isolarii - Kyiv

Kyiv

THE WAR DIARY OF
YEVGENIA BELORUSETS

Yevgenia Belorusets has been one of the great documentarians of Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014, winning the International Literature Prize for her work. Her diary provides the news from a different vantage.

Updates are published by ISOLARII at 4:00 PM EDT each day—
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[photo: Yevgenia Belorusets]

Tuesday, August 23

DAY 181
I GO TO SLEEP EVERY NIGHT SCARED TO DEATH

In Kyiv, in the narrow borderland between night and day, the war seems to disappear completely, as long as no unexpected noise intrudes. That relief doesn’t come often. The war is for the most part present, with no escape from its daily persistence.

In the first weeks of the Russian invasion, I was still convinced that it would quickly come to an end, within hours or even days. Like a greeting from that initial phase of the war, I feel the fear rise within me during every air raid alarm.

I’m back in Kyiv after a long hiatus, and the wailing sirens wake me at half past three in the morning. For a few minutes I feel I must take the warning seriously. But in this violent phase of the war it’s a strange idea to go into a shelter in the middle of the night and try to find refuge from any possible danger. I smile at my restlessness, at the fact that during my stay in Berlin I had gotten out of the melancholy and fatalistic habit of maintaining my daily routines in the face of danger. Instead of going to the bunker, I shuffle with weary steps to the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea. The air raid alarm fades and a nocturnal silence settles over Kyiv, seeming to suppress the danger.

Today’s messages on the Telegram channels of Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv warn that the coming days will be especially dangerous. We, the Ukrainian readers, should beware. “We ask you to please take shelter if you hear the warning signals in the next few days”—it sounds like the writer is in the middle of a debate, trying to convince recalcitrant citizens with ever-new arguments.

To back up these claims, we were told that the sound of the alarm will change starting today. Church bells will chime for chemical attacks, and storm bells will ring if the threat is radioactive.

The reason for these measures is the growing tension on the front, as well as the coming holidays, especially Independence Day tomorrow, August 24. Before the war this holiday would give rise to a festive mood that lasted for days. In Kyiv today there’s chatter about the coming holiday, but much less has been said about the war’s anniversary—the war turns exactly six months old on Independence Day.

The farther you are from the war, the clearer the procession of time becomes, and you think half a year of conflict needs a special approach, a rational analysis or a case history like the ones for sick patients, in the hope of a speedy recovery.

But here in Kyiv, the symbolism of this round number crumbles when the people involved in the war—almost every Ukrainian, in one way or another—cannot afford any distance from the conflict.

Today I visited a Kyiv museum that has been converted into a shelter where volunteers make camouflage netting. Women come here every day to fasten small cloth rags to solid nylon, one knot at a time. Sometimes the volunteers’ children and their friends come and work with them. You can also spend the night here on the folding beds that rest in a single corner. One of the women shows me on her cell phone how her little granddaughter sleeps comfortably on the camouflage netting. There’s a twelve-year-old boy here whose reputation as a knotting virtuoso is growing. He ties the nets together with such speed and mastery that he’s won the admiration of the other volunteers.

Soldiers of all ranks and positions on the front come here to place their orders. Sometimes they drink tea, enjoy the company, talk and listen. Then the women visit the front line to see which nets are in particular demand. In the next room, medicine is collected and sorted for the front.

The relatives of these women—their husbands, brothers, and friends, their sisters and daughters—are at the front. I know someone who works here named Katerina, and in the mornings she also sees patients as a pediatrician in her practice near the museum. Every day, when she joins her colleagues in the museum offices, she searches the faces of others. If she sees no tears in their eyes nor any deep despair, she concludes that there is no awful news from the front and that fortunately everyone is still alive.

“Sometimes I think,” another volunteer tells me, “it would be better not to know a single person at the front. I go to sleep every night scared to death. There is no peaceful morning, no peaceful hour in my life.”

As we say goodbye, another seamstress, Natalia, begins to complain about the people in Kyiv: “Many are living as if there is no war. They do too little. They want to forget. They distract themselves and ignore the constant threat of death.” She believes that the residents of Kharkiv, in the east of the country, are thinking more clearly. She visited the city recently. “Everyone in Kharkiv knows about the death and danger, but they stay in the city. They want to save everything there is to save.”

She witnessed a rocket attack during her visit to Kharkiv, and in a somewhat dreamy manner she recounts it: “After the attack, the paramedics and neighbors and rescue services all come running, without crying, without cursing, without looking for culprits. They cover the dead with sheets, they rush the injured to hospitals, they start searching the rubble.” If they weren’t being attacked every day, if new buildings weren’t being bombed and people murdered all the time—these people would have long since rebuilt Kharkiv. She suggests that’s how incredibly brave and helpful they are.

I keep hearing that the farther away you get from the war, the easier it is to think it hardly affects anyone.

A soldier who’s an acquaintance of mine came to Kyiv from the Donbas for a couple of weeks to take a breath before returning to the front. Before the war, he worked as a programmer and wrote poetry. When we met up, he said little. I, on the other hand, told him that my friends in the small town of Toretsk, in Donetsk Oblast, have had no electricity for a week and no water since March. They’ve been fetching water from wells ever since. They wanted to flee the city long ago, but they are the only ones who can get humanitarian aid and distribute food and medicine to the people of Toretsk. Every day they postpone their departure.

The Russian attacks tend to begin at night in pitch black. The ground trembles underfoot; people begin to fear that their small houses with the narrow cellars they hide in will be destroyed any minute. During the shelling, they can’t switch on a single light, there’s no cell service, and they have to wait a long time, perhaps till the next day, before they can call someone to make sure their friends and relatives are still alive. As I explain this to him, the soldier nods in understanding. For months he’s been living surrounded by explosions with the feeling of an endless quaking around him.

In little picturesque villages, ruins line the street. Yet again the nights are like invitations for crime. The villagers are reluctant to speak of the coming winter, partly because water and electricity lines in the Donbas have been destroyed.

On Kyiv’s Telegram channels I read about Russia’s plans to attack civilian infrastructure in the coming days. The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia is in danger. The American embassy warns U.S. citizens to evacuate Ukraine at once—the same warning it sent out half a year ago.

I wonder how it can be that global knowledge of these anticipated crimes—against international law, human rights, and the environment—does not help to stop them but instead becomes a pretext for new warnings.

My favorite time in the hot summer days of Kyiv is the narrow window between day and night—this threshold when the night air streams through the bright streets. I’m here and I’m enjoying every hour these days when city life marches on with all its everyday nuance.

IN PLACE OF A FINAL NOTE

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Tuesday, April 5
DAY 41
FROM KYIV TO WARSAW

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Sunday, April 3
DAY 39
A CITY DROWNS IN BLOOD

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Saturday, April 2
DAY 38
LAUGHTER RETURNS TO KYIV

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Friday, April 1
DAY 37
A CHANGED CITY

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Wednesday, March 30
DAY 35
IN THE NERVE CENTER OF CATASTROPHE

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Tuesday, March 29
DAY 34
ISLANDS OF TEMPORARY CALM

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Monday, March 28
DAY 33
ENDLESS CANNONADES

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Saturday, March 26
DAY 31
A GAP IN THE WINDOW

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Friday, March 25
DAY 30

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Thursday, March 24
DAY 29
The Smell of Burning Forests

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Wednesday, March 23
DAY 28
Risk of Injury!

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Tuesday, March 22
DAY 27
The Houses That Disappeared

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Monday, March 21
DAY 26
Kyiv Will Be As Clean As Berlin!

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Sunday, March 20
DAY 25
Drones over Kyiv

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Saturday, March 19
DAY 24
Deceptive Illusion

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Friday, March 18
DAY 23
The Picture of the Man with the Cat

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Thursday, March 17
DAY 22

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Wednesday, March 16
DAY 21
Tactical Retreat

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Tuesday, March 15
DAY 20
In War, One Thinks Almost Only of War

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Monday, March 14
DAY 19
Rockets Over Kyiv

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Sunday, March 13
DAY 18
An Unexpected Gift

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Sunday, March 12
DAY 17
Too Tired For The Shelter

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Friday, March 11
DAY 16
Music

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Thursday, March 10
DAY 15
Illusions

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Wednesday, March 9
DAY 14
A Flaw in the Landscape

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Tuesday, March 8
DAY 13
The night is still young

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Monday, March 7
DAY 12
A way of life that swallows everything

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Sunday, March 6
DAY 11
IT'S 3:30PM AND WE'RE STILL ALIVE

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Saturday, March 5
Day 10
A Great Beauty

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Friday, March 4
Day 9
Follow Me On Instagram

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Thursday, March 3
Day 8
Alienation

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Wednesday, March 2
Day 7
Time to be brave

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Tuesday, March 1
Day 6
Not a minute more of this war!

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Monday, February 28
Day 5
The new vulnerability

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Sunday, February 27
Day 4
an extinguished city

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Saturday, February 26
Day 3

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Friday, February 25
Day 2
Night: tense silence

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Friday, February 25
Day 2
air alert

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Thursday, February 24
Day 1
the beginning

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Edited by ISOLARII with translations by Greg Nissan



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