I have been in Ukraine for only nine days but have already seen enough to change my perspective. When coming here, I of course expected there to be destruction, gunfire, bombings, and death. But the one thing I didn’t expect is how quickly the danger of war can lose its potency for the average civilian.
Recently, I got next to the action. I smelled what I heard.
I was with some humanitarian workers delivering supplies to the villages around the frontline south of Kharkiv. When we arrived at our last stop, I quickly learned that I was the first foreign journalist to visit since the war started three months ago. I also learned that Russian forces had completely occupied the area only a week before and now it was being actively fought over. Approximately fifteen minutes after learning this, the shelling began. The difference this time was the noise. The intensity of the blasts got me scared. It was the type of fear that goes from your chest, down your legs, along your shins, and ends by tickling the arches of your feet. In my own mind, I was unsure if I would survive and saw the situation as having an uncertain ending. I was truly afraid.
But the most jarring thing about that experience was how the Ukrainians around me reacted to the bombardment. The thing was that they didn’t react. Seemingly taking no note, the humanitarian workers continued to drop off supplies to villagers. After, they even stopped to chat with the villagers like it was a Sunday afternoon barbecue. Thirty minutes after we left the front, we arrived in a safe midsized village which had a sauna. The Ukrainians I was with insisted on going. So, in a half hour period we went from being shelled by Russians to relaxing in a sauna and drinking beer.
It seems war’s shock and awe fades after one is exposed to it for enough time.
In areas of Kharkiv where bombs still occasionally land and buildings are concrete skeletons, Ukrainians are still living. They are going about their business. For example, I went into a little food spot today to buy a bottle of water. As I went to pay, loud bomb blasts split the air outside. No Ukrainian around me even slightly jumped.