A Grim Existence

That sounds very patriotic.

Patriotism became more intense after 2014, but now it’s inescapable. For example, I can’t get the Ukrainian national anthem out of my head. You hear it in cars, in shops, in the grocery store. It’s not like people stop and put their hands on their hearts. But I’m going around humming it.

What about electricity, heat, basic needs?

It depends on the place. On the front, in the east, there’s very little — no power, no gas, no water. I was in Avdiivka recently, a town on the front line, where a lot of people were in basements all day long. Everyone’s pooling all their resources. For power, people have generators.

In those places, how do people shower or use the bathroom?

In Avdiivka, there’s no running water. Officials have to ship it in. I went to this one apartment complex where 200 people were using one toilet, and they flushed it by taking water and doing it manually. It’s a grim existence. And that’s not even talking about the constant shelling.

What about niceties many of us take for granted, like Wi-Fi?

In a lot of places, the internet is still working; phones are still working. In Avdiivka, city officials have put up solar-powered charging stations where people charge their phones.

There’s nothing you can do in your apartment. When people did come out, they’d stay in their buildings’ courtyards. They are one of the few places left to socialize in frontline cities and villages. People were cooking food over an open fire for all the neighbors.

How would you describe the mood of Ukrainians?

People miss their former life — the lives they’ll probably never get back, at least not in the same way.

They’re in mobilization mode. Either they’re volunteering or fighting or taking care of their relatives. I don’t know what people are doing in moments of self-reflection. But when they’re out and about, you don’t see a lot of despair. Everyone’s so stoic, even in the midst of a bombing.

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