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Dispatch from Ukraine: The war has returned to Kyiv

The feeling in Kyiv is nebulous, like some faceless entity actively trying to take your life
First responders amid Russian bombing of Kyiv. (Photo by Phil Bialobzyski)

By Phil Bialobzyski

Special to The Terrace Standard

Last weekend was Thanksgiving Day weekend. It’s the time to find the pants with the elastic waistband and put new batteries in the TV remote for the start of the hockey season, CFL rivalries and the baseball postseason. Here in Kyiv I didn’t have my traditional thanksgiving, but I do have an abundance of things to be thankful for.

On Sunday, I took the metro to the Petrivka market. Kyiv is a city of three million and the Petrivka market is the city’s collective garage sale. You can find all the things you are looking for and even more stuff that you aren’t looking for. I picked up some English language books which had been difficult to find.

I bought used copies of Anton Chekov, Evelyn Waugh and a historical book on the Black Sea. Also, some curios coins, artwork and even a backpack to put it all in. I think I overpaid for some of my treasures, but I take some pleasure knowing that the money I paid is going directly to these sellers. It will help them buy something extra in these difficult times. One wife of a man that I had bought some coins from said a special thank you to me in English. That ‘thank you’ was unmistakably for the extra money she will have for her family.

On Monday morning with my coffee, I was starting to read one of my ‘new to me’ books. At this time of day I don’t get the direct morning sun but a brilliant blue reflection from the 27-story Samsung building about 300 metres away. It is gilded in a reflective blue glass that shines directly in my apartment for about an hour or so as the sun moves westward. This building is the Samsung Ukrainian headquarters.

Along with administration, they do research and technological development on security, artificial intelligence and integrating those into augmented reality and virtual reality.

Multinationals such as Samsung are not ignorant of the enormous potential of Ukraine. Ukraine has a highly educated workforce; it is home to six per cent of the world’s certified professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A computer programmer and analyst here makes less than $1,000 US per month while in the United States one can make more than $6,500 US per month.

The Ukrainian GDP before COVID hit in 2020 was increasing at a rate of 17 per cent annually. Ukraine is also seen as the ‘breadbasket of the world’ supplying nine per cent of the world’s grain and 40 per cent of the world’s sunflower oil.

I am sure Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy is aware of Ukraine’s richness. This makes it even harder to believe Putin’s reason for his ‘special military operation’ is to liberate the Ukrainian people from Nazi tyranny led by Volodymyr Zelenskyy who, by the way, is Jewish.

While I was reading, the sound of a jet engine came through the sounds of the morning traffic. It was passing by closely and I immediately thought it must be a training mission since there weren’t any air raid sirens. Then a huge boom, then another. They were missiles.

The concussion pushed in my windows then sucked them out, luckily not breaking them. I was wary of other blasts and got away from the windows. After about 15 minutes of composing myself I went out to see if I could help. Half of the building’s glass was blown out and the lower floors stripped to their concrete entrails.

By the grace of God, it wasn’t a direct hit on the building.

Emergency response was on scene and they were triaging. People were standing there bloodied from the flying glass and people were laying in the grass with paramedics over them.

There was a constant stream of ambulances; folks getting cleaned up and others gurneyed into the waiting ambulances. The emergency services had things in hand.

I went back to my apartment and packed my bag — I didn’t feel safe staying in my apartment. I walked out to a nearby square and sat outside in the sun with many others.

There was no panic but a nervous calm; some were stoic, others seemed indifferent. Many were taking shelter in the pedestrian underpass while a few others were looking to the skies for the next missile.

The city was shut down, Zelenskyy telling everyone to shelter in place. I sat on a curb in the sun — just sitting and looking — taking pleasure with each breath but I felt exhausted like I had run a marathon.

This sudden increase in Russian missile activity follows the recent Kerch Bridge strike. It is the only bridge linking the Russian mainland with the Crimean peninsula. The attack happened on Putin’s 70th birthday. One Ukrainian minister tweeted the picture of the burning bridge along with a video of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic singing of ‘Happy Birthday Mister President.’

The Ukrainians have also announced another ‘in your face’ new postage stamp commemorating the event; like they did with the sinking of the Russian flagship Moskva and defence of Snake Island.

The feeling is nebulous — that someone is trying to kill you.

Like some faceless entity actively trying to take your life.

It is very difficult to understand. It is outside of my worldview of the peaceful Canadian Pacific northwest. The Blue Jays losing in the postseason doesn’t seem all that important to me anymore.

Yes, I missed my Canadian thanksgiving but I have plenty to be thankful for.

Phil Bialobzyski is a Terrace resident now in Kyiv, Ukraine. This is the second in his series of dispatches from a nation under attack.

READ MORE: ‘Business as usual’ amid war in Ukraine