Outbreak of calm grips Ukraine

Outbreak of calm grips Ukraine
Ukrainians are watching the news closely and a potential war with Russia is the main topic of conversation, but so far the situation on the ground remains calm. / wiki
By Cameron Jones in Kyiv and Dominic Culverwell in Berlin January 25, 2022

The mood in the Ukrainian capital remains calm, despite the build up of Russian troops on the border, bomb threats in schools in Kyiv and the US and UK embassies evacuating their staff.  

Things ratcheted up again this week when the US Department of State issued a "do not travel" warning for Ukraine. The last time it did that as tensions increased between Russia and Georgia in 2008 a war broke out two days later.  

Although talk of war is gradually seeping into conversation in Kyiv, the mood still remains calm and is more apprehension rather than panic.  

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy tried to talk citizens down last week in a video address to citizens, imploring them not to withdraw cash from banks or stockpile food. However, there is little evidence of bank runs of the emptying of shelves and Ukraine's National Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told the BBC he sees little evidence of an imminent Russian invasion nor does he share the "panic" in the West. He stated the "build-up of Russian troops is not as rapid as some claim.”  

Fears that open warfare between Russia and Ukraine will break out increase the closer you are to the contact line in the east of Ukraine, according to a former Ukrainian paratrooper from Dnipro who spoke to bne Intellinews and has previously served in Donbas.

Those who live in cities such as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city close to the Russian border, or the Ukrainian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts maintain a very high degree of readiness, with suitcases packed and car tanks full of petrol, he said. Those in Kyiv, however, believe the city is unlikely to ever find itself on the front line as, according to the Donbas veteran, many in Ukraine believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has little interest in seizing the capital militarily, focusing instead on cities east of the Dnepr river that bisects the country.

“Veterans from all of the country are ready to return to fight if necessary,” he said, “but currently no sense war is imminent.”  

His thoughts were echoed by a medical student who had volunteered to work as a medic during the conflict. She also believes it is highly unlikely that Russia would enact a "pincer movement" to besiege Kyiv using its troops that are now stationed in Belarus. Her opinions are, however, not echoed by her father, who has begun stockpiling foodstuffs and has moved to the countryside.

“Ukrainians understand Putin’s plan and Kyiv isn’t part of it. Putin is interested in cities east of the Dnepr,” he said. “The closer you are to the line of contact, the better prepared the people are for war.”  

An economics student told bne IntelliNews that he has already received a letter from the state to join a volunteer defence brigade. The military has begun to recruit 100,000 Ukrainians into these brigades and is handing out weapons to “anyone that is willing to fight,” an official said earlier this week.  

“I got the letter asking me to fight if war came,” the student told bne IntelliNews who moved from Donbas to Kyiv in 2014, “but no one in Kyiv is panicking yet. No one has started to stockpile buckwheat yet.”   

Others are less convinced. A British diplomat who spoke to bne IntelliNews  says that he has decided to take his family back to the UK before returning to Ukraine for work.  

“I’m taking my family back to the UK and then coming back to Ukraine to work,” the diplomat said. “Things are tense so it seems the prudent thing to do.”   

He advises all British citizens to leave the country. Likewise, Ukraine's business elite are also taking precautions to move themselves and their families out of the country, according to a school teacher at a Kyiv private school, who said that he had begun his online lesson this morning with several of the children absent, spending time abroad.

On Ukraine’s social media photos of empty supermarket shelves in Kyiv are circulating, allegedly showing the results of Ukrainians panic buying in response to the heightened tensions with Russia.

However, an investigation by bne IntelliNews suggests the images are representative of the situation in the leading stores. Many Twitter users in Kyiv point out that their supermarkets remain full and these images are likely disinformation. Moreover, very few news outlets are reporting on this apparent shortage. Only the same two images dominate the retweets and other posts, according to bne IntelliNews social media correspondent.  

The various small news outlets sharing the images look to be either Kremlin propaganda machines, or untrustworthy in their reporting. One called e-news.su has the tagline #stopUkoFascism, a common Kremlin propaganda motif, and another depo.ua was suspended from Twitter for violating its rules of service.

The fact that there are no other photos, nor reliable reporting on this incident, puts into doubt the existence of a food shortage.

Instead, it is likely that these images are part of a disinformation campaign designed to disrupt and panic Ukrainians, possibly with the intention of encouraging panic buying. The origin of the photos has not been determined.

On January 20-21, 2022, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) conducted an all-Ukrainian public opinion poll that found the majority (56.5%) of Ukrainians believe the threat of invasion by Russia is real.

Computer - assisted telephone interviews ( CATI ) based on a random sample of mobile telephone numbers (with random generation of telephone numbers and subsequent statistical weighing) surveyed 1205 respondents living in all regions of Ukraine (except Crimea).

The sample is representative of the adult population (18 years and older) of Ukraine. The sample does not include territories that are temporarily not controlled by the authorities of Ukraine - the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, the poll was conducted only in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.