Arnon Grunberg


The mood

On the hospitallers and the soldiers – Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker:

‘In response to the Russian invasion, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, had declared martial law and ordered a general mobilization, forbidding males between the ages of eighteen and sixty to leave the country. Ukrainians who were abroad, of course, could have chosen to remain so. But every seat on the bus was occupied. The man across the aisle from Anastasia and me, named Petro, was a thirty-three-year-old construction worker who had lived in France for eight years. He was bound for his home town, Ivano-Frankivsk, where Russian missiles had recently targeted the airport. He planned to spend one night with his parents, then report for duty.
As we traversed Luxembourg and Germany, the driver stopped at a gas station every four or five hours, to let us use the rest room and buy food; Petro neither ate nor slept, and his anxiety seemed to increase as we neared Ukraine. He had never fired a weapon. “I don’t know where they’re going to send me,” he told us midway through Poland, his hands trembling. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.” Embarrassed by the tears welling in his eyes, he explained, “Not everyone is ready for this.” The Russian military, which was superior in numbers and firepower, was widely predicted to prevail. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were already fleeing the country. The mood on the bus was sombre as the passengers reckoned with their decision to join a possibly doomed resistance.’


‘Anastasia had met Slipak through activist networks in France. The last time they saw each other, at a protest in Paris in June, 2016, she was on summer vacation from the Sorbonne and he was preparing to return to the Donbas. Two weeks later, a Russian sniper killed him. “His death changed my vision of the war,” Anastasia told me, at the monument on Andriyivsky Descent. “It became concrete, and I understood that I had to go there.” The following month, she accompanied a group carrying donated supplies—rations, power banks, generators—to military units on the front line. At one forward position, she met an ambulance driver who showed her videos of casualty evacuations that he had on his phone. “I was really impressed, and I felt I wasn’t doing enough,” Anastasia said. When she told the driver that she would like to become a medic but had no experience, he gave her the name of an organization that could train her: the Hospitallers.
In 2017, when Anastasia was twenty-three, she attended a one-week course with the Hospitallers at their base, in southern Ukraine. She began deploying to the Donbas for brief rotations when not at school. The inertia and slow-grinding toll of the conflict produced a specific kind of anguish. The first casualty that Anastasia evacuated was a soldier who had nearly severed his arm while trying to kill himself. Mines, mortars, and bullets had killed or wounded others. “Most of them are younger than me,” Anastasia wrote, in a journal entry. She worried that their deaths changed “absolutely nothing.”’


‘We linked up with a Territorial Defense unit that had occupied an abandoned children’s sanatorium. The volunteers did not look particularly impressive—they were older, and some of them were out of shape—but they told me that they had been preparing for this moment for seven years.
The men belonged to a “civilian sniper club” that had formed in 2015. In anticipation of an expansion of the war in the Donbas, they had gathered on weekends to practice marksmanship, outdoor skills, combat medicine, and even “tactical alpinism.” (A sudden urban assault might require them to rappel from their apartment buildings.) They did not know one another’s names—or any other identifying details. When I expressed surprise at this, an ungainly man in a black turtleneck replied, “It’s easy for me, because I come from the gamer society.” I recognized these men. Of course, the difference between them and their American analogues—preppers, survivalists, militia members—was that the dreaded scenario they had envisaged was not a lurid fantasy. As the gamer in the turtleneck told me, “We woke up on February 24th and said, ‘O.K., it’s here. It’s happening.”’


‘Such atrocities were not limited to Ivana-Franka Street. According to the chief regional prosecutor, more than six hundred bodies were found in the district. Researchers with Human Rights Watch reported “extensive evidence of summary executions, other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” At least one man was decapitated. The office of the attorney general released photographs of men who had been bound and executed in “a torture chamber” in the basement of a children’s sanatorium. Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s human-rights commissioner, told the BBC that two dozen women and girls, between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four, “were systematically raped” while being held captive in another Bucha basement. Nine had become pregnant. A Timescontributor photographed the corpse of a woman shot in the head in a potato cellar, naked apart from a fur coat.
When the Russians first invaded Bucha, a team of volunteers risked their lives collecting bodies and delivering them to the local morgue. After ten days, with the morgue at capacity and lacking refrigeration, residents dug a mass grave behind a local Orthodox church. As corpses piled up, a tractor covered them with earth. When the first grave was full, a second was excavated, and then a third. I visited the church the day after I met Iryna Havryliuk. Bulky black bags were still heaped in the third pit, and limbs protruded from the mud. The priest, Father Andrii Halavin, was in the nave, repairing windows shattered by projectiles. “It’s not just here,” he told me. “People are buried all over Bucha.”’


‘Another elderly woman, who lived alone in Bucha, had recounted begging for her life when Russian soldiers burst into her house one day. “I never would have imagined that, at seventy, I would have to get on my knees before a nineteen-year-old bastard,” she’d told me. Echoing the residents of Trostyanets, she and others described the occupiers less as fearsome, battle-hardened butchers than as capriciously homicidal youth. At a high school not far from Ivana-Franka Street, crushed beer cans surrounded former artillery positions. The principal’s office had been trashed. A Russian soldier had used a rubber stamp to painstakingly imprint the outline of a phallus on the wall.’

Read the article here.

The success of Ukrainian resistance – till now – was possible because of the help of Western secret services. Most weapons started pouring in after it became clear that they would not fall right away into the hands of Russian soldiers.

Most of the Ukrainian population appeared to be willing to actively resist the occupiers, even when this meant dying for Ukraine. The idea that the armies of the future and the present are only professional armies might not be true.

The moral and the training of the Russian soldiers appeared to be extremely low.

A soldier who came to loot not only commits war crimes, but he is also probably not such a good soldier. Having said this, it’s difficult not to feel pity for those Russian kids. Not knowing what the hell they are fighting and dying for.

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