Dispatches from the Place of Imminence, part 4

March 6-10, 2022

After a quiet day on Saturday, March 5th, there were six air raid sirens on March 6th, and I noticed that, unless the rockets hit the city, too many sirens per day can make you ignore them. If it’s two or three, your body is turned on and your mind responds by deciding where you should go – the shitty basement downstairs, or the corridor, or one flight of stairs down to the elevator. Too many sirens make you turn off the air raid alarm app, and without telling each other we all do that – my neighbours, my parents, my friends, and I. The app had two updates released already: for the first, the targeted area is narrowed to a particular region (Khmelnytsky region in my case), and then, with a second one, to a particular sub-region or “community” (спільнота) as they called it (“Kamyanets-Podilsky community”). There were rocket strikes in my region: a small town Starokostyantyniv, about 100 km from us, has a military airport (the air base of the 7th brigade of tactical aviation of the Ukrainian Air Force), which was hit by up to ten missiles (some of which shot down), leaving three people wounded (and I believe one of them died). The missile strikes on civilian “objects” can now be seen on an interactive map, which shows only one strike in our region on February 25th, however these ten strikes, perhaps because they hit a military air base, are not mapped. March 8th was quiet, and today, March 9th, is quiet and sunny. I put on my home clothing – the first time, since the beginning of the war.

We are one of the islands, along with several other regions, where people can briefly rest on their long way to remote places here and abroad or hide, temporarily or permanently. And if my emotions are cancelled for the time being, I see people deteriorating in front of my eyes – my neighbour having a brutal breakdown, with hallucinations and paranoia at the scale I have never seen before. [As I am writing these lines, the air raid siren goes off, I call my mother asking her to move to the safe room, but myself, I am staying on a couch in my home clothing and I keep writing].

The intensity of the multichannel information flow makes one implode; it rips the mind apart by conflictual news, speculations, and conspiracies mixed with more or less rational accounts, which are, admittedly, extremely scarce. And there are corpses, corpses, corpses, and the heartbreaking photographs of people on the run. I do not scroll feeds or streams up and down. From the beginning of the war, I found my own geometry of information consumption and processing. I follow only two or three official or semi-official Telegram channels and if I see a theme that seems important, I slowly explore it diagonally, following it though different media strata, studying the close and remote contexts, and then I engage with it directly in this diary – my sanity praxis, my reality ordering – every time thanking everyone who encouraged me to keep writing. This is my narrative and I control it. [The air raid siren stops].

On March 6th, however, I made a mistake of going on Facebook where I saw the debates among academics about whether a No Fly Zone should be implemented. Unlike many in Ukraine and abroad, I do not have the answer to this dilemma. I really do not know what is worse. I do not want a full-scale WW3 erupting suddenly with all arsenals engaged; if indeed a No Fly Zone would cause that (I am not an expert), it would certainly bring an end to the not-yet-multiplanetary species. But, if you have already chosen us as a sacrifice in your rationalisations of our distant chaos, I wish I heard more horror in the words with which the matter of our life and death is waged so easily and with all that smartness, when one has no slightest idea how far ideological mapping could be from the dirty and blurry realities of war on the ground. When one builds these arguments hiding behind their bulletproof volumes of Nietzsche-Marx-Bataille, or using the outdated – but so comfortable – cold-war conceptual apparatuses, I swear, I see – so vividly – how theories that I teach and by which I live – turn to ashes.

Many keep their emotions at bay with the help of physical labour. Eleven days of war and there is no need for Czech hedgehogs anymore in Kamyanets-Podilsky – it seems there would be enough of those to cover all the agricultural fields around town. Our newly-turned welders are now tasked with producing metal shelves for the bomb shelters; and there is an extreme shortage of beds there – people sleep however and wherever. On March 8th, the mayor reported that our town is hosting 18,000 refugees from various parts of the country.

While the word imminence still well describes our being in Kamyanets-Podilsky, the situation is highly critical in many parts of Ukraine: Kharkiv (where the city center and residential buildings are hit 29 times by Smerch rockets on the night of March 10th alone), Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv and many small towns in their proximity are continuously shelled and bombed; Kherson and Mariupol are taken by the Russian troops and their infrastructure is destroyed – no electricity, no water; no food, no meds, many dead bodies on the streets, they are buried in mass graves; the connection with some villages near the Chernobyl Zone, through which the Russian troops are moving towards Kyiv, is lost; so the situation in all these places can only be described as humanitarian catastrophe. At the attempt to evacuate people from Mariupol, which the Russians targeted the most because it opens up the land connection to Crimea, the Red Cross discovered that the evacuation route out was mined. The city is mined, too.

My work has always been about surveillance and the visibility of the cyberwar subject, but the level of personalization in this war is shocking even to me. We know there are no faceless armies anymore, but when everyone from a soldier to a general can be identified by name, and are “discoverable” on social media with all their relatives and pals, you can see everyone is a user by design. And when you know that these family men hugging their wives and kids on photos also fire the artillery targeting children’s hospitals or shoot at people moving through a humanitarian corridor, you understand that an invader’s brain is rewired to create a gap or a non-correspondence between several realities.

Propaganda helps, undoubtably, to maintain such disconnection; the Russian talking head, Solovjov, continues to insist that Ukrainian Nazis are responsible for bombing of Mariupol maternity hospital, but seriously, if various Ukrainian political specters were shelling and bombing their own cities, the Russians should have probably won their blitzkrieg by now. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov, however, confirms that the maternity hospital was targeted by the Russians because, he says, they considered it the station of Azov, and accuses the international media of staging documented scenes of wounded pregnant women and nurses. The Russian disinformation is spectacularly inconsistent – is that strategic or their laziness or maybe they just don’t give fuck?

The Center of Defence Strategies reported obtaining a list of 120,000 Russian troops fighting in Ukraine with full names, identification numbers, and their places of service. It’s a 6,616 page document. The volunteers call their relatives in Russia asking whether they know that their sons and husbands are sent to war in Ukraine and why they let them go. Many reports about personalized targeting by calls and text messages: the recipients are soldiers, regular people, and the members of municipal administrations – all asked to surrender and sent direct threats. With all this in mind, I cannot help thinking of what Sean Penn, who is part of the Vice documentary team filming in Ukraine, is doing in the midst of things? Kim Zetter is right to raise concerns about Penn being brought into Zelensky’s secret location by reminding us how in 2016 he spectacularly burned the hiding location of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán by metadata trails, whom he either interviewed for Rolling Stone magazine or, even better, discussed a potential scenario with him for a Hollywood movie about Guzmán’s life.

The 2014 ousted President Yanukovych has resurfaced. His airplane has been identified in Minsk on March 2nd and, as Ukrainska Pravda reported, prior to that it had made several stops: Moscow – Orenburg, Orenburg – Moscow, Moscow – Murmansk, Murmansk – Sochi, Sochi – Moscow, Moscow – Sochi, Sochi – Moscow, Moscow – Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg – Moscow, and finally, Moscow – Minsk. Yanukovych stayed in Belarus until March 7th, sending his appeals to Zelensky and the Ukrainian people via Russian propaganda channel RIA Novosti, waiting for the end of the blitzkrieg and the reinstalment of his presidency; but he had to leave. Yanukovych is no marginal or accidental figure to remind us about his existence at this moment. The framing of the Russian so-called “denazification operation” is directly linked to Yanukovych as the word “Nazi” was first used in his presidential campaign of 2004 (against Yushchenko) under the curation of the Russian political strategists, designed to create the imaginary divide of the country as “east” and “west”, and conquer the east.

The developments of the ongoing case of Russia’s nuclear terrorism are the following: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) loses contact with safeguards monitoring systems at Chernobyl, and they reported on March 8th that all systems monitoring nuclear material at the radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl have stopped transmitting data to the UN nuclear watchdog. For unknown reasons, the Chernobyl NPP’s power was cut off yesterday and it is currently impossible to repair and restore it. Ukrenergo explains that a ceasefire is needed for the repair teams to be admitted, who have been waiting for an agreement to leave for repairs since March 8th. Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba reported that two reserve generators are now being used, but they will be exhausted in 48 hours (on March 11th); and the Head of Ukrainian Energoatom, Petro Kotin explained on March 9th that without fixing it, the critical temperature at the Chernobyl NPP will be reached in seven days. The IAEA, however, insisted in a statement made prior to losing contact with monitoring systems, that the satiation is not critical and there is no imminent threat: the spent fuel from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, they explain, had cooled down enough and “the pool is sufficient to maintain effective heat removal without the need for electrical supply.” Imminency – throughout.

In December 2021 and in February 2022, I wrote two Canadian research grants for two projects. One titled “Chernobyl Science” was about the formation of the “an international research polygon,” the Chernobyl Zone, that has attracted national and international scholars by its unique setting where life and non-life forms interact under the long exposure to ionizing radiation, and aimed to study the impact of this accidental lab and the possibilities it opened for science (the idea generously given to me by Denis Vishnevsky, the Head of the Chernobyl Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve, on a lovely day in October 2021 in Kyiv: “Why don’t you write about that?” he said). The other project, “Border as Medium: The Case of the Chernobyl Zone” was designed to study the infrastructural history of the Zone’s border. And there is no border anymore – erased by this war and will have to be reconsidered after it, probably, given how far the tanks carry the radioactive dust. I hoped to investigate how the border operates as a medium in memory work, how it sets the relation of different social groups – workers, visitors, self-settlers and the police – to the catastrophe and how this relation impacts the memory about the Soviet nuclear colonialism. There was a closing section there, a new addition to the SSHRC applications during COVID, “COVID-19 Contingency Plan;” as I was writing it on February 1st, several weeks before the invasion, I was so tempted to add that given the situation, this is also my “War Contingency Plan,” but I did not. I hope, though, it will be read this way by the SSHRC committee. But maybe I am just too naïve.

My neighbours are gone, and I have no basement companions anymore. They left this morning westward, some place closer to the border. It seems I am alone here in my building. Complete silence. My town with the surrounding villages and its medieval castle, that I see from my window as the tallest building in town, is divine. Could I imagine that having left it more than twenty years ago, my encounter with my town would be under all these circumstances?