Kiev Diary: Ukrainians await Putin’s invasion and Poroshenko’s arrest

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On the eve of the return to Kyiv of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to face likely arrest in what is either a case of political persecution or incredibly bad political timing, the Ukrainian capital is shrouded in an atmosphere of fatalistic calm. in the middle of winter.

A week of high-level talks between Russian and Western officials concluded a few days earlier, having achieved precisely nothing to prevent the occurrence of a possible major war. Both sides have now reached a plateau of weary bluster and ultimatums, and the situation swings awkwardly between diplomacy and war.

Reports of increasing Russian troops along the Ukrainian border keep piling up hour by hour.

Social networks are full of clips of Russian trains loaded with military equipment speeding through snowy landscapes. For more than a month, Ukrainians have been living in this climate of analytical frenzy. We barely have time to keep track of the latest go-to article on Russia and Ukraine while writing our own.

Remarkably, despite the dreadful threat of invasion hanging over the country, the Zelenskyy administration seems more interested in bringing a former president to justice.

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The reaction to all this drama among Ukrainian elites and the general population has been one of grim fatalism. The news of Poroshenko’s long-awaited arrest for treason doesn’t seem to excite most people at all. A deputy from Poroshenko’s own faction informs me laconically that there will probably be a circus in front of the courthouse. People are kindly speculating on the scale of the protests that will take place tomorrow.

Other desperate news appears on Ukrainian TV screens and social media accounts with numbing regularity. More Russian troops are on the border; Russian reservists are called up; sophisticated missile systems and attack helicopters were deployed. These developments are hard to ignore, but they certainly haven’t produced anything remotely like a sense of panic in Ukraine.

Most of my personal acquaintances would just rather not discuss what’s going on or say how they really feel about it all. They are well aware that I am in close contact with knowledgeable colleagues in Washington DC, but have little interest in hearing the latest developments. “Your people in Washington are all hysterical,” a film producer friend tells me with a smile.

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Years of living in a state of relentless turmoil and uncertainty have hardened the people of Ukraine. Even phlegmatic. People continue to go about their daily business.

American acquaintances and relatives back home have advised me to have a “travel bag” with essentials on hand in case it becomes necessary to flee at short notice. But none of my friends or family members in Kyiv or Odessa seem to have prepared any evacuation plans.

Indeed, a friend, the promising young filmmaker Anastasia Mamontenko, is due to get married at the iconic Londonskaya hotel in Odessa next week. No one bothered to postpone the wedding. I bring her a Poetry Dada book (she once made a film about a Dadaist wedding) and a bottle of good vintage French wine from her year of birth as a wedding present.

Late in the evening, my friend Hobart Earle, the great American conductor of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra, calls me. “Despite all the clouds in the air, or perhaps because of them, the New Year’s concert series was sold out,” he announces with palpable pleasure.

Earle says he is concerned about the logistics of the upcoming restoration work that is to take place at the Odessa Philharmonic Hall. He is also deeply involved in rehearsals for Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, which he will conduct next week.

It’s arguably the greatest American symphony of the 20th century, he tells me, and Copland began composing it in the last year of World War II. The upcoming performance in Odessa promises to be an unmistakable gesture of resilience and grace in a country that has both qualities in abundance despite existing in a state of what often seems like permanent turbulence.

Vladislav Davidzon is a non-resident researcher at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council.

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Image: St. Andriy Church on Andriyivskyy Uzviz in Kyiv. December 24, 2021. (Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto)

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