'Ukraine will remain a country as long as we are receiving weapons from the West'

'Ukraine will remain a country as long as we are receiving weapons from the West'
Captured Russian tank hulks on display in Kyiv / bne IntelliNews
By Dominic Culverwell in Kyiv August 25, 2022

Ukraine celebrated its independence day on August 24 with a surprise visit from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Kyiv. Despite bans across Ukraine on official celebrations, thousands gathered in central Kyiv draped in blue and yellow flags and wearing vyshyvankas, the national dress, to marvel at the destroyed Russian military vehicles on display in the city.


Air-raid sirens penetrated the hot summer’s evening, although they did little to dampen the buoyant mood in the capital. Families strolled along Khreshchatyk Street stopping to take selfies by burned out tanks and GRADs, a reminder of Russia’s violent attempt to capture Kyiv mere months ago. The sirens mixed with the melodies of Ukrainian folk songs performed by a bandura musician, the country’s folk instrument similar to a lute, and Ukrainian hip hop blaring from a break dance crew, to the delight of teenagers and children.

In the late afternoon, an elated crowd suddenly broke into a frenzy by the Maidan Nezalezhnosti square, home to the 2014 Euromaidan revolution that ended the presidency of Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych, as Boris Johnson arrived with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. After their meeting, Johnson announced the UK’s continued support for the war-torn country and a GBP54mn package that includes 2,000 drones and loiter munitions.

Despite his controversies back in the UK, Johnson is a much-liked figure in Ukraine and is seen as a strong ally, affectionately nicknamed Johnsoniuk. He was given the Order of Liberty, the top award for foreign nationals.

“He’s a guy that did a lot for Ukraine,” said Nick, originally from Zaporizhzhia. “He came here today and that says a lot”.

“Boris Johnson came to Kyiv to support us,” Kyiv native Aleksandr (name changed) said. “He made many, many good things for us.”

However, the same is not felt for other European leaders, particularly German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose lack of enthusiastic support has disappointed many Ukrainians. Berlin blocked vital EU funding last month due to alleged concerns over accountability and corruption, whilst Ukraine suffered from a deficit of between $4bn and $5bn a month, leading Zelenskiy to label Germany’s actions as “either a crime or a mistake”.

“I think Scholz made a clown of himself, he promised a lot of weaponry but didn’t give it to us,” Nick stated.

Dima, another Kyiv native, claims that people used to say that Putin uses Scholz as a mouthpiece: “If Putin wants to send a message, we hear it from Scholz or (French President) Macron.”

However, he believes that both leaders are trying to do the best for their countries and “sit on both chairs”, although sees them taking a more pro-Ukrainian stance recently, despite Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Indeed, Berlin has recently changed its tune and stated that it will release $8bn in aid for the country.


This year’s independence day also marked six months since the start of the war. Although Ukrainians remain optimistic about a victory over Russia, many are aware that they will need more military and financial aid if they want to make victory certain. Citizens have taken it upon themselves to raise funds in order to make up for the delays from Western allies. In June, the comedian, politician and volunteer Serhiy Prytula organised a crowdfunding campaign to buy Bayraktar drones, raising $20mn in only four days.

“[Western] governments haven’t given a lot of help,” Polina from the Sumi region believes. “Ukrainian people give a lot of money from their own pocket to give to the soldiers.”

Dima also acknowledged that Ukrainians are often donating a third or even half of their salary to the armed forces but expressed that the country should be grateful for what allies have already offered Ukraine. Nevertheless, he notes that it's not enough to finish the war anytime soon.

“We still need much more ammunition and vehicles to run an offensive war, not a defensive one,” he said.

Although this year’s independence day lacked any parades, the national holiday and sunny weather offered an excuse for the war-weary nation to take a moment to celebrate its victories.

“I think it's a great idea that all of us are here today,” Yulia (name changed) from the Dnipro region said. “It’s a great opportunity for Ukrainians to support our soldiers who are now in such a difficult situation.”

In fact, Ukrainians had not only come to Kyiv’s Independence Day from different regions, but also from different countries. Polina is currently living in the Netherlands and returned to Ukraine for the celebration, despite fears from friends and family who questioned why she would want to leave the safety of the EU.

“I just want to visit my friends and my grandmothers. I want to hug them because I didn’t get to say goodbye to them. It’s hard,” she said before adding that she was happy to be visiting.

Aleksandr’s family left for the UK after two weeks of intense shelling and fighting at the start of the war that devastated the Kyiv region. Although unable to leave the country, Aleksandr managed to evacuate from the Kyiv region just in time, as the house he was staying at was destroyed shortly after. However, he was finding the separation from his family difficult.

“It is not easy, but I am glad they are safe,” he said.

Despite the horrific violence that scared the city in winter and spring, life in Kyiv has returned to relative normality this summer. Although lacking the distinctive buzz that made the city one of the most exciting European capitals pre-war, many bars, cafes and restaurants have reopened and continue to serve patrons, including newly arrived citizens from more volatile regions in the country. The United Nations estimates that 6.6mn people have been displaced within the country with around 6.3mn seeking refuge abroad.

Fearing for her life, Yulia initially wanted to leave Ukraine, but had a change of heart and has decided she now wants to stay, even though many of her friends have left.

“I believe in my country. I'm a patriotic person so I don’t want to go somewhere else,” she said, although she admitted that worries about another attack on Kyiv remain unabated.

For Kyiv residents whose families live close to the front line, life is continually filled with stress and anxiety. Kyiv has so far avoided any attacks over the holiday period despite warnings from officials that “decision-making centres'' may be targeted. But Russian forces have increased strikes on southern and eastern Ukraine, hitting a train in Chaplyne, Dnipropetrovsk region, killing at least 15 civilians and injuring 50.

Nick moved to Kyiv from Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine long before the war, but his parents remain in the partly occupied region. Although they live in the Ukrainian-controlled territory he constantly worries about missiles striking Zaporizhzhia’s massive nuclear power plant (ZNPP) which Russia captured in March. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed severe concerns over the Russian occupation of the ZNPP and has requested access to the site to ensure that a nuclear catastrophe doesn’t happen.

“If something happens at the plant I have resources to bring my family to Kyiv, and it's a relatively safe place in comparison. But it’s still really worrying,” he said. “I’m not ready to give up all my life, all my childhood memories just like that.”

The future of the war remains uncertain, but Ukrainians still firmly believe that victory is possible, if not certain. For Aleksandr, the wrecked Russian military vehicles are symbolic of Ukraine’s invincibility.

“Russia wanted to eat our country, but they realised that they couldn’t do it,” he stated. “Even an atomic bomb will not do anything to us because our power is inside us. It's in our hearts, in our brains and in our nation.”


Alongside Ukraine’s intrepid rhetoric, one thing remains abundantly clear: Ukraine will not give up any of its territories.

“So many people have died, it will mean we just betrayed them,” Dima said. “Ukraine will remain a country as long as we are receiving ammunition and weapons from the West. When they stop it, I’m not sure Ukraine can really survive.”

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