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Serge AMay 2, 2022 (0)
Living during war time is emotionally and psychologically daunting to say the least. It's not the bombs and rocket strikes that get you so much, although in the beginning it was. It is that you are constantly living in a waiting room. Imagine your whole life consisting of being at the doctor's office waiting for your doctor to come out and give you bad news or good news. But, there is something that you must understand here, now all news that is not bad is in fact good.
I remember the first air strikes, as was mentioned in the earlier articles they were a mile or two away from my house. Then, there were rocket strikes that were shot down by the Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense systems as the Russians were again trying to hit that same target. I believe this was the third strike on the same position. Just when I thought that this whole thing couldn't get any scarier, it did. You see, after the explosions, I tracked the rocket trajectory. I researched and learned from various information sources, which showed the perceivable take off positions of these missiles, if we assume that rockets fly in a straight line, drawing a line from the take off position to the designated target, put them 300 yards from my house. The information sources gave approximately the same position for the launch sites. No matter how I drew the trajectory line to the target, it always put the missiles almost over the roof of my house. I tried. I honestly tried again and again to draw the same line. I wanted this line to be different. Firstly, I did not want to realize that this rocket flew right over the roof of my house. But, there was no denying. When the anti-aircraft systems shot down some missiles, I was in my house and people might know what that feels like, but not many. It feels like you are sitting inside a drum and the drum player continuously smashes that bass drum for ten seconds, but nonetheless, this was the longest ten seconds of my life. So, as for me, there was no denying that my trajectory was correct.
Map view. The red cross marks my house. The dotted blue line is the missile trajectory.
I tried time and time again to draw that line differently even after the understanding of reality settled because I was thinking about how in the world am I going to explain this to my wife, while acting like there is nothing really going on by the way. I needed to control my emotions. If not for control, my wife would drown in panic. Then there is my daughter - she is seven - who I persistently watched focusing on me and her mother, me and mother again. She was trying to understand whose reaction to believe, her panicky mom or her dad. She watched and didn't panic. She later told me that since I didn't panic and she didn't panic, while mom is the only one who panicked, that made two against one and majority wins. On one hand it is a burden to always force yourself to be seemingly unaffected but on the other it's a blessing because your attitude passes on to your child giving you a peace of mind that at least she is not losing herself in all this. We are all driven to help our children, for those who have them will understand.
I drew the line again, but it was still the same old story. I took the best case scenario positioning the launch at the westernmost reported launch site, it made no difference. Instead of 300 yards, it came out to 350. Fifty yards does not buy you solace. So there's me trying to make a line on a map app, right out of Neil Peart's bass drum (RollingStone's number four best drummer of all time), looking at my wife trembling trying to act like I didn't notice what happened. Now, as I am writing this, it is somewhat humorous but it definitely wasn't then.
The reason why I couldn't get a result that was more to my liking was that the launch happened from occupied Crimea. In a straight line trajectory that is anywhere from 400 to 500 miles. Since I knew what the Russians were trying to hit, it didn't matter much on how I moved the launch site.
Map view. The dotted line marks the launch site in Crimea and target point. The possible reported launch sites differed by 15 to 20 miles, which made almost no difference on the missile trajectory near the strike zone.
I couldn't really sleep that night not because I was nervous - I don't think I can be nervous about a missile because there comes an understanding that a freak projectile of this sort relinquishes you of any control of your life. I was rather trying to contemplate how little we know about our lives. Today, you'll wake up and start getting ready for work. You'll probably pass by your local Starbucks and you think that you have it all figured out. I was that guy too. I thought that my life was mundane and cyclical. I also thought that I knew what my Saturday night was going to look like. As it turns out, by the will of one mad man and his slaves, you my friends can't be too sure either. The difference between you and me is that I already understand this and you are trying to talk yourself out of understanding it. Please don't take this as a challenge. We all look for excuses to justify that our deepest fears will never come to life. Just like my seven-ear-old was tracking my reaction to understand if the time for being scared had finally come. She didn't want to make this decision for herself.
I was also awake during that night because it was my turn to take night watch in my neighborhood. We take a few laps around the blocks in our community, through completely dark streets. This is because we take blackout measures, the whole city and nearby areas. At 10 pm the whole city goes dark. It's not because we do not know about technology and that rockets don't care. It's because we are cautious that the Russians might aim at heavily lit areas assuming that there is a heavy concentration of civilians. Blackouts also make spotters' jobs a lot harder. Experience has taught us that whenever there is a missile attack, there is always a spotter nearby on the ground, to correct fire in case of a miss. It's not that he can't see in the dark, it's that our military, territorial defense and police will have a much better chance to spot him. The 10 pm curfew helps too. So, I made a few rounds in the dark, monitored our designated radio frequency and checked footage from a few cameras that are set up around the neighborhood by our community.
There were a few things that I remembered from that night. I was sadly entertained that I am out in the complete darkness, where the possible enemy could spot me better than I can spot him - I do not have a night vision device - and yet there's me traveling solo that night. I can tell you that amazing things happen when you're in that fight mode coupled with total darkness. You literally hear things closer than they really are. I started noticing this earlier but that night I was sure. I heard my neighbor's cat from like a block and half away as if it were a couple of feet from me. It also surprised me that I am actually not scared of being outside in the darkness like that after what happened. My guess is that people are creatures of contrast. If you're afraid of the dark, try surviving an X55 missile explosion over your head. Your nyctophobia goes right out of the window, I tell you. We have enough men in our neighborhood to rotate every 3 hours during night shift, so I was home at around 4 am.
So you go through this for two months. Constant shockwaves, explosions, news from the front line and you think that you are sort of used to this life, but no. Today, I received a message from my friend at the front line who was in the city on rotation and was deployed on the 23rd of April. He is a part of a field intelligence platoon. They walked right into a trap while working behind enemy lines. No one died, but many were injured. They got out alive but they also lost almost all of their equipment. I would like to make a point here that you can't fight the whole war with one tank. Tanks go bad faster than your Toyota Camrys. There is no one shooting at your Camry while you're driving to work. Here is a definite confirmation that military equipment is needed on a constant supply line and not just random unexpected shipments.
Today's news about my buddies made me a bit anxious, especially because their commander couldn't chat much. Of course you understand, there is shrapnel in his thigh. On one hand you want to know more, but on the other you catch yourself thinking - Are you kidding me they're in the hospital?
Imagine this whole story above in one single day - these types of days are what happens everyday in Ukraine. Someone out there gets bad news from loved ones and then they cheer at the success of our artillery that could fight off another Russian attack headed their way. In the end, you are totally confused because you never thought that it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time - simultaneously. My buddies getting hurt is a real heartbreaker for me. Up till now, I had never seen someone badly hurt like that. So, just when I thought that after more than two months, chaotic war is my day-to-day, from here on out, it is clear, I can never get used to this.
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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