You never know how you’ll react to a missile strike until it happens for real. I’ve done lots of security training, so knew I was ‘theoretically’ prepared for fragile environments. I was in Sudan when last year’s coup started, a good reminder of how dangerous our work can be. Heading to support the GOAL Ukraine office meant that the theory might just become a reality. Friends from the Balkans have told me stories of days spent trapped in basements, listening to explosions overhead. I could empathise with their frightening stories, but it was not my lived experience. Not until last Monday in Kyiv.
An Air of Defiance
Kyiv is a beautiful, cultured capital city, attractively built on rolling hills next to the Dnipro River in north central Ukraine. Under normal circumstances, it would be a stunning place for a city break with galleries, museums, restaurants, bars, and a rich history to keep you busy. But Kyiv has a different face today. Anti-tank defences lie waiting by the main roads, gun emplacements are situated at strategic junctions and armed checkpoints are common. Historic monuments are boarded up to protect them from missile damage, and the sound of air-raid sirens blare out at regular intervals, warning residents to take shelter from the incoming aerial threat. There is a palpable sense of defiance in Kyiv’s fiercely proud inhabitants, but there is also a real sense of fear. We all watch the skies more nervously than we would ever have done before.
Watching the Skies
Last Monday I stood and watched a missile strike, felt the ground shake, and saw a plume of smoke go up in the air. This Monday morning, a week later, I was woken by the blast of a kamikaze drone strike in my district. I heard the whine of another airborne drone and the crackle of gunfire as the ground-based troops tried to shoot it down. Part of the fear you feel is the randomness of the strikes – one hit a playground, another hit a busy intersection. They appear indiscriminate, and could hit anywhere, anytime and anyone.
Being in Kyiv at this time is worrying, but not nearly as worrying as it must be for the residents of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, or many other cities, towns and villages that have been devastated by short range shelling. In those places, people that have remained face daily bombardment or occupation. Those that have escaped face an uncertain future with regards to their homes, families, friends and livelihoods.
GOAL staff in Ukraine are working hard to capitalise on strategic partnerships with local NGOs, city councils and oblast (county) level authorities to support shelters and centres for internally displaced people, and to help provide protection services to support the most vulnerable in communities torn apart by war. We have also managed to set up an office, and HR, logistics and procurement systems in extremely challenging circumstances. Thanks to GOAL’s Emergency Response Unit, we have the data and strategic links in place to seek longer-term funding to help ensure GOAL is a key part of the international response as long as it needs to be.
So how did I react when the missile struck? I did the same thing anyone would do and ran like hell to the nearest shelter.