Special Envoy in KyivNetflix's war narratives mix with reality in Ukraine.
“No, I don't want to know your name,” American paratrooper Frank Perconti told a young soldier who had just arrived on the Alsace front in the winter of 1945. “You all tell me your name, and the next day you'll tell me.” They are already dead. I don’t want to know more names of the bodies.” The scene appears in Chapter eight of the series Band of brothersan intimate portrait of the secret lives of a US Army soldier sent to fight in World War II.
“I have to talk in retrospect about many of my colleagues I met here. “From one day to the next, we are no longer there,” a young Ukrainian soldier fighting on the Bakhmut front told me almost two years ago via WhatsApp. Before the war, he was an archaeologist and worked as a guide at a museum. National History of Ukraine. Now he is forced to study human fragility and transience: “Worst of all is to be told that a comrade you were with two hours ago has died in combat.”
In the Ukrainian trenches, in advanced Europe smart phones And artificial intelligence, it is dying at the rate of World War II. Images beyond imagination were also seen, such as the video retweeted this week by the Kiev army portals: a cat eating the body of a Russian soldier abandoned somewhere near the city of Avdiivka, in the cold Donbass region.
“In 2024 we will have won and Hollywood will make movies about us,” joked, last February, a young soldier with whom I shared a bus trip to Donbas.
In just a few hours, Ukraine will begin 2024. There is no sign that Volodymyr Zelensky's army – which years ago filmed a series that is now on Netflix – will be able to overcome the Russian forces. “The war will be long,” apparently sounded more than 150 shells that Vladimir Putin fired across Ukraine on Friday in one of the largest explosions since the start of the invasion. Wars are deadly above all else.
People were crying on Saturday morning in the city of Obukhiv, Kyiv region. A flock of pigeons flew insistently over the main square, as if they wanted to say something. Private Yuri, commander of the 135th Battalion of the Ukrainian Infantry Brigade, was buried there. He died on May 15 on the Bakhmut front, a victim of Russian artillery, but his body has not been recovered or identified yet. Neighbors knelt as the coffin, closed and covered with a Ukrainian flag, entered the square. It is impossible to reproduce the seriousness of the act in these lines.
“He is another victim of Russian poison against which we have to defend ourselves,” said one of the priests who attended the ceremony, wearing a golden robe. One religious person stated that 55-year-old soldier Yuri loved to go fishing and pick mushrooms.
The one who cried the most when she heard the words was the wife of the deceased, who moved heaven and earth for the Ukrainian army to recover what remained of her husband’s body. The lyrics of the song, common at military funerals and repeated across the country, were played over loudspeakers:
Mom, don't scold me now.
You will rebuke me on the day when death comes to find me.
I don't know, mother, where I will die.
I just know it will be in a foreign land.
Oh mother, who will build my grave?
Soldiers fighting in the infantry brigade led by Private Yuri were watching from a distance. They may have been the first to inform the family of the death. Soldiers share their family members' Telegram and WhatsApp contacts with each other and ask their battle buddies to notify them if they die. Formal communications, via a phone call, take longer and usually arrive when families are already aware of the news.
“We are infantrymen, we have been through the worst battles,” said Private Victoria, taking a cigarette. After the funeral, most of them returned to the front. It became inevitable to think about it: Who will be next?
The “cappuccino” controversy.
Millions of men between the ages of 18 and 60 who live within Ukraine's borders and are prevented from leaving under martial law wonder: Who will be next to go to war?
Zelensky needs more cannon fodder to send to the front. The war wears out and wears out and deteriorates, and after two years, the troops begin to resent it: those who aren't dead or maimed, exhausted from having to fight for months without being allowed to visit their families.
The military in Kiev, which has stepped up recruitment drives, is calling for between 450,000 and 500,000 new soldiers to confront Vladimir Putin's sprawling forces, filled with prisoners fighting for freedom, and mercenaries if necessary.
The shortage of soldiers led to the revival of what is known in Ukraine as Cappuccino discussion: Can you enjoy a cappuccino on a balcony in Kiev when so many people die every week on the front? Easier: Can you escape war while others suffer?
“Many people have forgotten that there is a war,” complains soldier Dmytro, who asks to use this fictitious name to protect his identity. He has been fighting somewhere on the Kubyansk front in Donbass for eleven months. In another life, he worked as a lawyer in Berdyansk. “When we go to a big city, a little far from the front, we see that there is no war to suffer from: even the discos are open, and people are dancing, drinking and laughing. This makes me feel uncomfortable.”
– What war do you see? I ask him.
The war I see is constant bombardment, cold trenches, dead and maimed comrades, destroyed cities…
– What's worse?
– Uncertainty about the future. I don't know what I will do tomorrow. I don't know where I will be in a month. And my family too: I don't see them. I haven't seen them for two years. They live in areas occupied by orcs [soldats russos]. I'm just fighting to free them.
– are you tired?
– Physically? no. morally? Yes, often, of course.
“I want to continue living”
It would be interesting for Private Dmytro to meet another young Ukrainian man who also asks to use a fictitious name: Artem.
At 27 years old, he is one of many men who fear the draft. “If they send me into a trench, I will be killed on the spot. I want to continue living.” He was not helped by the mobilization of two of his friends: one of them was killed by a Russian missile in Bakhmut on the spot; The other, who was suffering from stress, became addicted to drugs and ended up dying of an overdose.
An estimated 40,000 Ukrainian men of military age have tried to flee since the start of the invasion. 20,000 were exposed and imprisoned as dictated by martial law. The other twenty thousand were obtained mainly through bribes and forgery. Some left the country directly via mountains and rivers.
“I try not to leave the center of Kiev,” Artem admits. He believes that it would be difficult for the police to stop him and ask for his documents if he was only moving around the center of the capital at a reasonable time.
-And if the police or army stop you? Ask him.
– One lawyer told me that it is not necessary to show documents if they do not have a justifiable reason.
– What if I receive a summons at home?
– I don't know. I have no intention of bribing anyone or trying to escape. I think I'll end up in the army. I will feel sorry for my parents, because they will suffer a lot. But I think in the end all the soldiers fighting now have fathers too.
This Saturday, the sirens sounded again in Kiev, and no one moved. All wars eventually become normal, even for those who suffer from them. In Al-Midan Square, in the center of the capital, in the Aroma Cava cafe, there was more than one person who owned one cappuccino. Its cost is 80 hryvnia – the Ukrainian currency – equivalent to 1.90 euros. The Italians won't be too happy: they've made it too watered down.
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