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News / ‘What matters most is that the support from the West doesn’t ebb’

Following a few months home during the summer, Shetland journalist Jen Stout has returned to Ukraine to report from a defiant country determined to free itself from the Russian aggression. Here she sends her latest report.

Jen Stout

IN SEVERAL big European cities every night the streets are pitch black because the power lines and substations have been deliberately destroyed. What an incredible sentence, in 2022.

At regular intervals throughout the day, millions of people in seven regions of Ukraine can turn on their tap, or light, and get nothing. No water, no power, for scheduled blocks of the day, as the energy companies and authorities scramble to patch up the system and conserve enough power to keep the cities liveable.

Next it will be the heating. It’s only just been switched on: centralised, Soviet-era municipal heating dominates in Ukraine, and at a certain point in the year the heating simply comes on. It’s quite an efficient system, though you don’t get much choice in the timing. But Russia has been blowing up thermal heating plants, too.

Where I’m writing this, in a hostel in an old, tumbledown part of Kyiv, the power just cut out three hours earlier than scheduled, and with it the mobile signal, and the water. The staff bring round candles. I grew up used to intermittent electricity, and being a bit chilly, but that is not what this is like. This is increasingly close to an emergency.

On Sunday the mayor warned they’d have to consider evacuating Kyiv if the situation continues to deteriorate – if Russia continues to destroy the energy infrastructure.

Despite the war this is still a bustling city. Millions live here. Where could they all go? Western Ukraine has a huge population of refugees from the east. Neighbouring countries like Moldova, Poland, Romania have taken large numbers of people.

So far most people seem undeterred. I was walking down the steep, cobbled Andriivsky Descent when the theatre doors opened and a flood of people came out – walking arm in arm, singing songs from the comedy that was playing. A Saturday night; a normal city scene.

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But it was pitch dark, the only light coming from headtorches and phone lights, as people picked their way over the cobbles and curbs. Normal life must continue, and it takes a lot for anyone to leave their home. Many already left and came back, and have no desire to become a refugee once more.

Kyiv: as night falls people using head torches and the lights from mobile phones to find their way. Photo: Jen Stout.

What matters most to people here is that the support from the West doesn’t ebb. Moral as well as military support: but air defence is on everyone’s minds, especially since the drone attacks began. The ageing Soviet-era missiles Ukraine has been using are running out, we’re told.

At the moment most of the Russian missiles are shot down before they can hit. Most. And yet the carnage across the country is still huge; the energy situation on the brink; hospitals relying on generators. So imagine if all the missiles found their targets? Then things look much, much bleaker, just as winter sets in.

Perhaps support is flagging; I hear complaints about energy prices in the UK, and calls for Ukraine to ‘just negotiate’. I struggle to know what to say in response, because I find this extraordinary.

Negotiation now means ceding land to Russia; to an occupying army that commits rape, torture, and mass execution as standard practice. Look at Izyum – another Bucha in many senses. Are the people calling for negotiation not reading these reports? Do they not believe them?

I went to Izyum and saw the now-empty mass grave in the pine forest there; spoke to people whose relatives were arrested and never seen again. It will be the same picture in Kherson, in every place Russia occupies, and to suggest that this is just accepted, that those lands remain occupied, for the sake of ‘peace’, is completely beyond me. What kind of peace is that?

If people are worried about peace in Europe, even peace globally (and they should be) then I’d suggest they should be supporting this sovereign, independent country which did nothing to provoke this invasion.

You can stand on this side: with democracy, rule of law, and human rights – or you can stand on the side of authoritarianism and fascism, which has been on the rise globally for years now. If Ukraine can push back that invading army – and they can, with help – it sends the strongest possible message to the tyrants of the world: that they can’t do as they please.

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