War-weary Ukrainians well prepared for imminent Russian attack on eve of anniversary

War-weary Ukrainians well prepared for imminent Russian attack on eve of anniversary
Statue in Lviv covered to protect it from Russian missile strikes on the city / bne IntelliNews
By Dominic Culverwell in Lviv February 24, 2023

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukrainians across the country are bracing themselves for a mass attack. The Ukrainian government has said that Russia could launch an aggressive new offensive to mark the anniversary, even endangering those living in Western and Central Ukraine far from the front lines.

Walking through the streets of Lviv on February 23, I expected the atmosphere to be tenser. But to my surprise, Lviv’s calmness put me at ease. It was easy to forget the inevitable threat lurking around the corner, especially whilst scoffing a dangerous amount of blueberry and chocolate pancakes in the picture-postcard old town.

But beneath the placid surface, the city is well prepared for anything. I spotted supplies of power banks available for public use in several cafes and most businesses now have generators to keep operations running. Moreover, residents have long had emergency bags at the ready.

“I have a small food stock with tuna, beans and water, and the car fuel tank is almost full as usual. I’m not sure I can do anything more,” Lviv local Andrii said.

The sentiment is shared outside Lviv. In Cherkasy, Central Ukraine, Oleskandr said that he is always on stand-by and, like all Ukrainians, is ready for anything.

“I do not know anyone who is preparing anything differently this evening. It became normal for me to charge all gadgets and power banks in case of electricity outages,” he said.

There has been some speculation that Russian troops will once again try to capture Kyiv and other major Central and Western towns. Oleksandr believes that although Russia will increase its missile strikes, it will not have enough strength to start a big land offensive, referencing Russia’s failed offensive in Vuhledar, Donetsk, earlier this month.

“They may increase shelling in the border regions near Sumy or Kharkiv but I do not believe this will have an effect on the overall situation,” he added.

Others also maintain optimism that a new Kremlin offensive wouldn’t have the same impact as the previous year when Russia penetrated an unprepared Ukraine from the north, south and east. Russian troops managed to get to Kyiv after launching attacks from neighbouring Belarus following a build-up of soldiers and equipment on the border, but this seems unlikely to happen again.

“I think there will be a massive missile strike in most cities of Ukraine. They will definitely attack from the air,” Christina in Kyiv explained. “There will also be provocations on the border, but I don't think there will be a full-scale attack from Belarus.”

The Ukrainian army has mined the routes to Ukraine from the Belarusian border and with new heavy military deliveries announced this year, including main battle tanks, Ukraine’s armed forces are better equipped than ever.

Moreover, Ukraine’s air defence has improved exponentially, with US-made Patriots now among its arsenal of weapons. Although officials have expressed concern over the depletion in Ukrainian ammunition, allies have recently hurried further deliveries in preparation for a new Russian offensive.

Although Kyiv still hasn’t received the Western-made fighter jets it desperately wants, citizens have great confidence in Ukraine’s defence capabilities. Recent Russian strikes have been underwhelming, with Ukraine shooting down around 80% of missiles,

“Anti-aircraft teams, our fighter pilots and our mobile drone hunters are more than trustworthy,” Nick from Kyiv said. “Unless, of course, these fuckers will launch hypersonic missiles, but we can't do lot about them.”

He also mentions that Russia now has a depleted missile stock, something which Nick’s friend Dima also picks up on. Kyiv has long said Russia is using up more high-precision missiles than it can produce and recent attacks on energy infrastructure have become more sporadic.

“I expect if not tomorrow, then next week there might be a significant missile attack. But they would need to fire all they have and then we would have three to four quiet weeks,” he said.

Nevertheless, extra precautions have been put in place and many companies have asked people to work from home. Dima mentioned that his boxing gym will be closed on the 24th, whilst aid-worker Kris has had to restrict her work in Kyiv.

“We had to cancel a monitoring visit to Kharkiv and all the distributions of humanitarian aid this week, unfortunately, but the safety of people is a priority, as Russians often shell on crowded places,” she said.

Despite strong suggestions from her manager to stay at home, Kris said she is still planning to go to the office, which has a generator and a Starlink. Nevertheless, if she wakes up to explosions rocking the capital, then she will heed the warnings and work from her apartment.

In a true testament to the strong and stubborn Ukrainian spirit, residents refuse to let Moscow dictate their lives. Most Ukrainians living in the Centre and West have said they will try to carry on as normal, much like they have been doing for the past year.

If the Kremlin believes its mass missile strikes will beat Ukrainians in submission, they are sorely mistaken and the illusion of the world’s second-largest army has shattered following embarrassing battlefield failures.

“I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but no one has stopped work. No one has stopped their life,” Tanya in the Western city of Chernivtsi said, taking a break from working at her computer.

Few believe that Russia is capable of repeating the same scale as February 24, 2022. In fact, there have already been several dates wherein Ukrainians expected another brutal assault.

“We already had a few important dates like ‘Ukrainian Independence Day’ and ‘Defender's day of Ukraine’ when there was gossip that Russians will do something that day. But it was the same as any other day,” Kris said.

“We usually say in situations like this: "What are they gonna do? Invade us?" It already happened one year ago, so nothing new,” she jokingly added.

Returning back to the hotel, having successfully restrained myself from ordering another serving of pancakes, a group of elegant women wearing evening dresses left the lobby, happily chatting as they ventured into the night. Seeing Ukrainians take the impending attack in their stride, I feel reassured.

Nevertheless, I am about to stock up on food and water from the supermarket before the curfew hits and my emergency bag is packed and ready to go for when the sirens wake me up in the morning.

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