Outgoing, incoming, whistling, screaming and crashing.
The violence of the war engulfed Ukraine as Russian forces invaded its borders. Murder and death seemed to happen so fast that they almost felt mechanical.
Suddenly, some of the deadliest weapons ever used were piled up on the battlefield and released on both sides in horrific quantities: cluster missiles, self-detonating mines, battle tanks, howitzers, thermobaric and incendiary munitions. The list goes on.
The sky above the bizarre neighborhoods of cities like Kharkiv or the Donbass coal mines was an unprecedented kaleidoscope of death as artillery fired from a distance ruled the day after Russia’s retreat in early April from the Kyiv region. Moscow had decided to try to win by exhaustion.
What did that look like?
The soldiers shrank into trenches, pressing their faces into the cold ground, trying to shrink into the ground as shrapnel and debris cut through the air around them. The neighborhoods turned into wastelands. The apartments burned down and the walls of the houses were cut off like post-apocalyptic dollhouses.
The dead soldiers are called the 200, the wounded 300. The terms are rewritten Soviet-era jargon, when dead soldiers sent home in zinc-lined coffins from Afghanistan were called Cargo 200.
The front line is the “zero line” and going there means being sent to “zero” or, for some, the “meat grinder”.
Air strikes and gun battles are rare compared to the huge number of shells flying in the air, so soldiers call them “air bombs” and “gun battles.” A soldier who spent less than a month on the front line in the east has never fired. But his company of 106 had four,200 (killed) and 23,300 (injured), he said.
“People can’t fight with machine guns,” he added.
Those who were caught in the middle, the civilians, did the worst.
Their senses become fine-tuned. Every sound is analyzed at any time of the day. Is this an input shell?
They rely on calculations for fractions of a second to stay or leave. Run or walk. Sleep upstairs or head to the basement.
The routine is exhausting, but they quickly begin to understand the acoustic differences between a 120-millimeter mortar and a 152-millimeter howitzer projectile. They use words like “horror”, “nightmare” and “unimaginable” to describe everyday life. The cold, damp nights in their basements end in the first light.
They appear and look at the damage around them, rejoice that they are still alive and hope for their neighbors.