“Are you alive?” – colleague and partner in a radio show Serhiy Fursa texted me one morning. It was the end of March.
I immediately understood that the powerful unpleasant sounds of flying objects I had heard a few minutes before were Russian ballistic missiles.
I looked out of the window and saw a column of black smoke rising into the sky somewhere in Lviv’s center.
Five Russian missiles hit Lviv that morning leaving seven dead and dozens wounded. Serhiy saw three of them flying over his house from his balcony but failed to take a video.
This was the third Russian missile attack on Lviv.
“Are we going to do our radio program today?” – I asked him in return. – “Why not?” – he replied.
So we did. Since I settled in Lviv we did more than 40 radio shows in a row. Every day, including weekends, always around lunchtime.
In Lviv, I settled in an apartment rented by a male colleague of mine, a partner in an investment banking firm that owns our media house. All partners in the company, including the Czech owner, moved to Lviv. Even though a Czech passport allowed him to leave Ukraine, he decided to stay with his people.
We were lucky to get an apartment for two in Lviv. Other investment bankers in the company (that was partially owned by Goldman Sachs) in charge of equities, securities trading, real estate, etc have to share apartments for four people, sometimes for five.
Hundreds of thousands of people from Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kyiv, etc fled bombs and missiles in their cities, a lot of them to Western Ukraine.
Lviv is packed with refugees from all over Ukraine. Finding accommodation is next to impossible, we are more than lucky.
We even joked that we shouldn’t invite any colleagues over to our flat as they may stop talking to us when they see that we share an apartment for only two.
There are only two problems with our flat. Well, since the start of the war I redefined the concept of what a problem is. So the first one is rather an inconvenience: I have to share the bed with a man.
We went to the store and purchased separate pillows and blankets for each of us, of course.
But, God, I sleep with a man in one bed for 45 days now. Life will never be the same!
As with any real estate, the main thing you have to care about is location. And that is definitely a problem with our place. No, it’s not far in the suburb, it is almost in the center. But it’s close to a huge military unit and local headquarters of SBU, Ukraine’s security service.
That makes our area a primary target for Russian missiles. The missile threat in Lviv is no longer hypothetical.
There were two missile attacks on Lviv and, if the third one comes, it is likely to be here.
A Kazakhstani ambassador who resided a few blocks away from us told me he had been advised by his security to relocate to a different area, which he did.
When during a conversation the locals find out where we live, they all joke the owner should pay us, not vice versa. And we are on the top floor, so it is a jackpot.
The military unit next to us has a sort of outdoor museum area with lots of old dysfunctional Soviet-era military equipment on display such as tanks, artillery, and rocket launchers.
They are museum pieces and are as old T-34 tank monuments throughout GDR. We were ironizing that given the poor quality of Russian intelligence and satellite imagery they may perceive these museum items as a threat and strike. And that’s where it stops being funny.
After several destructive Russian missile attacks in Ukraine that killed dozens of soldiers at one strike in military units, the Ukrainian military obviously has a new protocol. When the airstrike warning pierces the city, hundreds of military personnel with Kalashnikov guns stream out of the military base next to us – so that there is no concentration of soldiers in one place - and for hours hang out in parks and residential backyards in our street.
Air raid sirens come every day and every night, usually about 3-4 a.m. You can hear it throughout the whole city. It is ubiquitous. It gets stuck in your head for long.
After a few hours always comes the second air raid siren informing us that the danger is over. I still can’t distinguish between the two. If you miss the first one at night, you think the second one is a start of an airstrike attack. Sometimes we would ask each other – is this the first or the second one? To aggravate things a bit, my apartment mate has downloaded an application on his phone notifying him of a coming airstrike with a tremendous alarm.
So he jumps up in bed and I can hear it. And nobody can sleep after that. That is the case when digital technology is evil.
Russian missile attacks are no joke. They arrive with the distinct smell of death. Even though they mostly target military infrastructure and oil depots, they hit civilian targets – which in normal language translates as ordinary Ukrainians – on numerous occasions, killing thousands. In Syria, Russia used about 100 missiles over five years. In Ukraine Russian military launched a downpour of over 1500 missiles in the first month and half of the war alone. Some of them are launched from Belarus, others – from bombers over the Black Sea. Their shooting range leaves nobody in Ukraine immune.
Strange but everybody in Lviv got used to airstrike warnings. I ran in the park this morning when an air raid siren sounded. It made almost no visible effect – parents continued strolling with children, and seniors didn’t leave their conversations on the benches.
Only one grandma loudly told a little 4-year girl she took on a walk next to me: “Don’t panic, we’ll be alright”.
The real truth is that you can’t get used to air raid sirens.
The first thing I’d like to do after the war is to go somewhere abroad where I can’t hear airstrike warnings at least for two weeks.
This story was first published by DIE ZEIT. NV is republishing it with permission.