Having just returned from a week in Ukraine, the change in attitude from the people I saw, is noticeable since my last visit, last September.
First, the fact that winter has passed has meant instead of fear and apprehension there is a knowledge that no matter what, they can endure, regardless of what the Russians do. While winter had its own challenges, people would need to reorganize their working day around when they would have power. When they did have power, they would need to ensure all devices were charging. People were thankful that this past winter was significantly more mild than usual and mostly, they adapted to the reality. For people with jobs, working, the work itself provided an escape from the challenges of their reality.
With that, there is a commonality in viewpoint, that there can be no deal with the devil. Peace now will only invite another attack from Putin later. Everyone I spoke to knows someone who has gone to war. Some know people who have died too. The deaths can not be in vain. There is a commonality in frustration though. Why can’t the West do more? After all, doesn’t the West realise Putin won’t stop with Ukraine? There is a lot of talk about the need for F-16s. The anti-air missile systems defending the cities are about to run out of ammunition, and the fact that they are Soviet systems means that when they do, Ukraine will be heavily exposed to Russian bombers. The current forecast is that Ukrainian AAM systems could be out of ammo by July and then what? Patriot systems are coming through, but not enough to replace what is there already.
Everyone I spoke to, when asked if there was a deal around trading Crimea for long-term peace, rejected this as an idea. Point blank, Crimea is Ukrainian land, and there is no deal that can be done around it. This is instructive, for those in the West who think that the way out of this is for there to be a deal over Crimea will not find anyone in Ukraine, who will accept that. I couldn’t. And history tells us, a peace deal that is not broadly acceptable amongst the populace is not going to be possible to implement.
People I spoke to, both in Lviv and Kyiv, saw themselves as European and looked to the West for their future. Indeed, the way that Ukrainian people have moved to stop speaking Russian is a testament to that. When I first went to Ukraine in 2011, speaking Russian was in most parts of the country, the default mode of communication. Now it is a rarity. Instead, English proficiency is on the up and people see their futures as being a part of the EU.
There is a quiet anticipation of the proposed spring offensive, about to take place. Ukrainians understand that while they won’t be able to land a knockout blow with this upcoming campaign, it is important to ensure that there is a noticeable victory if they are to continue to be able to effectively lobby the West for ongoing financial and military aid. What a good campaign would constitute as is something that produced a variety of responses. Equally, there was consensus that being able to take back part of the coastline along the Sea of Azov and end the Russian land bridge to Crimea, would be a great achievement, and would send a powerful message to the West, and Russia, that their army is worth supporting.
With that, there is an acknowledgment that the war has a long way to go. That Russia is not going to give up or go away. That Ukraine needs to hang on and fight for every inch. Similarly, there is a general consensus, that it is better to keep fighting in the pursuit of winning back land for many years than sign a bad deal this year and the longer the war goes on, the more likely it is that Ukraine can win as long as the West continues to support them.