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Shelling in a Country at War - First Hand Encounter

Serge AApr 29, 2022 (0)

Here is a personal account of what it is like to live in a place that finds itself under constant bombings and rocket attacks. After more than two months at war, I can almost barely remember what it was like not hearing air raid sirens and this is precisely why I would like to capture this notion while it is still in my memory. Even though the contrast between living under a peaceful sky and tracing rockets through the air is still drastic, I found myself getting more and more used to the state of anticipation, anticipation of explosions. It seems that my psyche already perceives this dreaded situation as a part of normal life. While it is not and I want to do my best to describe it before it decimates into memories of emotionless facts. It seems that when people say that a person can get used to anything, it's true. I am a living example of this. Of course, I turn wary every time there's that long sounding horn running through the air, but if I compare it to two months ago - this sound doesn't impact me as much as it did before. 


 As I am writing this I am sheltering for safety. Alongside me, there is my seven-year-old and my wife; also my dog who hasn't the slightest clue that it is time to hide and starts barking at the sound of the alarm and turbine engines. My daughter is watching YouTube nonchalantly and my wife is staring at her phone screen. The Ukrainian government created an electronic service, which allows you to see if your region of the country is in danger. This is what the map of possible strikes looks like at the moment when I am writing this.

Air raid alarm map of Ukraine — Thursday, April 28th, 2022 at 7:45 pm.


The outer borders of what is depicted on the map is the whole country of Ukraine along with the occupied Crimea in the south. The parts highlighted in red are dangerous areas of the country at this particular time. Officials also created messenger channels that immediately report in case of an air raid alarm if you do not hear the siren. This is for people in the so called dead zone or for the hearing impaired.

A screenshot of an air raid alarm message from Telegram.

The message is of course in Ukrainian but here goes the translation - “!!Siren. Dnipro!! !! !! !! Attention! Announcement of an alarm, everyone must take cover !! !! !! 18:14 (time stamp) !! If you received this message while driving, we ask that you blow the horn five long beeps, to inform others about the beginning of the alarm!!”. Notice people's reaction to this message. Thumbs down obviously means that people are unhappy, some people leave a thumbs up as a way of being grateful for the message. As these messages are sent manually. Ukrainian air raid alarm is still old school and doesn't incorporate new age tech to sync it with a messenger app. On a normal day there are around five of these give or take. Now, of course there were days when we hadn't even had one but those are the days that you really want to drink to. You literally want to come home and take a sip of something just to commemorate a day without alarms because this already seems like an achievement. We already have a tradition with regards to alarms. Whenever there is an alarm, people start messaging each other from different parts of the country in anticipation of a strike and traditional someone will write “В-ремо в ЗСУ” - this is translated as - we believe in Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is more than likely that in group chats, like the one I am a part of, shortly after an alarm, like the one that lights the country in red, is announced, you will read about a rocket strike soon. The government asks us not to share the exact locations of the strikes. This is because there could be spies in group chats who can use this information to correct targets and launch another rocket if the Russian army missed and hit a residential building for example. So if a rocket strike happens, the announcement in chats sounds something like, “Odessa - landing”. We get the name of the city, which is non specific. The part that says landing means that an explosion happened. Even though we all know each other in this chat, we have no specifics about some people and prefer to take caution in disclosing information.


So we take cover and wait to get another message from an alarm messenger channel, which looks like this:


This one translates as: “!! Siren. Dnipro!! Attention! All Clear 13:32 (timestamps) !! If you received this message while driving, we ask that you blow the horn three short beeps!!”. This is a time when we can leave cover and theoretically go about your business. Notice people's reactions to this message. Of those who react, there are 1800 likes and 38 thumbs down. If you were to take a wild guess, who do you think is monitoring these channels and is disappointed about the fact that an air raid is cancelled? If your guess was Russians, you are correct. Out of almost 30% of the city's population who monitor this Telegram channel, only some react and of those who react there are literally spies who are sad that an alarm has stopped. These channels were created in almost all popular messengers to cover as wide of an audience as possible. Next time you hear that regular Russian people are suffering because of the sanctions, think about those who are unhappy because an air raid alarm was canceled in a local city Telegram channel. 


 So we still sit here and wait, at this very point in time. Not long ago we received message that looks like this:


 This one is in Russian as Ukrainians welcome all languages despite what Putin believes and it translates as the following - “! There was no all-clear message given”. It is a reminder to people that even though it is 8:39 pm and this air raid alarm started at 6:14 pm - so over two hours ago - we are still not clear to leave cover. 


 So, where do you hide at times like this? Some may answer basements. Well, some basements could work, if they have at least 2 exits, ventilation, water and food supply and communications. After all, if you're in the basement and your house collapses on you, you can expect to be there for quite some time while hoping that it's not forever. There is also a downside to basements. In shelling, there exists something called a direct hit. This is when you first get unlucky that there is a crazy manic called Putin who is bombing your country and then you get unlucky a second time when a huge missile falls directly into your house and explodes. In this case, unfortunately, there is nothing that can save you aside from specialised bomb shelters, which are by the way available to the public. It's just that it will take too long to get there for most people in a city that is one million large. So, we hide wherever we can. I for example use the two walls system. This is when you have to make sure that between the place where you are hiding and the outside world there are at least two stone walls - yes stone. If you live in a frame house, you might as well not do anything during the alarm, because although there is nothing that can help you if there is a direct strike, the two wall system has a good chance of stopping the missile shatters and debris, which are the main causes of injury and death from a missile attack. In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought that I could be a source of such information. 


 We sit here and wait. As I write this, there is still no all-clear message. We hope that the Russian army will miss and hit a field. We believe in our Armed Forces of Ukraine with all our hearts and we sometimes shriek - a bit - after hearing a strange sound. Have a boring evening or day because this type of action is something you never want. Take my word for it.

Serge A is of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Brooklyn and is volunteering in Ukraine as a legally armed member of a Territorial Defense Group. He was a columnist for the newspaper at Pace University which he attended as an undergrad. 


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