Dispatches from the Place of Imminence, part 2

February 25-26, 2022

The first day of war leaves 137 dead, 316 injured; by the end of the third, the numbers are up to 198, including 3 children, and 1,115 injured, 33 of which are children. Among the killed, as we learn on the morning of the 25th, are thirteen border guards of Snake Island (Zmiiny Island) in the Black Sea, only about 300 km west of Crimea, who were attacked by the Russian battleships. The audio that emerges right after the event allegedly captures a communication between the border guards and an approaching Russian navy vessel. This short exchange has immediately become, probably, the first legend of this war and it is already known by many of us by heart. “Snake Island, I am a Russian warship, and I repeat, I propose you lay down your arms and surrender. Otherwise, you will be hit. Do you copy?” And we hear two quiet voices, somewhat strangled by the upcoming inevitability, talking between themselves: “Well, this is it. Should we tell it to go fuck itself too?” “Just in case.” One of the voices, then, responds via a megaphone in Russian, investing all the lung power it can produce under the circumstances: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.Русский корабль, иди на хуй.

Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Nikolaev as well as several other cities – it’s becoming difficult to keep track now – are under rocket strikes all day long. Russia uses cluster munition against civilians. We’ve heard from our friends staying in the subway shelter in Kyiv (Troeshchyna neighborhood) all day of the 26th and they are told to remain there until the 28th. Those who did not do a good job on their emergency backpack are in trouble. The photo of kids in the shelter goes viral.

Multiple videos of street battles are posted on Telegram channels (I follow only four, for sanity reasons). The Russian troops are disseminated in many Kyiv neighborhoods, often captured by the territorial resistance groups. Unfortunately, there are multiple cases of sabotage. 1,700 UHR (57USD) is offered for setting an explosion. Other “jobs” include setting fluorescent marks for the Russian paratroopers. If we see those, we should immediately report via a bot created by Cyber Police by photographing them and reporting their gps coordinates. Water and gas infrastructure are often found marked for destruction. It is hard to tell if the videos of the captured Russian soldiers are representative, but those we see in the videos look miserable, many of them say they went for “training;” some cannot explain how they appeared on this side of the UK-RU border or say they “got lost.” Lumpenproletariat of war.

Ukraine calls for the Red Cross’ assistance in returning the bodies of killed soldiers to Russia. So far, the bodies remain unclaimed.

A week ago, any cyberattack could make the news, now their volume is skyrocketing, but nobody pays attention. Fedorov announced the formation of a cyber-army. The government and other sites, also, banks are constantly down and up. No panic about it at all. We just wait a bit, and all is working again. This is a new normal. Anonymous are in the game now launching ‘full-scale’ cyberattacks on Russian government websites in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The site of the Russian Ministry of Defence is hacked with all private data of the Russia MOD made available for download via Megaupload (this tweet by Anonymous TV is now taken down by Twitter for violating the rules). They “breached and leaked about 200GB of emails from Belarusian weapons manufacturer Tetraedr. This company has provided Vladimir Putin with logistical support in his invasion of Ukraine.” The website of the Chechen Republic, for deploying troops to Ukraine, is down. The Kremlin site is down. And many, many more; the latest, the most spectacular one: “Russian state TV channels have been hacked by Anonymous to broadcast the truth about what happens in Ukraine.”

Multiple spectres of a platform war. Twitter blocks the registration of any new Russian accounts (possibly preventing the formation of bot-armies). The Instagram account of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov with 9 million followers is blocked. YouTube switches off the monetization of Russia Today. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine,” Elon Mask reports. “More terminals en route.” The weaponization of advertising is used too. Roskomnadzor demanded that Google removes the monetization restrictions placed on Zvezda TV, Sputnik and other channels for their distortion of information and propaganda. When Facebook refused such request, the state “partially restricted access” to Facebook, which also means Instagram. Glamour influencers now call for P.’s impeachment. What also should be seen in these, now fashionable, multiple acts of support (but thank you, truly!) is the role of corporate platforms in the amplification of the voices of propaganda and dictators, who have literally threatened to cut heads off, for a very long time. Their significant contribution to where we are today is already clear.

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is taken over by the Russian troops on the 24th, which opens “a disquieting nuclear dimension to the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” which is also a “brutal assault [that] violates the security guarantees that Moscow provided in 1994, when Kyiv allowed it to remove nuclear weapons left in Ukrainian territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union.” To maintain the reactor, the workers who live in a different city, Svalutych, have to travel to work by train (which I also took once in 2018 during my research in the Chernobyl Zone), but that is not possible now. On the 24th, the control levels of gamma radiation dose rate in the Exclusion zone were exceeded, significantly. “And it is currently impossible to establish the reasons for the change in the radiation background in the exclusion zone because of the occupation and military fight in this territory.” The document was issued by the director of Ecocenter. The columns of the table below read: village name / radiation level on the 24th / average level during 2021 / control level / coefficient of exceeding the control level.

The possible consequences of a missile strike on the Chernobyl nuclear power plan are dangerous, but the nuclear explosion as such (the reactor is not active, although it still is subject to maintenance) is not seen, thus far, as a highest threat. Instead, “the main danger of a bomb blast near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is that a significant part of the radioactivity is in the form of dust inside the Shelter Object. […] Violation of the NSC integrity will lead to the release of highly active dust into the environment.” A lot of radioactive dust. Also worth remembering, there are four active nuclear power plants in Ukraine containing 15 operating reactors – many of them in the current area of combat.

Two brief calls, on the 25th and 26th, with RM, who has been working with me on my Chernobyl project for three years now, my wonderful guide into the local community, who lives in a village in the outskirts of the Chernobyl Zone. She cries. “They are coming and coming!” – she speaks about tanks and airplanes moving towards Kyiv through the Zone of Exclusion. All messages are immediately deleted.

Part of my small circle of friends in Kamyanets-Podilsky in the south-west of Ukraine, where I am, have now signed the contracts with the Territorial Defence. Others are mobilized following the other Ukrainian tradition of resistance – revolutionary anarchism, or Makhnovshchina. The gender division of labour is still very traditional though in our local activism: women are weaving camouflage nets; men are making Molotov cocktails and anti-tank obstacles known as Czech hedgehogs. Serhiy is an artist and his welding instruments bought for multipurpose design appeared to be incredibly useful for that.

New waves of refugees are massively arriving every day. Yesterday I went to help Natalka drop off the bags of clothing donations. I asked a man patrolling the school which has now been turned into a refugee shelter, he said more than 400 people arrived on the 25th – this is in a single day to just one of the shelters.

On the 26th, we experienced our first siren. “Experienced,” that is, without actually hearing it. If I had not happened to be in the store downstairs, where someone received a phone call, we would have had no idea. I was without my emergency backpack and had to run to the 10th floor to grab it, and then run two blocks down the street to my parents as they have a basement (cold and wet without any possibly to sit down or lean on the walls). I called my mother and told her to grab their emergency bags and be ready to go to the basement. Exactly a year ago, she broke the spine; after several surgeries and many, many hours spent last year on learning how to walk again, she can make her way to the basement. My father, by the way, is already back to reality.

There is a military base next to their house, and the soldiers told me the alert was called off. When I arrived (a quick run between their houses and mine is probably 4-5 min), I was impressed how my 80- and 85-year-old parents were all ready and collected. I told them they could proceed with cooking dinner. The man whose apartment I rent told me the siren was for training purposes, although we were recently informed that there would be no more training sirens and no more church bells ringing (these are also used as alerts only). Yet the city telegram channels insist the threat was real and there was a rocket in our region either registered by the system or shot down (the information about it is conflicting). In the evening, the mayor’s channel sends an apologetic message confirming that, unfortunately, the siren was not heard in the majority of our town’s neighborhoods. Six sirens are finally installed, they claim, just an hour ago, as I am writing this dispatch, on the 27th, the fourth day of war.

For a long time, I’ve been fighting a horrible habit of falling asleep with a TV on. One day of war, and the habit is gone. Now when I put my head on the pillow, silence feels divine, and I can only imagine how other people, who lived through the explosions and strikes, who are wrapped in that lasting sound of war today, must feel in the moments when that disappears. When I wake up, too, silence feels orgasmic, literally, with a warm wave running through my body.

On the evening of the 26th, the SBGSU and the Armed Forces have received information that all of Snake Island defenders might be alive. As it comes through Russian media reports, the Ukrainian servicemen on the island were taken captive and sent to Sevastopol. So the legend may have another ending, despite the President having already conferred the Hero of Ukraine titles to the border guards of Snake Island – posthumously.

Photographs are by Natalka Soiko, Serhiy Kashcheev and Svitlana Matviyenko