REPORTS FROM SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE KYIV.
In retrospect, the last 24 hours of Kyiv life before the Russian blitzkrieg began were surreal.
My colleagues and I had spent idle days in the hotel lobbies and elegant bars and restaurants of Kyiv — which since the 2014 Maidan revolution has developed into a great nightlife city — waiting for something to happen. Fantastical visitors began arriving in town. Actor Sean Penn, for one, to show his support to the Ukrainian people.
Most everyone was in denial, though the city was deeply anxious. A full-scale attack seemed unlikely.
However, by 8-9 o’clock Wednesday night, it had become fairly obvious that the predictions were correct. Everyone had their sources of intelligence and gossip, but on this occasion, the gossips and the spooks all spoke in unison. Soon enough, smart people who care about me began calling me and advising me to leave the capital. Immediately.
Fleeing the capital
From my apartment next to the main Kyiv highway leading out of the capital toward the Western border, I observed convoys of cars with diplomatic license plates streaming out of the city in orderly lines. The Ukrainian parliament voted a state of emergency into power — by this time, the pro-Russian MPs had fled the country — but it was too late, and the streets of Kyiv were soon already shaking from the sounds of explosions.
It was more brutal and spread out than anyone had predicted. The shelling, bombing and small-arms fire came from all directions, and the tanks of the Belarus army also joined in the fray.
I should say that I am somewhat perplexed by the fact that the invading Russians have yet to turn off the Internet and neutralize the television streaming. Perhaps the Kremlin wants the world to witness what is about to happen. We watch rockets destroy Ukrainian arms depots, and Russian troops raise the Russian tricolor atop critical infrastructure such as hydroelectric plants and power stations.
As of press time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had also tweeted that the intense fighting had also spread to the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone — which for him meant that this was a “declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”
He also made the announcement over social media that the Ukrainian government would be opening up its armories in order to arm the population for partisan warfare. All across the country, ATMs are being emptied of cash and are dispensing money in small quantities. I spent the day hunting for ones that worked.
A wealthy family friend who wanted to send some cash to her daughter who is studying in Holland found that the bank had been ordered to refuse to make the transaction in order to avoid capital flight. Checkpoints to leave the country along the Moldovan, Romanian, Hungarian and Polish borders have traffic jams many miles long. Most restaurants in the few towns that I have visited in the last 24 hours are closed, though one can still buy food at the supermarket.
This is very likely the conclusion of the American-led security compact that the victorious allies imposed and built at the conclusions of the Second World War. When Kyiv falls or capitulates or is bombed into the ground in the same way that Putin had bombed Grozny, it will be the second major foreign-policy catastrophe on the doorstep of the Biden administration in the course of a single year. The Ukrainian infantry has put up stiff resistance and fought the Russians to a standstill in several cities.
Still, the Russians are expected to encircle and besiege the capital tomorrow. This time no one is in denial.
Brooklyn-born Vladislav Davidzon, author of “From Odessa with Love.”