Reportage. The enthusiasm is almost gone, and there is a lot of fatigue. In Odessa, one can see clearly that the long-range Russian attacks have had significant effects.

Between ambushes and Russian bombs, Ukraine is tired

“Sorry, there’s no power,” says Pavel with a sigh, manning the front desk of an Odessa hotel and probably feeling more sorry for himself than for the guest. They will have to spend yet another night in the city without power. It’s the same in Sumy, hit last Wednesday by Russian missiles.

President Zelensky is calling for more weapons and thanked Sweden for a newly approved military aid package worth €7 billion, but it’s clear that those weapons won’t solve the problems that Ukrainian civilians are facing in the short term. Even when they don’t kill, Russian missiles continue to create enormous hardship for civilians far behind the front lines. And 27 months of war is an eternity. The Ukrainian leader, on his third day as president for an indefinite period after his term officially expired on Monday, called for his allies to go further than before: namely, for NATO planes to shoot down Russian missiles in Ukrainian airspace.

Such requests do little to reassure the population. First of all, because it’s clear that things aren’t going well in the east. People are getting news reports at street kiosks and places with working TVs, and they‘re beginning to pay more attention to news about the progress of the war. Until recently, we were talking about the war having become a routine reality, but now one can say that people are on the brink of war fatigue.

Not the “war fatigue” that Western media used to invoke to describe the weariness of the pro-Ukrainian bloc, but the simpler matter of the exhaustion of endurance. There is a certain apprehension when it comes to Kharkiv – on Wednesday the Russians were announcing they had captured as many as 49 settlements since the start of operations in the area – and one can distinguish two clear categories among the people.

On the one hand, there are the men who are not enlisted, some for being over the age limit and others for unclear reasons. When asked, they almost always respond with ostentatious confidence: “We will drive them back across the border.” Also in this category are the closet-sized men covered head-to-toe in tattoos displaying every possible nationalistic symbol but who, when asked “How come you’re not in the army?” either dodge the question or get angry and stop answering.

As former army chief Zaluzhny had said and Zelensky has repeated in recent days, the lack of troop rotation at the front lines is one of the most onerous problems for the Ukrainian armed forces at the moment. The second category (a majority) is made up of those who don’t really know what’s going on but have understood that things aren’t going as well as they should.

Ukrainian TV and media continue to spread the message that the resistance continues, that the Russians are losing thousands of men and that the enemy advance has been contained. But the enthusiasm is almost gone, and while there is no sense of panic at this point, there is a lot of fatigue.

Especially since the same situations keep recurring. In Odessa, one can see clearly that the long-range Russian attacks have had significant effects. The damaged power plants have not resumed full operation, the Russians continue to hit others, and the various Ukrainian local governments are forced to rationalize, alternating power cuts for one neighborhood at a time.

The alarms continue to sound, and in the south the greatest threat is being felt in the port areas, where grain depots and commercial naval facilities are located, as well as the vital hydrocarbon deposits that support the efforts of the Ukrainian war machine. Even here, it’s still very hard to find anyone who would clearly say that they want the war to end at any cost. Hatred for Putin is undiminished; the Ukrainians blame him personally for these past two years. But they are clearly starting to think about the need to end the conflict somehow, including otherwise than by the force of arms. The projected façade of normalcy cannot last forever.

Only those riding around in a big Mercedes or Tesla with speakers blaring can afford normalcy. These are the same people who are filling the bars and nightclubs until curfew. In the east, the clubs are closed, there’s nowhere to go out for drinks, and the war is being fought with deadly means, not based on who’s shouting the loudest. People aren’t dead tired or bored to death, but die for real. And it’s these draft dodgers that can always be heard talking about resistance to the last man and raising a solemn toast to the men at the front, calling them “brothers.”

Those at the front know that many – especially those well-to-do – have found ways to get themselves out of military service, and that is the reason why they don’t get replacements. But this is also part of war: while one “brother” dies, another gets drunk and hits on girls at the club.

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