Ukraine: New year, Old War

Andrey Kurkov

A woman standing in front of her destroyed house in Ukraine | AFP

Ukraine. End of January 2023. What is happening on the endless front line of the Russian-Ukrainian war cannot be called a lull. Round-the-clock urban battles and artillery shelling continue in Soledar and Bakhmut in the Donbas. Hundreds of soldiers are dying, every building in the area has been left in ruins.

At the same time, in recent days, Russia seems to be hinting that this is a “calm” compared to what they are preparing to bring upon Ukraine.

On the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, tens of thousands of Russian and Belarusian soldiers are preparing for the opening of the "northern front". In the south of Ukraine, where the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are partially occupied, Russia is accumulating military units and equipment. The “meat mincer” of war continues in Donbas. What could be worse than this?

During the latest shelling of Kyiv and Dnipro, Russia used missiles that Ukrainian air defense cannot shoot down. Russian generals say they will never run out of missiles. After these statements, many Ukrainians ask themselves: what will we do if military assistance from the United States and other NATO countries comes to an end?

In fact, no one is seriously looking for an answer to this question. Ukraine keeps up the fight only thanks to help from the USA, Great Britain and some European and non-European states. If that help fails, there will be no Ukraine. But if there is no Ukraine, that is, if Ukraine loses this war, then the whole world will lose. A victory for Russia will provoke new wars and encourage other countries to attack neighboring states and occupy foreign territories. A Russian victory will lead to the redrawing of state borders in Asia and Africa, the Balkans and possibly Latin America, Northern Europe and even in the Far East.

In all this, what is the greatest threat to the world? The legitimization of lawlessness and evil. Recession, trade wars and blockades are threats too, but above all, it is the violation of the world legal order and the disappearance of international law. That is the greatest threat.

On December 31 last, from the early morning, Russia shelled Ukraine. My family and I started the last day of the year in the corridor. During an air raid, there is a “two-wall rule”. If you cannot get to a designated bomb shelter, you should find a place away from windows and between two thick brick or stone walls. Injury from flying glass is the greatest risk if a rocket explodes near the house. At the beginning of the war, many civilians died because they did not know how deadly fragments of window glass, exploding across a room, could be. Now, after the deaths of thousands of innocent people, we have learned the rules of basic security. These rules do not guarantee survival but increase the chances of you staying alive during artillery or rocket fire.

On the evening of December 31st, we had time to sit at the table and drink a glass of wine. As the clock showed the onset of the new year, we managed to refill our glasses, but we had to take them into the corridor to continue toasting the new year in. An air raid warning was in force throughout Ukraine for the first five hours of 2023, and Russian missiles and Iranian drones flew over the roof of our apartment building.

Since Soviet times, there has been a proverb in Ukraine and Russia: "As you celebrate the New Year, so you will live it." Previously, this meant that one should meet New Year cheerfully and with optimism. Now, when I remember our strange celebration of New Year 2023 - those first five hours of January 1 in the hallway - I think that after all, we met the new year taking care of our safety. This means that throughout the year ahead we will have to continue thinking about our safety, about the safety of our relatives and friends.

I have no doubt that the war will continue throughout 2023. I have no doubt that Russia will continue to bomb Ukrainian cities and villages and will continue to try to take over the entire territory of my country.

I am sure that Putin himself no longer believes in the possibility of destroying Ukraine as an independent state - of seizing the whole of Ukrainian territory. That is why, from time to time, Russian politicians propose peace talks but on the condition that Ukraine takes into account the “military reality”, that is, the fact that up to 20 percent of Ukrainian territory is already occupied by the Russian army.

Ukrainians understand that Putin will only use negotiations to gain time to prepare for the next offensives.

Ukraine, which has been fighting quite successfully against Russia for almost a year, remains Putin's main irritant. Ukraine has destroyed the myth of the second most powerful army in the world. Russians themselves can no longer speak about “the great Russian army”.

On the other hand, Ukraine has increased its chances of becoming a member of the European Union relatively soon and greatly increased its chances of becoming a member of NATO. Indeed, all the possible developments that Putin saw as justification for launching his war have already taken place precisely because of this war. Ukraine receives weapons from NATO countries and it is with the help of these weapons that it rebuffs the Russian invaders.

But at the same time, it has become clear to Ukrainians that the war will not end quickly - that Russia's human resources are huge and that there is no protest potential within the country. This means that Russia will respond to the Ukrainian army’s success with new mobilization – if necessary, the mobilization of criminals from prisons who are promised amnesty in exchange for participation in the war. There will also be a mobilization of ordinary men and the economy, which the Russian leadership is already rebuilding on a “military footing”.

The war in Ukraine has already affected global trade logistics and changed trade routes. More changes are ahead which will mean that the transportation of goods will become even more expensive. The longer this war lasts, the higher will be the price of wheat and gasoline, gas and electricity, hairdresser's services and beer at the bar.

Now the whole world is paying for this war. This means that the whole world must do everything possible to stop it. However, there is no reliable recipe for ending the war. Russia is not ready to withdraw its troops. Ukraine is not ready to give Russia the territories seized by Putin.

“It's only the beginning of the year,” you say. “The situation can change!”

“Yes,” I agree. – “The length of the front line may change. The number of dead and wounded on both sides will certainly change. The number of Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian missiles will change. But the Ukrainians will not change their conditions for a ceasefire - Russia must leave Ukraine."

Putin's Russia is not ready to take a step back and it is still impossible to predict the nature of Russia after Putin. It is only the beginning of a new year – too early to make predictions about what 2023 will bring Ukraine and what it will bring Russia, but Ukraine’s hopes are clear and unshakable.

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