still severely curtailed, and although the air raid sirens go off frequently every day, I do understand that some normalcy is returning to city life there. It is still not enough and the mayor just recently asked that those city residents still abroad not return for at least the next two weeks since it is still dangerous there for the time being. I am still concerned that there could still be long distance missile strikes so until it does seem that nothing of the sort will happen, we will remain here but we hope for not too much longer.
For refugees, the European Union has issued several edicts compelling their member governments to provide aid to Ukrainian refugees, and their family members regardless of nationality. That assistance includes financial support, free medical care, the ability to find jobs and work, schooling for children, as well as being able to remain in the EU for at least one year and possibly longer, as the military situation in Ukraine develops. Given Ireland’s location, it is one of the most difficult countries to reach since you can only do so by plane or boat. Nevertheless, refugees are able to make it here. According top Irish government statistics, there are now almost 20,000 Ukrainian refugees already here with more expected. Compare that to the more than two million in Poland.
When we arrived at Dublin airport, we went into a special line open only for Ukrainian refugees. There the immigration officer asked us a number of questions, and since we already had a place to stay, after being photographed, and with special stamps in our passports, we were given a paper with web sites we had to access for information on further instructions on local integration. A few days after we arrived in Louisburgh, our neighbor took us to Westport to get our Personal Public Service number which allows us access to all public services. This was done at the Intreo office, a combination of Welfare and Social Security offices in the USA.
We got to Intreo as they opened at 9:15 AM. We filled out the applications, were called for a brief interview, and at 10:15 were asked to come back at 11 AM for a photo session for our ID cards. We were then given a paper document with our PPS number as a temporary measure. Basically, we were in and out in an hour. While we were there, the staff was just wonderful, helpful and welcoming. We returned, had the photos taken, and by Tuesday, in the mail, we had our ID cards.
Now, every week, we receive at the local post office a modest cash amount which allows us to buy groceries and pay our utilities. We also registered with the local doctor and met with him and the staff. We had blood tests done at our request, and all this care we will get is also at no cost to us. The Irish people and their government have been more than generous in doing whatever they can do to help us during our stay here. Quite unlike the nearly slammed shut door that is the United Kingdom.
We now have been in Ireland for almost three weeks and in Louisburgh for a little over two weeks. We have begun to get settled in, still getting used to things here. My wife now only occasionally cries that she wants to go home now, but that also quickly passes. She understands that the time is not yet right for that return but she can mourn that absence of her real home.
I want to say that everyone we have met with here has been truly wonderful and helpful in every way possible, even if we do not ask. There was one incident in a supermarket when a woman heard us speaking in Russian and came up to me and offered us 20 Euros! I refused, and asked her to give it someone more deserving. It is this unasked for generosity that we constantly meet here, in stark contrast to the horrors and the nightmares of war in Ukraine. I cannot say enough good things about the people of Ireland who, when they know we are from Ukraine, have gone well out of their way to make us feel at home, and more importantly safe.
A most sincere thank you to everyone who has played a role in getting us from Kiev to Louisburgh, a distance of 3313 kilometers (2058 miles) as well as for however long (or hopefully, short) we remain here. More importantly, I hope that all who remain in Ukraine keep safe and that this damned war ends however soon it can.
I will send another email later with another update as well as my views on the war and how it has affected us and others and our worries about the future there when we return.
PS: Here is the view from our new home. The pasture now is filled with sheep and lambs.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 28
March 22, 2022
My wife and I finally arrived in our new, lovely and mercifully quiet residence in Louisburgh, County Mayo, Ireland with sincere thanks to a very good friend who offered us this sanctuary. We are fine and safe but tired, much more emotionally than physically. We need to take care of legal matters this week with the sympathetic and understanding Irish authorities in order to fully legalize our stay. They, as well as so many individuals here, have been so very helpful to us and to those others who fled or are fleeing the war and are seeking a safe haven. And they will most certainly find it.
I will sit down soon and write about our travels from the border of Ukraine with Slovakia to Louisburgh.
My wife and I thank you for your support and prayers. Now so many others deserve and need them as well.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 16
March 11, 2022
Just to let you all know that after two difficult and very long days and nights, with lots of stress and anxiety in between, we are safely in the Hilton Hotel in Kosice, Slovakia. Please give us a few days to decompress and figure out what we need to do next and when. I will get back to you next week.
Thank you so much for all your prayers, support and wishes. Just keep sending them to those left behind, our many friends who cannot or will not leave. They deserve your help in whatever way possible, morally and spiritually.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 14
March 9, 2022
With luck, this will be my last message until we reach either Uzhgorod, in the far west of Ukraine, on the border with Slovakia, or barring that, once we reach Kosice in Slovakia where I can get a wi-fi connection. I will try and send a quick update to let you know we have at least arrived in Uzhgorod. This war is now beginning its third week, and with no real end in sight, and I firmly believe, there is much worse to come for this city and the country. It is time to get out. As I have detailed before, my wife is more than reluctant to leave but she also understands that this is our only choice. Tomorrow will be our personal battle to board the train, but that will be far better than to live in a metro bomb shelter.
We are packing today. We are taking what is essential. Each of us has a backpack and a small suitcase to take on the train and for however long we will be away. We hope this cursed and totally unnecessary war ends soon, but we also are fearful that is may not be the case. We are also prepared for the longer haul as well. What we will do, and where, as refugees from a war zone is still unknown, except for our first somewhat long term destination in the far west of Ireland on the Atlantic coast, that beautiful land with its great people where it will be peaceful with no damned sirens at 4 AM!
As you may have noticed, I have focused on the personal, family and human aspects of this war, and not on the politics. On that issue I am definitely not neutral. I will get to all that after we have left and I have had a chance to gather my thoughts about all of this in a summation. That will be a separate email after our flight to safety has ended and some form of normalcy returns.
Yet another day like yesterday with the weather. Snow, cloudy, sunny, snow squalls and the like. Plus, five or six sirens wailing at various times of the day. We could have left today for the Romanian border. Last night at midnight I got an email from a volunteer organization taking Americans out. After talking it out with my wife until 4 AM, we sadly had to decline since it was a 15 or so hour ride in a small Mercedes Sprinter bus but my wife gets carsick. That would have been very bad for all involved. So now our only option out is a train, and fortunately, there are 4 trains to that destination in tomorrow evening. We will go in the morning to understand what we need to do in the chaos in order to get on. I am also prepared to pay a significant green-colored “honorarium” if need be! Naturally, that would be after we are on the train. These days, all is fair.
This is our last night in our two bedroom Kiev apartment for what may be some time to come. My wife has lived here almost all her life, I have been here almost 25 years. So many great emotions and memories, and now we have to abandon it to its fate, whatever it may be in the war. We hope we come back to what it was when we left but we also understand that we need to be alive and well to once again enjoy its comforts. We will leave with tears in our eyes, sadness in our hearts and when we do come back it will also be with tears in our eyes but with joy in our hearts. The only question is, when?
Russia-Ukraine War Day 13
March 8, 2022
This is International Women’s Day, what is here and in Russia a national holiday. Today, it is just another day with just tepid congratulations to the ladies and with warnings not to open email greeting card attachments for fear of Russian viruses. No flowers, no celebratory dinners, just more of the brutal sameness of the last thirteen days. The only relief for anyone was that in most places, including Kiev, overnight there were no warning sirens so sleep, was not interrupted. I suspect the same will not be said about tonight, I suspect.
So far we have had two short sirens blaring at 11:30 AM and 3:40 PM. I am sure there is more to come. Strange day with the weather. I woke up, looked out and it was partly sunny but on the ground was a light covering of snow. Then it clouded up, then snow, then partly sunny, again snow and so one. Late in the day, it just clouded up with temperature again around freezing.
We spent the day at home, again. This time, it was almost all discussing leaving. This is a major change in attitude from my wife. She is still a little unsure, naturally, and very scared of what may come long term outside of Ukraine but also understands that it will be far better than staying here. Staying will mean living underground, withstanding artillery and rocket attacks, bombing from the air, and then house-to-house battles. It is far better for us to watch and cry from afar than to be barely existing in fear and terror below. Or even worse. I want to pack a suitcase tomorrow and leave for the main rail station on Thursday morning when the curfew is lifted at 7 AM in order to get into line for evacuation. But, there is still a long way to go from almost acceptance to departure for the west for my wife.
We will take the “optimistic” attitude that we will be going out of the country only for two or three months, to start. If by some miracle, this war ends in that time, we can then return. If not, and this war drags out, as many pundits believe it will, then we will have to make some hard choices about where we will live. We pray that at some point we can look again to returning to Kiev.
It will be a difficult and uncomfortable two or so day trip, depending on the final destination. We want to go to Uzhgorod which is right on the Slovak border and we can then walk across with ease. We can also travel from there another 14 miles (22 km) and cross the border into Hungary at Chop, if need be. After that, I intend to find a nice hotel we can decompress at for a day or two, then decide where we will go next, likely Ireland as I had earlier mentioned, if it all works out. There are also several other destinations we can go to in order to cross the border and the train will be a lottery pick except that we will not get on one going to Lviv as the final destination, which most want to go to since that is nearest the Polish border. It is to Poland where Ukrainians feel most comfortable going, namely because of the language and culture.
The worst part will be the railway station in Kiev with thousands trying to get on the trains, shoving and pushing their way on. Only women, children and those over 60 years of age are allowed to travel, along with all foreigners. We will somehow have to get through this mess, then try to board the train and finally get seats, as well. Many will travel standing since they also want to pack the trains. Since this is evacuation, no buying tickets. The trains we want are all late afternoon and evening departures so we hope to make them by arriving early.
I hope this all comes to pass as the time for departure from this future possible hell is drawing to a close once the ring around the city is mostly closed. After that, escape will not be a possibility and safe corridors will have to be opened, if at all. Now is the time for flight no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be for a short time.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 12
March 7, 2022
Another almost quiet night last night. Just before midnight there was a siren, another at about 5 AM which I did not hear, and then again at 7:30 AM. There was only another siren during the day until very late afternoon. Today the Russian and Ukrainian delegations met for the third time in order to state their clashing positions and then accuse the other of bad faith. The war goes on.
I have to confess I am almost exhausted already, especially psychologically. Physically I am OK but for how long? I am sure most other people feel the same way. Stress, worry, uncertainty, fear, terror all play a large role in feeling this way, and others may even be worse off. Plus, I have my wife who sometimes wants to leave, then reconsiders, she gives me lots of reasons why she can’t, but all in all it is not an argument we have but a consideration of all the facts and conflicting emotions. I understand her fears of the unknown and life outside her comfort zone here but it is better out of the country than existing in a metro air raid shelter while bombs, rockets and bullets are flying all around us. And who knows what the apartment may look like, let alone the city, when we emerge, if there is an apartment, let alone heat, water, electric and gas. Not to mention internet. I am afraid the battle for this city will be one not unlike what happened in Grozny in the Chechen Republic in 1999 when it was leveled. I hope not but it is a possibility.
Just now at 6:25 I hear the sounds of what appears to be a major gunfight in the near distance. This is now in the center of the city, whatever is happening, is not good at all. Just learned that they shot done a drone. Relief that it was not soldiers v soldiers. Now, in the distance at 7:40 two explosions, more to add to our worries. 8:05 more explosions in the very far distance. Now at 8:45 PM. More distant explosions, continuous blasts. What is going on? News on these events should come a little later. Big worries, now. No wonder everyone is a bit jumpy.
We will stay at home again tonight, as well. I made the tilapia today so now we will have our pick of fish or meatloaf for a few more days. For these choices, we are grateful.
We have now settled into a pattern of staying in at home during the day and finding chores of one sort or another to do. The only change to this is going to the supermarket or the pharmacy. There are no other options except to exist as best we can under these conditions and to try and find a way out. The other exception is spending the night at the metro station bomb shelter, which, for now, is not necessary, despite today’s events – so far.
Another unknown night ahead of us.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 11
March 6, 2022
Last night there was a siren at midnight, then another at 2 AM and blissful sleep afterwards. There were a couple more sirens today but they were also of no interest to anyone on the streets, including us. We went out to a grocery store, getting a few more needed items, a drug store and home. Now we are sitting tight and hoping to spend another precious, hopefully quiet evening and night at home.
I am still trying to find some way out for us before the potential ring around the city tightens and closes. Unfortunately, we now have to rely just on ourselves and hope for the best and plan for the worst. Any help we get from others would be gratefully accepted and appreciated. My wife is now beginning to understand that things could get much, much worse, what with today’s rocket attack on Vinnitsa Airport and constant artillery barrages on homes and not military targets in various other cities. Nothing good and everything tragic awaits this city. I am still not sure she will change her mind about evacuating by any means possible, especially by car, until it may be too late, unfortunately.
I saw a video of the extremely long line today at the main railway station of mothers and children waiting for their chance to board any train out of the city and travel as far west as possible. It seemed to be almost never ending. Very sad. And, the weather is not helping them in that it is cloudy with temperatures about 32-35 Fahrenheit (1-2 C), cold and unpleasant. The forecast is for more of the same for the next week or so.
Night descends again and worry and fear start to take hold. We again hope and pray we somehow get through this night with as few sirens as possible and as much sleep as can be had.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 10
March 5, 2022
We have now reached the double digits, day 10 of this horror. There is no real end in sight, with both sides accusing the other side of breaking agreements, indiscriminate shooting and killing of civilians, and other high crimes. This area, and maybe the world, is slipping into a morass of insanity, fear and hatred from which there may be no return to whatever passes for normalcy these days.
It was a quiet night, although I must thank the sirens for their 7 AM wake up call. It turned into shopping day. After breakfast, I went out and scoured the streets for open stores and what goods that they may have. At a convenience store I bought a liter of milk, then, I walked to a supermarket where I bought a kilogram of frozen tilapia which I intend to make tomorrow. I also bought a number of other items which I thought we might need, just grab what may or may not be wanted now but it may be useful later like Oreos! The store just got in a supply of ham hocks but while I like them, it is too much trouble to make. We have to look for items where meals can be made quickly. I then went to a third store where I bought two packages of herring pieces, which by themselves are almost ready-to-eat meals plus lots of Omega-3. I finished off with buying grissini in another supermarket.
My walk covered a little over 2 miles (3.5 kilometers). I noticed from time to time people standing and waiting with luggage in spots. They were mostly women and children, although there was a male or two in two groups, and I surmise they were waiting for a car either directly out of Kiev to the west or to the railroad station for evacuation. Except for these few food stores, everything else was closed, including the pharmacies, which is disturbing since that is an essential product for many. The few that are open have very long lines. My wife and I will go to one tomorrow and see what is available for her.
Odd things occurred when walking. I am now attuned to certain noises such as the sirens, gunshots or explosions. You start imagining you hear these sounds coming from most any source while walking. These similar sounds are all around us, from cars and trucks moving about to the wind and birds. That sense of hearing becomes heightened. We have had only two brief sirens today, and will stay at home again tonight.
We are trying, at for now, to live as much of a normal existence as we can at home under these very trying conditions. I work, I pay my bills online, read the news constantly on the computer or the phone apps, watch videos to get away from the day’s events in the evening while my wife watches her programs, we cook and do whatever chores we need to do. All the while, we know what is happening not so far away, and what may soon become an unwanted reality here. I, with great sorrow, made and ate the last marbled NY strip steak that we had. And for those who think I was wrong to have it, my wife hates steaks. Delicious, medium rare, with BBQ sauce on the side. I hope there will be a chance to have another, and soon. While we do have internet, I listen to internet radio apps such as Audacy for sports talk radio (WFAN) and WQXR for its wonderful classical collection. We do whatever it takes to maintain sanity and some sense of order.
I was correct in my assessment of nightfall. My wife and one of her friends also spoke of how they now hate the night and the possible terrors it might bring. Not that the same terrors are absent in the day, but somehow at night, they are certainly magnified by our inherent fears of the dark, and especially of the unknown. For now, sleeping at home, in bed, but perhaps being awakened once or twice by sirens is better than the metro. We will stay here for as long as necessary before moving underground.
Now it is time for videos, sleep and then to greet with relief tomorrow’s daylight.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 9
March 4, 2022
I have lost track of what day it is. I thought in the morning that today was Saturday. It is not, it is Friday. And so it continues in the south of Ukraine, with now a possible Chernobyl-like disaster, and perhaps worse. I can understand and support the need to defend the power station. But, at some point when you are outnumbered and outgunned, it is time to give up the station and retreat quickly. It could have ended far worse. It was also the definition of insanity for the Russians to send tanks to attack the plant.
Last night we went to the metro station bomb shelter. Far fewer people there last night than from two nights before when we were there last. Either people have decided to wait it out at home, or they have fled west. Impossible to say except now over one million people have left the country and more to come. Our circumstances have become very complicated. While we can only take the train, my wife, for now, does not want to leave. This is her home, her friends, her language and her whole life. All perfectly understandable.
If we escape and go elsewhere, she feels she will be lost. A very good friend has offered his rental house to us in the west of Ireland right on the Atlantic coast. Flying from any eastern European city where Ryanair flies to Ireland would be easy. However, as my wife only speaks Russian (and Ukrainian), she feels she would be isolated and alone under such conditions. She would be a prisoner of those circumstances, almost as much as we are prisoners of the current situation but there we would be without the war. While we might be able to get out, once we get to Ireland, the return to Kiev and the apartment would be the great unknown. How long, one month? Six? One year? Maybe never? While I am exploring escape options, if my wife will not evacuate, no matter what, I will then also remain. She has urged me to go alone, but that is not an option. I won’t leave her alone.
In reading the Viber and Telegram posts, there was only one warning siren last night making it into a quiet night. There have been several short sirens so far. However, I did hear what seemed to be explosions in the far distance. When I looked for news of that, there was none so it may have been something else. I hope. I know you cannot assume that what happened or did not happen one night will repeat the next. Tonight I hope we will spend the night at home and not in the shelter. We met a neighbor walking her dog last night who said most residents were staying at home.
This morning I went to one grocery store that opened. I bought some canned vegetables, some milk products, Spanish jamon, two loaves of freshly baked bread (a wonderful smell) chocolates and Oreos! The only meat products to be had were four frozen ducks, chicken hearts and chicken stomachs, along with pork neck. None of that appealed to us so we passed. There were frozen fish products and frozen shrimp but we seem to have enough for now, I hope. There are other stores in the area I can go to tomorrow for more goods.
We still have cold and hot water, gas, electricity and the internet, plus phones. For that, we are very grateful but how long will that last, reading what has happened in other cities taken by the Russians? Will we be returning to very basic conditions? Not at all a pleasant prospect but if it happens, I guess we will start to think of it as a camping trip, roughing it. Just now two explosions in the distance, the first louder than the second. Shortly afterwards, the sirens. A little late, I would say. Later, more sirens but no further explosions. It is now turning into a relatively busy siren day after yesterday’s almost near silence.
As dusk approaches and then followed by the dark of night, we have to observe the curfew until the next morning. Somehow the sirens during the day are almost tolerable, perhaps even annoying. I see people just walking through the courtyard or on the street, not even paying attention to the noise. It must be because of the daylight since at night, the siren turns into the terrifying wail of an avenging banshee. Worse yet, if the wailing at night is followed by explosions, then getting back to sleep is very difficult. You lay there until exhaustion hopefully overtakes you until the morning.
8:30 PM and now more explosions heard in the city. But no sirens, strangely. Just now, more explosions in the distance. Quiet again, but for how long?
Russia-Ukraine War Day 8
March 3, 2022
It is now the beginning of the second week of war, Day 8. Last night proved to be unpleasant, the “slow and terrible descent into hell” seems to be a fact. A missile headed in the direction of the Ibis Hotel was intercepted by a Ukrainian missile and fell near the main railway station. It wrecked underground pipes bringing hot water to homes. I heard that explosion. The, after what was mostly a quiet night afterwards, the siren blared about 2:30 AM. Again, there was a blast just south of us. This time, another rocket destroyed a radio tower on what here is called Bald Mountain. Borodin may have used this location as his inspiration for his musical composition, Night on Bald Mountain. The missile made it much balder. We went back to sleep, shaken somewhat. Today so far has been a very strange day in that the first siren screamed at 6 PM. That may be cause for concern.
I was reading an article in the Guardian this morning when I noticed that the reporter had fled Ukraine in a car to the border with the help of the Territorial Defense soldiers. My nephew, when the war began, volunteered and is now a member of the Defense force. I called him and asked what could be done to help us. He asked about and we got a call from a volunteer who could get us to the city of Khmelnitsky, well away from the war zone. From there we would get another car to the border. That’s when I ran into fierce resistance from my wife.
She started to say no, she does not ever want to go by car. The reasons were plentiful. The driver may be a criminal who would rob and kill us since we would be travelling with money and valuables. The car could be shot up by the Russians (and this has happened). It is a bad road (most roads here are bad) and with bridges also destroyed, it would take us hours and hours to get to the city. Worst of all, with the bumpiness from the roads, the turns and whatever other obstacles we would face, she does get carsick. I can attest to that when we drove down the winding and twisting road from Amman Jordan to the Dead Sea. OK, cross that car idea off the list of possible escape possibilities. Now, the only option is the train. And that, for now, is also a problem. It appears that for the time being, we will have to tough it out.
Essential food supplies seem to be returning. Fresh bread and milk is available but does get bought up quickly. More pharmacies also are now open easing the very long lines, and are now just somewhat long lines. Pet stores are selling litter, dog and cat food, also essential items. Under these conditions, these are the only things we need, clothes, jewelry, phones, TVs and everything else that may be available for a consumer is not even a thought. Going to a shopping center here is not an option unless there is a supermarket there.
My wife, after last night’s explosions, wants us to go to the metro bomb shelter for the night. She is very nervous about the night. I think we can still spend another night at home, as many others in this complex are doing. Looks like I will soon head with my wife to the shelter tonight, supporting her and relieving her anxieties as much as is possible under the circumstances.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 7
March 2, 2022
We made the right decision and stayed at home last night. It was quiet all night and, most strikingly, no sirens. It is important now to try and get as much rest and as much of a good night’s sleep as we can. If and when the Russian military circle closes around Kiev, sleep will be hard to come by. Outside, it is a quiet day, cloudy, some very light snow falling. We did some more cooking and washing clothes in the event of any possible issues with gas and water. During the day there have been sirens but they wailed in the distance and only for a very short time. What that all means, I have no idea since only a long sustained wail means possible danger.
I cannot believe that this is now the seventh day we are undergoing this slow and terrible descent into hell. Watching and reading what is now happening in the south of Ukraine in Kherson and Mariupol, where the encirclement is now very real, and bodes ill for Kiev in the coming days and maybe weeks. The Russian army wants the Ukrainian army in these cities to surrender, and since they refuse, the cities will be pounded by artillery and rockets until they submit. This is insanity on both sides and it will be the innocent civilians who will suffer the most and die needlessly. Will this now be the fate of those cities the Russian army decides to take who do not surrender?
Now, there are no long lines for food. Some stores are open but the shelves are mostly empty, not much of anything you would want to buy and essential goods are hard to find. I get messages saying someone will be selling milk products from the back of a truck at this location, someone else will deliver frozen meat and fish to the supermarkets. and that all helps if you need it and can get to it in time. In addition, my eating habits have changed. I am now focused on having just enough and not any more, to save what we have to ensure that we stretch out our food supply for as long as possible. However, I definitely do not recommend this diet to anyone for any reason whatsoever. Avoid it at all costs!
Lost in this disaster is the fact that on Monday, Shrovetide, or as is known here, Maslenitsa, translated as “butter week” began for Orthodox Christians. In past years, I would go to a local supermarket where they in the store made an entire selection of fresh sweet and savory “blinis” filled with cottage cheese, caviar, chocolate, meats, salmon and lots more. They made whatever variation they could think of and it happily “fattened” us up (and our arteries) for Lent! In all that I have read, and it has been huge amount of reading to follow the events, not one mention of Maslenitsa. It is basic survival, not celebration that has taken over our lives.
I am on several groups through Viber and Telegram. WhatsApp is rarely used and not at all useful here. These apps provide a wealth of information regarding what is going on from various individuals who are out on the streets and providing invaluable data as to what is happening. Just now reports are in about explosions near the main railways station where the evacuations are taking place. I did hear that (muffled) explosion in the distance, though. What it was, a missiles, a bomb or artillery and casualties is as yet unknown. I will be reading the apps later about this. The other daily use of the apps is to find out if the stores are open, or not, the lines and how long the wait, and what may or may not be available in the stores and at what price. The bad is that there is rightly a lot of paranoia, with baseless rumors and fake news being spread everywhere. Under normal circumstances, these fakes can be laughed off but today, they create unneeded anxiety and wasted time in reading and figuring out the fakes. The apps also have channels that provide updates on where the various battles are and how things are going nationwide.
I still have not found any good way out of Kiev that would make it easier for my wife. She still has mixed feelings about leaving but she is also a nervous wreck, constantly worrying that bombs, missiles and gunfire would hit the apartment, which at this point is not likely. Later, if there is an encirclement, she would have a point, but our apartment is in the south of the city and the Russians are slowly moving in from the north.
It has once again been a quiet day for which we are now doubly grateful. We plan to once again stay at home tonight, barring any major alert from those damned sirens and we then run to the shelter. With the Russians and Ukrainians to be sitting at a table in Belarus tomorrow and trying to negotiate non-negotiable positions on each side, this may allow for the quiet night we pray for. How I now yearn for those days when I was just in occasional email touch about mostly nonsense with friends and colleagues.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 6
March 1, 2022
We made it out of the metro shelter at about 7 AM this morning. As we emerged, we were startled to see not just a cloudy day but a light covering of snow that was continuing to fall. We got home, left our emergency kits nearby, just in case, and had some breakfast. My wife could not sleep all night so she went to bed. Since I did sleep, but not well, it was left to me to do something with the chopped meat that was left in the fridge and needed to be cooked. Simple enough, I made a meat loaf that should last us for about a week, and we can have it hot or cold, depending on conditions.
Most sirens today, about four or five of them, were of short duration and we ignored them. However, just now we learned that the TV broadcast tower has just been struck by a missile, knocking a number of channels off the air. The tower is located next to a military cemetery, but more tragically, right next to Babi Yar, where the Nazis murdered more than 30,000 Jews over two days in 1941. Worse yet, located in a residential district, passersby were killed and wounded.
Still long lines and short supplies at food stores and pharmacies. Maybe it will get better in a few more days, but my gut says it will not. If the goal of the Russian army is to create an ever-tightening ring around Kiev, we will have serious shortages of food and other essential items. Worse yet, it will result in house to house urban fighting, a nightmare for both warring sides but especially for civilians.
I have been looking for a way out of Kiev for us. I did find that there are some taxi services still perhaps available for a price, of course, and I am willing to pay much more and in dollars, to take us to the main railway station. However, there, the Kabul airport-like crowds and chaos on the platforms make it a lottery if we can get on a train out of town. It could be a train to where we want to go, or it could be a train to an transfer city where we would need to fight for yet another train to our border destination. That, plus possibly standing for 8 or more hours until we get to our destination becomes an endless physical and psychological nightmare. My wife has some physical issues which have created doubt and anxiety in her when confronted by these possibilities. It may be enough to keep us here but I will continue to search for rail options that might work best for her. Perhaps I should just hire two off-duty soldiers to come with us to the rail station and be our body guards and ensure that we board the train and gets seats!
A ride share is available but given the horrendous roads, the traffic on the roads, possible breakdowns, military inspections posts backing up traffic, a seven hour trip to Lviv could take 12 or more hours. That is not in the cards for us, so it is the train and train alone. The other factor in her reluctance, which she alluded to once earlier this week, is that this is her home. She grew up in this apartment, she has lived here almost her entire life and everything in here is her treasure and memories which she is reluctant to give up. If we leave the country, then return at some future date, there may not be anything left of hers here if someone breaks in while we are away. Looting of apartments where people have left the country is going on, with the looters now warned that they will be shot, and apparently several have been killed by soldiers. Remaining allows us to at least defend the home. All the choices we will have to make now are terrible ones. A dilemma of the first, or worst, order.
Since it has been a mostly quiet day, thank God for that, I want to stay home for the night, feeling it is safe for now. My wife wanted to return to the shelter. Curfew is now in effect daily from 8 PM to 8 AM so we made our joint decision to stay, but with the option that if the sirens scream loud and long, we will head for the shelter. It will be another night of being fully dressed in bed while trying to sleep. At least sleep will be in bed and not on a cold metro stop bench. That, too, is cold comfort considering what is happening, and so unnecessary and tragic.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 5
February 28, 2022
Last night at about 6:45 PM, I was in bed reading. I then thought I heard an explosion as well as strangely feeling it but it was distant. Then I hear one or two more. It was time to worry. The sirens went off, our friends called and they said they were headed to the metro bomb shelter. We gathered up our emergency kits and headed out a little later when a second wave of sirens wailed. We then spent the night in the metro shelter from 8 PM to 7 AM. It was cold, the bench was also hard and cold and sleep was difficult although I managed maybe fours very fitful hours. My wife did not sleep whatsoever, when we got back this morning, she dozed off.
There was a rocket attack destroying a building about 20 miles (35 km) away. The weaponry and the stakes are getting higher so we may be spending more nights in the shelter. So far, during the day, while there are some sirens, it is relatively quiet.
At least for now, they are checking the identity documents of all who enter. There are also maybe a dozen highly armed soldiers at the entrance to the station. The last time we went to shelter, the station was packed. Now, there was quite a lot of spare space. I believe it all has to do with these sirens and people not paying any more attention to them, or perhaps many more have fled the city. Hard to say at this time.
This is going to be my comments about the sirens here. They went off at midnight, then again at 6 AM, 8:30 AM, and several more times so far during the day. And NOTHING has happened. That’s good, I am not complaining. But why? The purpose of warning sirens is to warn about possible or real danger. So far, at least in the city center, there has been no such danger so why set off these alarms. With no dangerous circumstances after the sirens (such as was the case in London during the WWII Nazi Blitz) people outside or at home are now becoming blasé about the sirens. This has the potential to create serious numbers of civilian casualties if a missile or bomb actually then explodes. Worse yet, I am starting to hear sirens when there are none from the noises created by appliances!
After the weekend martial law lockdown, food stores and pharmacies opened. Food was in short supply, little bread, milk and other basic goods, along with meat and vegetables. The lines for most stores can be up to a kilometer long. Only a few pharmacies are open, and those also have very long lines. I went food shopping and my wife went to get her medicines. I was somewhat fortunate that I only had to wait a half hour to get a few items we needed. My wife went to the pharmacy at 11 AM and is returning only now at 4 PM with her medicines. And she was one of the lucky ones. Those after her may not get their medicines since the store closed at 5 PM.
Sadly, it does not appear that the government can meet the most basic food and medical needs of the population. This bodes ill in the case of a siege.
The curfew now is a more reasonable 8 PM to 7 AM. The really bad news is that the authorities have banned the sale of alcohol for the time being. Now that decision may well create a severe backlash against the government! This was a vary bad decision in a country where drinking is not only the norm but also considered medicinal! As the Ukrainians say, “Budmo!”
Further on our friend’s daughter. She and her friend finally managed to get through passport control. Since they had been given refugee status, they can take all transportation for free. Since they had spent previous trips in Vienna, and had friends there, they boarded a train for the Austrian capital. I just learned that another family friend has just sent their daughter on a train west, ultimately to take up residence in Spain. It is a sad state of affairs that Middle Eastern and African refugees were rudely and roughly harassed by the Ukrainian, Polish (and Hungarian) government, yet Ukrainians get all the support, rights and privileges of official refugees.
Today’s news now counts more than 500,000 Ukrainians (and others) have left for other countries. We also would like to go but with no taxis and very halting metro trains, it would take us hours along with much walking to just get to the central railway station where we could take a train, any train west. However, even once at the station, the scenes there are similar to the ones that we all saw at Kabul Airport during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Chaos, pushing, shoving, fights, all the norm. Unfortunately, my wife has some physical limitations which make anything but a car/taxi option to the station impossible. And now you need a special pass from the Kiev Defense Command to drive in the city, making this form of escape an impossibility. Unless there is some small miracle, we will have to hunker down here until this war ends in some form.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 4
February 27, 2022
After last night’s message was sent out, more “excitement” was in the air by way of more gunshots very nearby, perhaps a firefight or two and two distant explosions. We decided that due to this extremely dangerous situation on the street that even if a siren went off overnight, we would stay at home. It was the best decision we made since we both got a decent night’s sleep and no videos. Maybe tonight.
Our friends did head for the metro shelter but the rules there have changed, and for the worse. Today, may enter at any time but then no one will be allowed out until the curfew lifts at 8 AM Monday. Given these conditions, we will continue to stay at home. I am almost certain that the curfew will be eased somewhat tomorrow in order to permit people to do grocery shopping in those stores which still may have goods. Fortunately, there is a supermarket in our building so I will go there tomorrow morning once I am allowed out.
The morning today was uneventful, completely quiet. Then I heard another distant explosion at 1:40 PM, followed by another at 2:50 PM. There is no way of knowing what happened, and yes, it is better that way. And so far, no sirens wailing their horrid noises.
Tomorrow, February 28, would have been my late Mother’s 97th birthday, may she rest in peace. She would have been sick at heart with the events here, had she still been alive. She was born and raised in Belgrade, then Yugoslavia, now Serbia. I asked her about her life in Belgrade and she related one episode which impacted her. On Easter Sunday, April 6, 1941, the Nazis invaded by first bombing Belgrade. From where my Mother’s house was located, she had a full and unobstructed view of the one-sided battle and the devastation afterwards. She was all of 16 years old on that day. I was in Belgrade three years ago and her house still stands there to this day. From the house and all along her street, she had seen entire bombing runs, the massive explosions and the raging fires in the city. A true nightmare then, and a continuation of that nightmare is what we must now go though. She ended the war in a refugee camp in Klagenfurt, Austria.
Being a refugee is to be someone who is unwanted, almost a pariah, and oftentimes an enemy to those who control their fate as well as to perhaps suffer through pain and indignity in order to perhaps achieve their goal of dignity, respect and a better life than the one they fled. A highly respected and successful colleague had a similar experience in Korea when communist North Korea attacked the south and occupied it for three months when he was a high school student. They had to escape to Pusan (on the southern tip city of the Korean Peninsula) from Seoul. It was horrible experience for them to escape Seoul by foot, hitching a train, sitting on steps, etc. Not only did they and he survive but they afterwards they built unimaginably successful lives. Many others here, I hope, will do likewise.
Yesterday, I mentioned that the daughter of our friends was headed to Poland. To get there, she and her friend boarded a train to Vinnitsa, a city in central Ukraine. They then had to find and board another train in Vinnitsa for a 10 hour ride to the western city of Lviv. Once they got to Lviv, a friend of hers drove them to a point 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the border crossing where they then had to walk to that final destination. The car could not go any further since the driver would then have had to be a part of the car caravan queue trying to cross the border and he needed to go back to Lviv. Their next physical and psychological trial was to get into a four-hour minimum wait line for passport control in order to finally cross into Poland.
One side bar here. At this border crossing, she related that they were first allowing in women with children and whole families. Waiting, apparently for quite some time but not allowed to even be physically near the passport control checkpoint were fleeing non-Ukrainians, mostly Blacks and Middle Easterners, more than likely students at Ukrainian universities and medical schools. They started to complain and then physically protest but were beaten back by baton-wielding Polish border guards and told to patiently wait their turn. About 350,000 Ukrainians have already left the country since Thursday, 190,000 through Poland, the rest through Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova, with many more to come.
6:20 PM, the damned sirens went full blast again. The waiting and worrying begins anew. 7:10 PM more sirens. This time, standing on the balcony, I could hear in the distance a massive small arms firefight. 7:40 PM, more sirens, the firefight starts up again. These firefights last maybe 30 seconds. Silence. Then they start up again, 20-30 seconds. Silence again. It appears to be coming from Druzhby Narodiv Boulevard, a major and vital artery. 8:30 PM, it all seems to have gone quiet again, but for how long? During the day, a normal life, then at night, terror, and not that of nightmares in your sleep but rather when you are wide awake. Worse, much worse.
To add to the insanity, if that is even possible, are the totally idiotic and reckless rumors supposedly rational and ordinary people are spreading. At 6:30 PM, my wife’s school director sent us a Viber message saying that a group of Russian bombers lifted off from Crimea with the intent of a missile and bomb strike on Kiev and other cities. Now, two hours later, nothing of the sort has happened when the actual flight time from Crimea to here is only about 30 minutes.
Only when you are living it and confronted by and sifting through the lies and rumors does one realize that “truth” really “is the first casualty of war.”
Russia-Ukraine War Day 3
February 26, 2022
There’s a Beatles song called “It’s Getting Better All the Time.” Here, we can change that to “it’s getting worse all the time.”
Last night, my wife received a series of phone calls from her friends beseeching her to head for the metro air raid shelter as soon as possible. They were either in shelters near their homes, or headed there. I was opposed to going but so as not to make a bad situation worse, I agreed we go, we grabbed our emergency kits, some warm coats and pillows and headed to the Pechersk metro station now being utilized as a bomb shelter. As we walked there, about a 100 yards (meters) from the apartment, we could hear explosions in the far distance.
I earlier mentioned that metro stations in the former USSR were oftentimes built as dual-purpose structures, the secondary purpose being a bomb shelter. In Kiev, There are four very deep stations. Arsenal is the deepest, almost 400 feet (105 meters) the deepest in the world. The others are University 285 feet or 87 meters, Golden Gate 317 feet or 97 meters and Pechersk measuring at about 300 feet or 95 meters. There are two levels in each of these deepest stations, serviced by escalators. The escalators move at a rapid speed, .75 meters per second but it still takes 5 minutes or so to go from the bottom to the top levels of these stations.
We arrived at just about 10:30 PM and the escalators were turned off, so we had to walk down the steps of the escalator with our bags, The first level was easy and when we arrived at the first level, several hundred people had laid out their sleeping arrangements on the marble floor. Our friends were in the lowest, deepest level and so we had to negotiate our way down an incredibly long non-moving escalator. It was uncomfortable and difficult but we made it. We may have walked down a half mile or more. We found our friends and they had saved some places for us.
The central hall was filled with sleepers and the parallel areas for the platforms are located were also crowded. A metro car with its doors open stood there not moving but with more people filling its seats, sitting or sleeping on the seats or on the floor. My wife and her friend spent the night mostly talking while I sat or tried to somehow lie down on hard plastic seats in order to sleep, mostly unsuccessfully and it was completely uncomfortable and chilly. I finally somehow fell asleep for about two hours sitting upright. At about 6:30 AM, the escalators were started up and we went home. It was a most uncomfortable night and we all agreed that tonight we would spend at home. In addition, many were coughing, sneezing and without masks, as I had originally feared. We wore our masks non-stop. But, knock wood, so far we are fine today, no ill effects.
Shortly after we arrived home in the morning, we were informed that there would be an imposition of martial law and a strict curfew beginning at 17:00 hours Saturday up until 08:00 Monday morning city-wide. No one is allowed out for any reason, and if they do go out they can either be arrested, the best case, or immediately shot, a very worst case scenario. We will stay in, for sure.
The sirens have just gone off again at about 8 PM but other than grating on our nerves constantly, all around us is quiet. No one is on the streets except the military and no cars are moving anywhere in a city notorious for its traffic jams and very bad drivers, a completely deserted city of almost 3 million people.
The daughter of our friends from last night and her friend (both about 25 years old) boarded a train west today and their ultimate destination is Poland and then to western Europe as so-called refugees. They are leaving not for any political reason but for economic, and as we were all that age once, for the fun of it all. Good luck to them. We are also considering our options and will need to make some decisions in the coming days, or they might well be made for us.
It appears that the Russian advance has not gone off as swiftly or as easily as originally planned having run into stiff Ukrainian resistance. From reading the Telegram and Viber posts in groups I am a part of, it also has raised the patriotic consciousness and fervor of even Russian-speaking Ukrainians to fever pitch. This bodes ill for both sides. Russia has seemingly taken a break to re-purpose and modify its attacks since only about a third of its forces have entered Ukraine. There is still a considerable strike force in reserve ready to hammer the country. These newly-found patriots could either become ecstatic if their army wins decisive victories or be thrown into the depths of depression if the Russians decimate this army. I hope this great and historic city does not perish in this disaster.
Ukraine has had time to set up its defenses but the next attacks could very well be devastating. A report just in is that the government handed out 25,000 automatics and 10 million rounds of ammunition to anyone who asked. Nothing good will come of this. Whoever wins will later have to deal with armed and dangerous disillusioned youths, no easy matter anywhere. Fighting is going on in Kiev but it appears that there is a news blackout. Nothing about these events is being reported. What with martial law and the curfew, we will possibly know about any events occurring tonight only in the morning.
Maybe. As usual, Ukrainian official reports on the day’s events and corresponding Russian official reports were about as polar opposites as they can be. I will only assume one thing, that they both lie. This in a way is a heavyweight fight and the winner will be the one left standing who will then control the final storyline.
Nothing more I can add for tonight.
STOP PRESS! Automatic rifle fire just went off in the courtyard of our building, 4 or 5 shots. I am not moving from the computer nor going to the window. In this I have zero curiosity. Our apartment is blacked out, we shut off all the lights and I am working from the light of the laptop screen. Quiet remains, let us hope it remains that way during the night.
No such luck, it seems. 9 PM, the sirens once again have gone off. What is it this time? 45 minutes later, the quiet remains. Time to sign off, ending this very long day and I intend to watch some videos.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 2
February 25, 2022
I awoke at about 7 AM as the air raid sirens started up. They are not all that loud in this part of the city, barely heard. While many went to the metro for cover, we remained at home to normally start the day, and nothing happened in this area. We are not in denial about the events occurring all around us, but we also have to retain control of our emotions and senses, and try to live as normally as possible under these very trying circumstances. It is very hard to do but we have to try.
There are reported firefights on the outskirts of the city. A missile or downed drone hit an apartment building in another part of the city, no update on wounded or casualties. The one thing for sure is that chaos reigns everywhere and there is no way to believe anyone about anything. The phones so far work and my wife is speaking with friends in other parts of the city and only rumors abound, no truths. The only thing I do know is that only a small part of the Russian army has entered the fray with much more to come. It will be impossible for the Ukrainian army to ultimately stop them. The only unknowns are how much territory will the Russian army finally take over and how long will this nightmare last. Of course, the worst of all the unknowns are the casualty figures from both sides and civilians.
We watch Ukrainian TV reports and are stunned to be told how they are beating back the Russian army. Then, we turn to Russian TV and guess what, the Ukrainian army is being decimated. Who to believe? No one, just as you cannot believe anything coming from the Pentagon or the State Department. However, there is a reading between the lines from news on the Ukrainian side. First, no Ukrainian male from ages 18 to 60 can leave the country. He will be turned back at the border to possibly be ordered to fight. But, most telling of all as to what may actually be happening is now the call up of all males OVER 60 years of age, healthy enough to fight. Looks like a revival of the Nazi Volkssturm formed at the end of WWII. Not a good sign at all for the Ukrainians, seems more of desperation than anything else.
They also formed what is known as Territorial Defense forces, consisting mostly of civilians armed with pistols, guns and other light weaponry, although today they started to give out automatic weapons to anyone. Even I could get one! In my mind, this Territorial Defense is nothing more than disorganized suicide. They had barely a few weeks of weekend training and are now to go up against trained and hardened soldiers who are fully experienced with their weaponry. Brave but ultimately a waste of their lives. Those over 60 will also be placed in these Territorial Defense force and likely suffer the same fate as the Germans when confronted by the Red Army in Berlin. They may kill a few Russians but leave this earth with them. Insanity.
I am trying to hold off going to seek shelter in the metro for as long as is possible. Why? It is because I fear Covid-19 right now more than I fear anything from the fighting. My wife and I are fully vaccinated and boostered but with Covid, even if you have a booster, is still very possible to get sick. My cousin two weeks ago was hospitalized with Covid while remaining only at home and not going out! Here hospitals are now only taking in the wounded so being sick with Covid is a problem to fully avoid. Not to mention the unbelievably low quality of the hospitals and medical care here, which is a story for another day. In the bomb shelter metro, people can bring their pets, and they do not have to wear masks. They cough, sneeze and do whatever else with at least half the population not vaccinated. There is a better chance of getting sick from Covid, a cold or other transmittable diseases than having something happen while hunkering down in the apartment. These days, Covid and War are definitely two of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other two horsemen are on their way and will arrive soon enough.
I believe that the Russian army wants to take Kiev without destroying the buildings or the infrastructure. The Germans bombed Stalingrad to ruins and it turned into an unbelievable nightmare for everyone in that battle. The same happened in Belin so it is difficult to fathom that this will happen to Kiev. Maybe it is wishful thinking. But, the Russians definitely know all about house-to-house fighting especially after the Chechen Wars so they will try and minimize that type of conflict. However, I do hear that Kharkov is holding out but is now being pounded by artillery and rockets.
Today, everything is now closed except the food stores and pharmacies. Banks are closed, no above-ground transportation such as buses and trolleys are moving, now locked tight in their depots. There are some cars moving about but mostly silence is what is heard. And truly, the silence does become deafening in these circumstances. On our balcony, the only sounds you could hear were from pigeons and crows. Yesterday’s burst of activity is now today’s hunker down at home reality and get prepared for all possible circumstances. We both have prepared emergency kits to take with us if we need to head to the metro bomb shelter. Only survival is uppermost in our minds.
We decided to take a walk today and to further stock up on items, just in case. A convenience store in our building was closed while the full service supermarket had almost no bottled water left and the shelves were now mostly empty. No meat of any sort, little left in the way of choices for milk and cheese, but if you wanted kilo packages of shrimp, you were in luck. Wine was in full supply but vodka, scotch and other liquors were almost gone. I thank the liquor folks since I am a wine drinker so there is more for me! With no deliveries now being made, the stores will soon fully close and whatever food you have at home, you had better make it last. And now the latest deficit is that there is no gasoline for cars in Kiev, all the filling stations are closed. However, some government officials have urged citizens to create Molotov cocktails to hurl at Russian tanks. Just where will they get the gasoline from is now the question unless the government somehow provides it and I do not see them wasting the suddenly precious petrol they need for their own vehicles.
I did notice a fair number of young men in groups milling about the streets. They were not in any uniform and by their looks, they were definitely not military but could be potential volunteers for the Territorial Defense. What is starting to worry me now is what will be the situation after the war when so many non-military will now have weapons. After the war, those who survive, with or without PTSD will face no jobs, no money and no good future prospects, all of which equals big trouble in the ruins of the society which will remain afterwards. It could turn into an uncontrollable anarchy of murder and robbery. That is when we leave for anywhere but here, something we should have done earlier, but who even could grasp that this now reality-based nightmare could even happen.
Europe will soon see an even greater refugee crisis than the one that they had in 2015 with mostly Syrians, numbering almost 1.5 million. This time, the estimates range from 1 million to 5 million Ukrainian citizens. This will severely stress the EU, although Canada, with its large Ukrainian ethnic population may take a significant number there. The real problem for Europe (and Canada) is that even now most Ukrainians are definitely economic migrants. Before the war, I regularly spoke with cab drivers and other workers, with many expressing a strong desire to go to Poland, and western Europe to work in whatever way possible. Today, there are 400,000 Ukrainians legally working in Poland, many more illegals underground. While many fleeing Ukrainians will legitimately claim refugee status, many more will hide the fact that they are looking at a wide open door to freely live and work in Europe and it’s to hell with Ukraine for them. Only when they have made enough money or retire, then and only then will they return to Ukraine to live, if they can.
6:30 PM and the sirens have gone off again just now, but, thankfully, again nothing afterwards, more silence.
We had dinner and are now quietly settling in for what we hope will be another very quiet night until the sirens scream their unwanted wake up call again in the morning.
Russia-Ukraine War Day 1
February 24, 2022
The not unexpected Russian invasion of Ukraine started today. Other than an explosion on the outskirts of the city in the early morning hours, Kiev has remained quiet, or at least our district. Reports from other areas are confusing, and likely to remain so due to the “fog of war,” as well as the fact that all sides, Russian, Ukrainian, American, European, NATO and others will all lie but each will try to justify their actions through their lies. Unfortunately, ALL these parties are to blame for this war since not one of them was willing to compromise. It will have a major effect not just here but also throughout the world. Look at your stock portfolio or go out and fill your car up tomorrow and be prepared for sticker shock which will have a knock-on effect on prices for all goods, or at least those you can find in the stores or online.
My wife went out to the bank and the ATM but had to wait in a long line but she did get her money. She then went to a supermarket, filled with people doing their panic buying, especially the elderly. I also tried an ATM but it was out of cash and other ATMs also had long lines. Since I did have enough cash in local currency as well as a crisp $100 bill, just in case, I then went to the supermarket I usually go to, which is in the downtown business district. The streets were mostly empty but the store was busy but not overly filled with shoppers and the checkout lines were only 3-4 deep. I managed to do our “panic” buying and get meat, cheese and canned goods, paid for with my American credit card via Google Pay. No issues there, so far.
I walked about 1.5 miles to the store. Except for food-related stores and pharmacies, everything else is closed. Banks, shopping centers, everything. Uber and other ride share companies were also not working, along with all restaurants and food delivery services. The local KFC was surprisingly open but had a long line waiting to get in. Other food street vendors were closed and I just read that MacDonalds just closed all their stores in Ukraine. But, these elderly ladies who sell socks and other personal items on the streets from tables, plus those who set up illegal stalls with vegetables won’t be stopped by war or weather. Gotta make some money and prices were probably very high since nobody was buying when I passed by.
The metro is still working and today it was announced that rides will be free of charge. I rode it back home and the metro cars are about ¾ filled. Public transport here, buses and trolleys are working but instead of 4 or 5 buses or trolleys on each route, there seem to be only one or two on each route. Traffic in the city is very light but I have read that there is a huge traffic jam on the roads out of the city. Those who have dachas (country homes) think that they will be safer there plus if the war lasts quite some time, they can raise food on their plots. Other friends have told my wife they are headed to other parts of western Ukraine in the hope of avoiding the conflict, which may also become a false hope. Since we have no car, we must remain.
The metro, as most metro stations are in the former USSR, is mostly built deep underground and has a dual purpose as an air raid shelter. The station nearest to us, Pechersk, is about 100 yards (meters) away and is one of the deepest in the city. It definitely will stand up to any bombing, Our apartment building was constructed in 1967 and is mostly brick and concrete so it should, I hope, hold up in case of any direct attack. It was originally built to house those working for the KGB so that the construction standards of this building was far better than most at that time. The problem will be the windows but I will tape them up should it get to be an issue.
While walking, I did hear a jet overhead, had to be a fighter jet since all commercial aviation had been grounded. The main airport, about 25 miles from here (40 km) was attacked by drones and a nearby city had a military post also blown up. If possible and if safe, I will also try and add photos when I can. The Antonov airport, in a suburb of Kiev, is a commercial cargo airport has been taken by the Russians. It will likely be the staging area in the campaign to take the city, especially with a report that 18 Ilyushin-76 military cargo aircraft were on their way here (the Il-76 is similar to the C-17 Globemaster). I keep occasionally hearing a jet flying about, nothing more happening than that from the aircraft, mercifully, and have to assume it is Russian since they will at this point have complete air superiority.
We live in the center of the city, on the edge of the government quarter, which is about 3 miles (5 km) away and will be the main target of Russian troops when they approach Kiev, as they will. Just when is another story although initial reports now say that they have started to move into the region. The streets are quiet, few cars and few pedestrians, seemingly like a holiday weekend. Chances are it will not last for too much longer, the “calm before the storm.”
Sirens just went off at 3:30 PM city-wide but nothing seemingly happened. No explosions, still a silent city. I hope it stays that way. A nightly curfew has also just been put into place effective from 10 PM to 7 AM. As I look out the window to the apartments across the way from me in the present darkness, many have left the city as their apartments are now dark. In the entire complex there may be about 300 or so apartments and eyeballing it, maybe only about a third or so still have residents at home, the rest having fled.
Just in, the tragic Chernobyl Nuclear Power station was just seized by Russian troops. That means they are only about 55 miles (90 km) from Kiev and moving. We will now see just what the morning and the day tomorrow brings. Nothing good, for sure.
As long as we have electricity and internet, I will try and update events as they happen here on a once daily basis. Please let me know if you want me to remove you from the emailing. If you do not hear from me, I should be fine, just without internet and/or electricity. However, with some of you, I will still try to maintain a connection via SMS or WhatsApp, if possible, until I get back online.
And, yes, one more thing. I have been going through American, European, Ukrainian and Russian news sources regarding what is happening. I have a hard time believing them since they all have their biases. Unrestrained propaganda from all sides is now the order of the day. I will only believe what I see and experience as the only truth.