Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on Ukraine are achieving the opposite of the Kremlin’s intended effect: instead of battering Ukraine into submission, the targeting of civilian infrastructure is strengthening Ukrainians’ resolve to resist. This is the conclusion of a prominent Russian journalist who recently completed a reporting trip in Ukraine to gauge the popular mood.
Yevgenia Albats, a prominent Russian government critic and the editor of the Russian-language web journal The New Times, spent 10 days in Ukraine earlier this spring, visiting cities and towns in western and southern Ukraine behind the front lines. She recounted her experiences during a recent presentation at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.
“Any war is a tragic time,” Albats noted, but it also offers an opportunity to “see the face” of the governments and societies embroiled in conflict. The faces of Ukrainians, she added, are filled with resilience and determination. Many Ukrainians Albats interviewed indicated that they were tired of the war, but at the same time, no one wanted to make peace at any price. Ukrainians were determined to persevere until victory was achieved.
“For Ukrainians, this is a Great Patriotic War,” Albats said, comparing Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine in 2022 to the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812 and the Nazi offensive against the Soviet Union in 1941. “Ukrainians have a firm belief that, sooner or later, they will win the war,” Albats added.
She found tangible evidence of such popular confidence during a quick visit to Bucha, a town outside of Kyiv that became synonymous with Russian war crimes during the war’s first phase in mid-2022. Residents have returned to Bucha and some are already working to repair the damage done to their homes, installing new roofs. “People are trying to rebuild their lives, their hopes,” Albats said.
Russian forces have sought to erase vestiges of Ukrainian culture during the war, looting museums and libraries while destroying historical monuments. “They are trying to destroy the foundation of Ukrainian memory,” Albats said, adding such tactics are backfiring badly. “The Ukrainian language has become an important instance of resistance.”
Albats fled Russia to the United States during the summer of 2022. At the time she was facing the threat of arrest for her dissenting reporting on the war. It took her four months, she said, to secure a visa and press accreditation to visit Ukraine. The motivation for going was to provide Russians in Russia with eyewitness and independent viewpoints about what Russian troops are doing in Ukraine. The outlet that she runs, The New Times, is distributed via YouTube, which is not blocked in Russia. Albats’ travels took her from Khmelnitsky in western Ukraine to Kyiv and its environs, then south near Kherson, ending at Odesa.
Prior to embarking on the reporting trip, Albats expected to be given a hostile reception by Ukrainians because of her Russian nationality. But all but one of her encounters with locals during the trip turned out to be open and engaging, she reported.
In Odesa, Albats found that the hardships of the war haven’t completely caused emotions to eclipse reason. While many street names and cultural markers commemorating the Russia’s imperial past have been changed in the city, residents have voted to preserve street names honoring such cultural icons as Pushkin and Mayakovsky.
While most Ukrainians Albats encountered exuded confidence, she said her travels made it clear that the war is taking a terrible toll on Ukrainian society. “The damage [in lives lost] is not just to the current generation, but for generations to come,” she said.