Originally published on TVP World.
“They were pushing dragons off maps”: I read these words in one of the tributes to the deep-sea explorers who died in the Titan submersible. This is exactly what Ukrainians are collectively doing. Just like explorers facing the unknown, Ukrainians, in standing up to the Russian invaders, are proving that we need not live with the perpetual dragon-threat of nuclear tyranny.
Yes, the nuclear question weighs heavy on everyone here in Ukraine. In the cafes and streets, people ask- will Putin use a nuclear bomb? How will the West respond? But for everyone, I know here, from artists to warriors—two professions that often overlap in wartime—the resolve is the same: keep going with micro-courage, whatever the threats might be.
I saw this spirit on full display this past week. On Tuesday, Russia sent three of its menacing Iranian Shaheed, or “suicide martyrs,” over Lviv. Throughout the city at 4:45 am, Leopolitans heard that moped- or lawnmower-like hum grow louder as the death machines came closer—up until the frantic point when the air defense machine guns began to fire, frenetically to stop the Shaheeds. Thrice, this scenario happened, each ending in a loud explosion, one of them hitting mysterious critical infrastructure.
And yet the next day, afternoon and evening, the cobbled center of Lviv was full of people celebrating the annual Holy Day of Music. On nearly every block, musicians performed in front of centuries-old churches and apartments while people sang and danced. On Virmenska or Armenian Street, between the sibling cafés Facet and Facetka, Benya Stewart, an American musician from Ohio, led a hundred people singing the Ukrainian folk song “In the Forest Grove, Near the River Danube.”
Volunteers at the Front Line Kitchen were in that crowd, relaxing after a day of making meals for soldiers in the trenches. Young and old, from the USA, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, and beyond, they had only the day before for the first time heard the sounds of battle in the sky. And yet they stood fast, did not flee.
VIDEO—The sounds of the sky battle over Lviv:
The following day, while visiting a little and excellent Lviv café-bakery-pizzeria, Porco Marco, which despite having no seats, is often full of people standing up eating pizza and pasta, I ran into a Ukrainian-American Jewish filmmaker.
His home was close to falling debris in Russia’s Tuesday attack, but that was no longer on his mind. Instead, he was captivated by that Holy Day of Music, which he said had helped to expunge the sounds of the drones and the machine gun fire from the day before.
“[The Day of Music] was the sonata of the city. We, by singing, became the city,” he said. “The ultimate truth of what we experienced cannot be said. But we can define the penultimate truth: I felt wholesome—the day of music made us whole again … It sends the message that we are here no matter what.”
VIDEO: A Sort of Exorcism: The Sweetness of Street Music vs the Hellish Noise of Missiles
Later on, at our news bunker, I was talking with the woman we call Moneypenny because she knows everything—stories to save for after victory. A Ukrainian woman, we’ll call her Olha, who lives in Germany but came home to volunteer, approached us asking where the nearest shelter was. This reveals a new nervousness in Lviv: it’s been a year since anyone was seeking shelter here, even after a winter of fortnightly attacks.
Olha described how through the centuries, Russians have tried to destroy the Ukrainian Cossacks with floods, raids, and bombs. The Cossacks keep coming back.
The key to Cossack resilience? They stay connected to each other and to their past, Olha said. The Ukrainian word for generation is покоління (pokolinnya), which means something like sitting on your grandfather’s knee. Listening to ancient wisdom and to the land, Ukrainians adapted quickly—and, because they had to get used to suffering through the centuries, they found a way with ritual to enjoy life even as they fight off invaders.
On Monday, a great Ukrainian warrior who is modestly called The Ukrainian, sent me a Go-Pro video from the counter-offensive amid wild green fields and country lanes. I saw how methodically the Ukrainians moved in the face of Russian fire, how they were willing to pull back a bit in order to advance in a more favorable way: a patient dance.
VIDEO: See here a scene of the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Two days later, that same warrior sent me a video from his hospital bed, where he lay awake and smiling, even as the doctors worked to remove shrapnel from his terribly damaged arm. Soon another video followed, showing his team after battle capturing wounded Russians abandoned by their Moscow comrades. The Ukrainians are calmly talking and smoking and laughing, not yelling or angry.
That’s the wily Cossack spirit.
“Is everything good?” I wrote, to check in. “Not very. But there is hope!”
“Even if this [Russian coup] turns out to be nothing, at least we got some good laughs about it, about Russian stupidity,” Katya, originally from the heart of Cossack country, said to me, while drinking her cappuccino on a Lviv sidewalk. We were speaking about what seemed to be an attempted coup by the Wagner group in Russia. Who knows how serious it was, we agreed, but as Katya said, we got some good memes out of it.
My friend Mykhailo, an artist in Lviv, said the same. “I don’t know whether it was serious or not, but in order to keep going we all need some moments just to laugh at the dumbs”—that’s what he calls the Russians.
A French volunteer with Team 4UA showed me Friday a 3-D printing project, a new kindergarten in Lviv. He said it is essential to keep building even during the war, because we can’t wait for some future point. Anything we want to do we must do it now.
Ukrainians and the foreign volunteers here keep pushing the dragons off the map. By holding on fast they open the promise of their 2014 Maidan, or public square, Revolution to the world. We need not live under the control of tyrannical elites. We will have a new global security architecture: resistance of free people.
Joe Lindsley is the editor of UkrainianFreedomNews.com. You can listen here to his reports from Ukraine delivered every weekday of Russia’s full-scale invasion on Chicago’s WGN Radio with Bob Sirott.