A recent trip to Kyiv made me recall that we Ukrainians have one key national characteristic. Regardless of the situation, and how bad it may be, we always try to find a way out. We adapt, whatever the challenges.
An existential threat to the nation may spark manic episodes, but they don’t change the essentials. Ukrainians are resilient. And the reason for that is simple — if we’re not, our nation will be extinguished.
I returned to the apartment I fled in March 2022. It was still mine — I saw my things there, but at the same time — not mine, as if I had missed something important.
It was the first time in 18 months that I could sleep in a bed of my choosing and drink from my mug with the chunky cat on it. One of the window blinds had fallen to the floor and lay there as evidence of the nights our Russian neighbors sent their drones to kill us.
It was a weird feeling as if I had returned to a reality that didn’t exist anymore. The conscious mind tries to see and rebuild things as they existed before March 2022, but the reality was already different. It’s like new knowledge, present all the time whether you want it or not. It’s a constant feeling of alertness when you breathe in, but breathe out very quietly. You listen to all the sounds.
“We got married!” I am seeing my friend Oleksandr whom I haven’t met in all these months. He and his girlfriend formalized their relationship. He quit smoking. She quit smoking too. “The only time we smoked was in winter — it was a super hard winter,” my friend said. “But we are preparing for this winter, I have bought a new power generator, more powerful than the previous one. We should be okay.”
Before the full-scale invasion, Oleksandr was a successful coach and mentor. “My group has just booked me, all my hours… They want my supervision. This helps me to keep on going — they need me. And this helps me to donate to our army.”
I left one meeting and went to another with my ex-colleagues from the television network we used to work at. I asked the same question — what helps you to keep going in the city where everything has doubled or trebled in price? “I just take a lunch box with me,” said one good friend. “It’s bad that the rent has increased as well, and the salary remained the same. But good that we have a job at all in the current situation,” she said.
The first night I didn’t hear any raid sirens; I was too tired after the long journey home. On the second and the third nights, our enemies were very active, even during the daytime.
“You’ll see me right after you get out of the metro, I am near the entrance to the underground,” my friend in the ninth month of pregnancy texted me.
She could live anywhere, she has what sociologists call social capital, by the bucketload. But she wants to be in Kyiv with her husband. This is her choice.
We sit on the bench during the air-raid warning and talk about her life and approaching motherhood. “Am I afraid to be here? Yes. But I won’t go anywhere. We will be patient,” she says. Her husband, who works for the government, joined us for a while and sat with us. But he couldn’t speak, he was in Zoom meetings. I know it was hard for them, especially in the winter when Kyiv had multiple attacks a day, power outages, and other problems. But even then, they refused to budge.
Friends who are on the frontline, friends who lost their relatives, or other friends. Friends who are listed as missing. Friends who moved to another country. Someone who lost someone or something, or lost everything.
But people keep on donating and fundraising money for the defense forces. “It’s not that the military needs a truck, we all need this truck” — this phrase is seen on multiple fundraising campaigns, explaining the simple logic of this war and our survival. Only through properly armed and equipped will it be possible to defend our country and regain control over all our land.
And even when it’s hard, people usually say, “All these difficulties are temporary.”
It’s probably this that makes Ukrainians resilient; even with all their difficulties, the endless wailing air raid sirens, and the blasts from attacks that are aimed as much at houses as at the military, they will be patiently waiting. Until the enemy gets tired and understands they cannot crush this nation.
“I don’t want to go anywhere now,” said my friend Inna. She fled to Bulgaria in March 2022 and then to Spain, built a business there, and returned to Ukraine a couple of weeks ago. “Look, I want to unpack my suitcases and unload my car. I am happy to be back, and I want to stay in my own place.”
P.S. As I wrote this piece, my friend gave birth to her first son. The energy of life prevails over the energy of death, Freud would say. Resilience is in his blood, every Ukrainian would say. Because Ukrainians want to live, build, and develop, even if now we have to be patient and deal with constant change.
We won’t give up, that I know.
Elina Beketova is an in-residence fellow with the Democracy Fellowship program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA.) Her research focuses on Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories. She has previously worked as a journalist, editor, and TV anchor for various news stations in Kharkiv and Kyiv.