As Chief Editor of Kyiv Post, who commutes regularly between my home in Barcelona, Spain, where I direct our work remotely, and my office in Kyiv, I am able to note the changes in mood and atmosphere in the Ukrainian capital.

So here is what I’m seeing and hearing in early March, just after the second anniversary of Russia’s launching its full-scale genocidal war against Ukraine.

Clearly, there is something of a gloomy, no, read resigned, feeling about the place. The will to resist and determination to fight on is very much still here. But it is tempered by the uncertainty about how long the war may last and if Western support, so desperately awaited, will arrive in time and in the quantities needed.

Inevitably there is the fear that Ukraine might be let down, if not abandoned, at this increasingly critical juncture.

There are concerns about the US, with Trump seemingly headed for victory in the presidential elections in November if the courts don’t stop him, and Biden and his team still apparently not certain if they want Russia to actually be defeated. 


Then there’s Europe, with all the positive and negative developments intertwined: support from the EU, but uncertainty about how soon Ukraine can expect to be integrated; NATO and its reluctant readiness to accept Ukraine; Macron vying with and against Scholz, and unexpected problems with Poland, Orban, etc.

So, inevitably there is the fear that Ukraine might be let down, if not abandoned, at this increasingly critical juncture.

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 20, 2024
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And, on top of this, there is weariness. Psychological above all, but also from the strains caused by constant Russian attacks and threats, financial hardship, division of families and the realization that things might get worse before they get better.

What’s at stake

There’s also still a lingering sense of disbelief that the Russians have yet again proved so cruel, or rather barbaric, supporting – whether at home or abroad – a chauvinist, anti-Western despot, a cold-blooded murderer, who along with his cronies denies the very existence of a distinct Ukrainian people and their culture, history and internationally recognized statehood, who wants to see Ukraine as such wiped of the face of the earth.


This and the horrendous crimes committed by the Russians, backed by their crude lies and narratives, have only served to bolster the unification of Ukraine’s population, regardless of whether they prefer to speak Ukrainian or Russian, their regional location, religion or ethnicity, and accelerate the crystallization of a modern democratic European-oriented political nation.

By now, too much blood has been spilled by Russia, too much material damage inflicted, and too much hatred generated, for any compromise to be worked out. It is an us-or-them situation.

Ukrainians are proud that they have withstood the massive Russian assault and fought back heroically. They are convinced that they are fighting not only for their freedom but defending Europe and the democratic world.  

They nevertheless recognize the terrible toll it has meant and still demands. Yet from what I sense, even if it comes to the worst, most will be prepared to fight in whatever way to the bitter end for their country and liberty.


That is, at least those who have remained in the country and are prepared to do so. Of course, millions of Ukrainians have left as refugees, but many have returned and continue to return. Not all of the men who managed to get out in time, legally or by dubious means, want to avoid conscription.

And within Ukraine itself the attitude towards the shortage not only of arms from the Western supporters, but of soldiers at the front, is a very hot topic. Especially as the Ukrainian parliament is expected in the next weeks to adopt a long overdue mobilization law broadening the scope of conscription. 

For someone like me, born in the United Kingdom, it is very strange and disconcerting to hear about the resistance to mobilizing the maximum number of able-bodied men in defense of a country facing a savage enemy intent on destroying it. Why should so many die at the front, while others, calling themselves patriots and expecting increased Western support, sit it out and hope they will be exempted from fulfilling their national and civil duty?

Why the delay in getting full-scale mobilization under way? The rumor mill blames President Volodymyr Zelensky, and in particular his inner circle within the President’s Office, as being too concerned with the impact on his popularity and ratings if he does what’s needed and promotes a general mobilization during what is, after all, a full-scale war for survival.


By now, too much blood has been spilled by Russia, too much material damage inflicted, and too much hatred generated, for any compromise to be worked out. It is an us-or-them situation.

And what about Zelensky and company?

The role and de facto powers Zelensky has assigned to his inner circle within the President’s Office is another serious source of concern and disapproval. He is acknowledged by domestic political friends and foes as a great wartime leader and communicator to the outside world. But…

Everyone I talk to understands that a president during wartime needs to have a reliable group of aides and advisors at his or her side. Nonetheless, more and more people, even among the President Zelensky’s supporters, consider that he has overdone it and permitted the creation of an unelected “shadow government” around him.

That its members, appointed solely by the President, have been allowed to usurp the roles of a democratic nation’s primary policy shapers – i.e., ministry heads and diplomats –bestowing upon the President’s personal gatekeepers undue influence in the scheme of checks and balances, approval and disapproval.

The immense, many consider excessive, sway of Zelensky’s head of the President’s Office, Andriy Yermak, is a topic constantly raised in discussions with people I meet in Kyiv, whether Ukrainians or foreigners. Why has Zelensky allowed Yermak to become the manifest gray cardinal, the power behind the presidential throne and a de facto foreign minister, despite his lack of qualifications for this role, and, more importantly, publicly endorsed him in this regard? 


What is his hold over the President? And here speculation abounds, from Yermak’s reported intimate knowledge as a lawyer about the history of Zelensky’s financial dealings, to the President’s isolation, loneliness at the top, and dependence on trusted “right-hands.” 

Remember Zelensky’s experience in the early part of his presidency with the first head of the President’s Office? The over-ebullient Andriy Bohdan, another lawyer, was eventually ditched and replaced with the overtly more reserved Yermak. People have not forgotten this.

Zelensky has carried the fight to the oligarchs and largely clipped their wings. But there are worries that despite the fight against corruption, it is flourishing in new ways in the tempting conditions provided by wartime.

Is the president’s inner circle outright damaging Ukraine’s interests by taking on too much and pandering too much their chief’s impulses and preferences? For example, sidelining the foreign and other ministries. Why, expats and representatives of the business community ask, was the very capable Ukrainian ambassador to London removed so abruptly in July 2023 and to this day no replacement appointed? Surely there are enough seasoned senior Ukrainian diplomats who could fill that role in a country so supportive of Ukraine.


And for a president regarded as a great international communicator, why the perceived failures at home in the area of transparency? Why, for instance, the initial lack of proper openness over the replacement of former Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny? Who wanted them removed?

Corruption is another topic that’s very much in the air. My interlocutors acknowledge that Zelensky has carried the fight to the oligarchs and largely clipped their wings. But they are worried that despite the proclaimed fight against corruption, it is flourishing in new ways in the tempting conditions provided by wartime. 

The questions being raised are whether enough is being done in this regard, and whether the situation is permitting dubious new pressure on legitimate business to be applied by those claiming to be acting in the interest of the state.

And at the local level, questions are also being levelled at the mayor of the capital, Vitali Klitschko, and his team. Why has the city and its infrastructure been allowed to become so run-down – from metro routes, to bridges across the Dnipro, to air raid shelters? Why the expenditure at this time on repaving and resurfacing some of the city’s most touristic streets, which is surely not a priority?

Darkness and light

Yes,  the inhabitants of Kyiv have plenty to discuss and worry about. Yet they respond as best they can to the incessant air raid sirens and other constant difficulties created by the war. The spirit of solidarity remains strong and the volunteer work and raising of money to support the troops is impressive.

Cultural life has also been boosted by the genocidal attack on Ukrainian identity launched by Russia. The main theatres in the capital are full, and venues for Ukrainian music, poetry and stand-up comedy have multiplied. More Ukrainian can be heard today in Kyiv than probably ever before.

But along with that, the number of men in uniform on the streets has increased, as have the small blue and yellow flags on the Maidan Square each symbolizing a fallen warrior or civilian victim. A curfew is still in force from midnight to five a.m., and restaurants and bars try to finish their work by 10 p.m. So, nightlife is strictly restricted.

All the same, the mood remains defiant. And it is exactly that abiding spirit of defiance that most merits answers to the many questions being raised. 

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