Hope in Times of War: How Ukrainians Respond to War of Attrition

War has become part of everyday life in Ukraine, which includes military successes, failures and tragedies.

Hope in Times of War: How Ukrainians Respond to War of Attrition

War has become part of everyday life in Ukraine, which includes military successes, failures and tragedies. Despite this, people remain cautiously optimistic - strangely more so than at the end of 2021. One Kiev resident says the mood is bad. "But controls poorly."

The numbers from the polls in Ukraine have been stable for a long time. More than 90 percent of the people believe in a victory against Russia, more than 80 percent rule out territorial concessions. The reality, however, is that the country has been engaged in a war of attrition for months in defending against the Russian onslaught, with different consequences at different points on the frontline.

It is bitter that Ukraine suffered a defeat in the battle for Sieverodonetsk and Lysychansk and thus completely lost control of the Luhansk region. At the same time, the Ukrainian army was able to prevent larger encirclements such as in Mariupol and inflict high losses on the Russians in these battles. These losses may also be the reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the soldiers who took part in the capture of Luhansk should now "rest" to gather strength for further fighting.

But Ukraine also has high losses. A few weeks ago there was talk of 100 to 200 deaths per day. But there is also a sense of achievement for Ukraine. The Russians had to leave the strategically important Snake Island in the Black Sea because of the heavy artillery fire from the Ukrainians. Small Ukrainian counter-offensives are underway in the partially occupied southern districts of Kherson and Zaporizhia, albeit with limited success. And, of course, reality also includes tragedies such as the destruction of a shopping center in Kremenchuk and a residential building in Odessa region by old Russian Ch-22 rockets, each of which claimed more than 20 lives.

But how do Ukrainians view the current war of attrition more than 130 days after the start of the great Russian invasion? "There is certainly a certain war weariness," says Volodymyr Fessenko, director of the "Penta" center for applied political research in Kyiv. "People have adapted to the war, especially in places that are comparatively far away from major battles," says the scientist, who is one of the best-known political scientists in Ukraine and is close to President Volodymyr Zelenskyj. "But there is no drop in morale at all. On the contrary: the shelling of Kremenchuk, for example, reinforced the opinion in society that the fight must be continued, although Russia certainly wanted to intimidate people with it."

However, Fessenko is unsure whether society is aware that this war could last for a very long time. There are "somewhat inflated expectations" on this topic, he says to ntv.de. "There are people who still believe that the war could be over in a few months," which is quite unrealistic. The rhetoric of the Ukrainian government officials mostly goes in the direction that the war could last until the end of the year, but from Fessenko's point of view that's not certain either: "It's possible that the active phase of the war will be over by then, the battles for positions will start afterwards probably move on."

The political scientist Lyudmyla Subryzka from Kiev's Mohyla University has a different opinion of the Ukrainian population. "In the beginning, government representatives spoke of a possible end in two to three weeks, there were still certain illusions," she says ntv.de. "At the moment, however, people have come to terms with the fact that it could really take a long time."

What has changed, however, is the idea of ​​what it takes to win at a minimum. According to Subryzka, a return to the de facto status quo of February 23 was considered acceptable when Russian troops were still in the outskirts of Kyiv. At the moment it is more about the liberation of the entire Ukrainian territory. Tragic events like Butscha or now Kremenchuk played a key role: "According to the motto: Now more than ever."

Fessenko sees things differently, believing that a return to the pre-war situation would be an acceptable victory for Ukrainian society. "Of course there are different positions on Crimea in society, but I believe that they will disappear over time when the inflated expectations are gone. We first have to see when the major counter-offensive that has been announced will finally take place and whether it will then be in the form really gives."

There are also different opinions on these issues among Ukrainians. "What the Russians are doing in Kremenchuk, for example, only makes the hatred of them greater," says Sofia Nechaeva, a journalism student who works as a waitress. She fled to Frankfurt am Main but would like to return to Kyiv in a month. She believes in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and in the liberation of all Ukrainian territory. "In my opinion, the hot phase of the war can be ended by the end of next year, but the war in general could last another five to ten years," believes Andriy Janitskyi, a business journalist who lives in Kyiv and comes from Sevastopol. "For me, the minimum victory would be for the Russians to return to the positions before February 24. But because of the war crimes, I often think that this is not enough."

"I don't dare to say when the war will end, but I have cautious hopes that Cherson can be liberated in the next few months," says Kiev musician Hlib Pekurowskyj. Maksym Krawez, who also lives in Kyiv and works for a betting company, emphasizes: "The minimum victory would be to preserve sovereignty, at least to get parity with heavy weapons and to liberate the newly occupied southern Ukrainian territories. We have to strengthen the defense in this way that Russia has no chance of attacking again in the foreseeable future. I believe in such a minimum goal, like in a year."

"As far as the Russian shelling is concerned, the strange feeling of the summer of 2014, the hot phase of the Donbass war, is returning," says Krawez. "The immediate threat here in Kyiv is comparatively small, but the mood is permanently bad. But poor control."

At the same time, surprisingly, there is more optimism in Ukraine than before the war. A survey by the International Sociology Institute in Kyiv shows that 52 percent of people are "very optimistic" about their country's future. In December 2021 it was only 9 percent.

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