A Sidney-based author and global affairs analyst reporting directly from western Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion says recent air strikes in the region have given the conflict a different dimension.
“As I speak to you, there is an air raid siren,” Michael Bociurkiw said in a message to Black Press Media sent Tuesday afternoon Lviv time. “It’s like the fourth, I think, in the past 24 hours, and we had one at 3 in the morning. In my case, you sleep with your passport in your pocket, your satellite phone, a bag packed, anything you need to leave quickly. But since we last spoke, the mood has definitely changed here in Lviv.”
Bociurkiw, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, commented days after Russian airstrikes hit targets in the city, located 60 kilometres from the Polish border. Lviv had until recently escaped the bombardment and fighting evident in eastern Ukraine since the launch of the invasion on Feb. 24.
“I can see the smoke from where I stay and I could hear the explosions,” Bociurkiw said. “Since then, a lot of people have left. It’s less congested in the sense that a lot of displaced people who (had come) here have gone elsewhere. This city is on edge for sure. People are nervous. When these explosions happened two or three days ago, it really brought the war to Lviv.”
Elsewhere, the war has caused thousands of deaths. A March 22 report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights speaks of 2,571 civilian casualties with 977 killed, a figure likely higher in reality. According to published reports, NATO estimates the number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine since the start of the invasion at between 7,000 and 15,000, while Ukraine has yet to release official figures about its own casualties.
These figures exist against the backdrop of physical destruction that Bociurkiw called “absolutely mind-boggling.” He pegged potential reconstruction costs at $65 billion.
Ukraine has also seen the displacement of 10 million people, who either find themselves on the run within the country or outside of it. “There is no time in modern history where we have seen so many people leave in such a short time,” he said.
This displacement has coincided with an outpouring of generosity for Ukrainian refugees by other countries and the collection of resources for those remaining inside of the country. Such efforts have also happened on the Saanich Peninsula, where Sidney’s Boondocks Bar and Grill recently hosted a benefit concert.
Bociurkiw recorded a video greeting for that event. “It felt just really, really nice to be connected with Sidney that way,” he said.
A Ukrainian speaker with familial roots in the Lviv region, Bociurkiw said Ukrainians have welcomed this type of support. “But the Ukrainians, I have to say, are feeling very kind of on their own right now, because the West still cannot come up with the spine to provide what it needs in terms of military jets, attack helicopters, that sort of thing.”
Speaking as an analyst, he said everything needs to be done to stop the war as soon as possible, given that local expectations around ongoing diplomatic negotiations are low.
“This isn’t only a war that Ukraine is dealing with, this is a war for a thriving democracy, this is a war that could easily cross into western Europe, into NATO’s eastern flank, cause massive displacement and worse,” he said.
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