By Elena Davlikanova

April 17, 2024


Ukrainians are tired but still determined, and will continue to resist Russia whether the world helps them or not.

Returning to Kyiv after two years, spent first as an internally displaced person and then as a refugee in Washington DC, feels like being in the eye of the storm. Oddly, it’s less scary and more motivating than watching from a distance.

Here, under threat of sudden death, it is hard to understand the disputes on Capitol Hill. It is clear to most in Kyiv that the six-month Congressional struggle with the Ukraine aid package, ineffective sanctions, and the inability of the West to impose itself in the face of unjustified aggression has normalized barbarianism and emboldened authoritarian regimes.

What’s unclear is how this benefits Western democracies and others seeking to enjoy their liberty and autonomy.

While Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba struggles to source seven of the 100 Patriot missile systems held by nominal allies, Russia is still pushing its 2022 terms for an unjust and unsustainable peace. We are in danger of returning to square 2014.

From Kyiv, it looks like this — that there is one simple truth and that is any end to the war means the death of Ukraine. Even a negotiated interim deal would not resolve the conflict. It would offer a pause, followed by another storm.

Russia will persist in undermining Ukraine’s statehood in every way possible. Meanwhile, the chimera of a war settlement in Ukraine (through its effective surrender) followed by the reintegration of Russia into the West through economic cooperation (so deterring its alignment with China) continues to delude. Do we Ukrainians really need to tell our supposed friends that Moscow’s imperial dream cannot be ended?

Alongside the US’s indecision over support, revelations about EU parliamentarians’ ties with Russia further undermine the already fading notion of a united and mighty West. Ukrainians understand the complexities of value-based democracies, whose wordy debates allowed the new autocratic alliances to strengthen, with the wisdom (and the sighs) of Socrates.

But Kyiv is alive and kicking. When I returned, my neighbors greeted me with homemade pastries. Ukrainians are proud of their hospitality, but lately, these acts of kindness seem an even more touching sign of the adhesive for the social fabric.

To stay sane during the long blackouts and extended curfews (some analysts now say 60% of our generating capacity has been destroyed by the Kremlin), residents have been repairing and

decorating the foyer of our apartment block, about 7km (4 miles) from downtown Kyiv. There are multiple flowerpots in my building, but no bomb shelter.

They tell me that in February 2022, Russian tanks were stationed just a few feet from our building. War criminals might have lived in my home and slept in my bed. It gives me shivers.

I’m far from the only one to have come home from abroad. Many friends are here, and sharing stories of the kindness of foreigners in the harsh winter of 2022-2023 as they tried to save our children from the fighting. Integrating elsewhere, having migrated by force rather than choice had been exhausting, especially for the many families who were separated. Kyiv has also welcomed many internally displaced people.

We all have our stories, each unique and yet the same. Almost everyone knows someone who has been killed, lost their home, or was wounded. No one is accustomed to the bombing. And we all wonder what lies ahead.

Although showing signs of weariness, Kyiv remains beautiful and optimistic, boasting more than 300 cafes and restaurants, dozens of them new and opened in the past year.

Amid night air-raid warnings and sleep deprivation, a cup of coffee in a nicely designed café is not a luxury but a therapeutic solace — a fleeting taste of normality. As the alarms subside, the message “May the force be with you” echoes, serving as a reminder of resilience.

The city is now filled with ads similar to job announcements inviting to join various military units, as they seek to attract recruits. The new mobilization law has been passed, but there is an initial choice of where you serve.

The capital, like countless other cities across the nation, pays tribute to its defenders. The renowned Maidan (Independence) Square, where democracy has been defended before, is adorned with flags and portraits of men and women whose deaths should be a constant reminder to decision-makers around the globe.

In the Kyiv metro, announcements of curfew hours blend with opportunities to enhance one’s knowledge of Ukraine’s language and history. TV screens in metro cars provide unexpected insights into the country. Having been predominantly Russian-speaking for decades, the city widely embraces the Ukrainian language.

From here, Western attempts to facilitate Russian-Ukrainian dialogue, and even reconciliation, seem less like astute politics and more like the wishful thinking of well-intentioned but ill-informed people.

While I was overseas and trying hard to present the Ukrainian perspective in a very Russia-centric environment, some of my friends and acquaintances back home passed away from cancer, strokes, and heart disease exacerbated by the stress of war.

The young got married or divorced, graduated, changed jobs, and some had children. Despite Russia’s relentless attempts to break us, a love of life continues to triumph over the fear of death.


Elena Davlikanova is a Democracy Fellow with the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA.) She is an experienced researcher and in 2022 was co-author of ‘The Work of the Ukrainian Parliament in Wartime’ and ‘The War of Narratives: The Image of Ukraine in Media.’