Vitaly Lilik, 21, was shaken, but smiling when I arrived at his dorm room in Kyiv, as the Russian military began sending low-flying drones to destroy infrastructure and terrorize Ukrainians away from the front lines. Had done it. I expected to meet him in person that week, but when the drones started flying he discouraged me from traveling to Kyiv so I stayed in Poland and we talked via Zoom instead.
He was wearing two coats, but still, as he put it, “cold to the bone.” The dorm had no heat for days, and although there was still electricity, Lylyck and his friends were using it as little as possible. Living out of tin cans, the students had not eaten any hot food that week. When Vitaly and I talked, they had running water. A week later, it was also cut off from the bombing for a day.
Conditions were “harsh,” Lilick admitted. But he and his classmates at the Kyiv National University were not hooked. “We’re doing fine,” he said. “We agree amongst ourselves – we have no right to be depressed despite the sacrifices our country has made this year. People have given their lives so that we can live, and we have made a promise to ourselves: We will do this. Will not be saddened by the fall. Only the Russians will be sad. ”
George Orwell thus coined a term for courage. In 1939 he wrote in Spain, “No bomb that ever explodes, “the crystal breaks the soul”—something he characterized as precious and rare, found in a person in a million. Indeed. In the U.S., in my experience working in a war zone, it is rare but rare among Ukrainians – midcareer professionals who enlist to fight on the front lines, civilians who drive under artillery fire to deliver food and medicine. or everything to make up for the lost, white-collar refugees who work as scavengers and cooks to feed their families in exile. Ukraine’s military is winning the battlefield, but civil society is also at war. is fighting, bravely and perseveringly playing his part to help the nation win.
latest russian attack Heating stations and hydroelectric dams across the country have been knocked down by constant beatings by Iranian-made Martyr drones. There have been blackouts and power cuts in hundreds of areas, and for most of Monday, 80% of Kyiv was without running water.
Officials claim they are shooting down more than half of incoming drones, and many Ukrainians hope the new attack will prompt the West to send better air defense systems. “But even if America gives us a dozen patriots,” Lylyck says — an unlikely scenario — “there’s no guarantee that a missile won’t be found.”
About 15 minutes after our call, Lylyck noticed an app on this phone. “Air raids,” he actually noted the matter. I spent most of June with him, working on a project in Kyiv, and he often made fun of me when I suggested we go to a shelter; He thought there were more false alarms than real threats. But now things were different, and he said he was seeking protection four or five times a day.
He and his friends spend their time studying and studying – there are still online classes in some subjects. Lylyck plays guitar in what he calls a “soldier song”. I asked him to play something, and he played a ballad: “One day in a wheat field, I shot a separatist. , , , The sons of the bitch will answer for Slovensk, for Kramatorsk, for Mariupol.
A friend had a birthday in mid-October, and the group managed to organize a party – a poker game on the top floor of the hostel, overlooking the dark city. And like almost everything, it was an occasion for gallows humor. “It was a little distracting,” Lylyck joked, “when the rockets started flying out. But you can’t look away, you never know who’s going to cheat.”
When we got serious, it was always about the war and Ukraine’s resistance and resilience. Lylyck can barely buy food, but he teaches English to raise money which he sends to an artillery unit on the front lines. He also proudly told me about a new government app that allows citizens to report drone sightings in real time, then calculates each weapon’s trajectory and feeds the information to an air defense battery.
“It’s that same ingenuity and creativity that has given us an all-time edge,” Lilik explained, and he compared it to Russian civil society. “Why didn’t they go earlier?” He asked about the thousands of fighting-age men who have fled Russia in recent weeks to avoid mobilization. “Why are they not protesting? They are not against war. They are just scared. They don’t want to die.”
Lylyck and his friends, in contrast, are ready to face whatever they want to win. He has nothing but contempt for Russian drone tactics. “They will not force Ukrainians to be furnished with some missiles.” He also spoke strongly about the possibility of a nuclear attack: “They can do whatever they want. I don’t think anybody here wants to surrender.”
Lylyck predicted that the coming weeks and perhaps months would be tough. “It’s going to be difficult to live here. And when it gets cold, really cold, Ukrainian cold, if the heating won’t work, it will be impossible.
But he is not giving up yet. Before we logged off, we talked about the possibility that traveling to Kyiv in time for my birthday in late November might seem safe enough for me. “Oh my,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. “We will have a party – a front-line party. Maybe we will go to the shooting range. This is a very Ukrainian thing to do right now.”
Tamar Jacobi, president of Opportunity America and author of “The Displaced: The Ukrainian Refugee Experience,” has been working in Poland and Ukraine since the beginning of March.