Over 100,000 Russian troops have surrounded Ukraine, causing the worst security crisis in the region since 2014. The Kremlin is issuing increasingly aggressive demands to NATO and the United States regarding Ukraine’s future.
Within just weeks, many Western nations have been embroiled in frantic attempts to stop the Kremlin. As diplomacy hasn’t brought about any tangible results, shipments of advanced weapons are now being sent to Kyiv.
The Ukrainian media has grown increasingly nervous and is being bombarded by Western intelligence reports on Russian plans to occupy much of Ukraine in early 2022, maps showing war plans and featuring scary arrows.
President Volodymyr Zelensky makes public addresses calling on everyone to stay calm and strong and not to buy the war scare instigated by the Kremlin.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s chief of presidential staff Andriy Yermak held an off-the-record meeting with the country’s top journalists. Yermak, known to be a “gray cardinal” behind Zelensky, was cautiously optimistic. But the tense atmosphere and the reporters’ dismal expressions told another story; the office looked more like a war room.
Ukrainian social media is at a boiling point. People are ranting about what Russia is going to do to the country, arguing about what should be included in survival kits and discussing where to find the nearest air-raid shelter and why it is used as a local grocery warehouse.
The slightest piece of news spirals into the wildest interpretations. In a CNN interview, Zelensky said that in one of many hypothetical scenarios, Russia could seize the city of Kharkiv to “protect the Russian-speaking population.” Within an hour, headlines in Ukraine’s media shout: “Zelensky says Russians will occupy Kharkiv.”
The doomsday atmosphere spreads quickly, sometimes triggering destructive effects on the ground. Ongoing rumors claim that Canadian and American diplomatic missions are about to be evacuated, while airlines like Lufthansa reschedule their red-eye flights to Kyiv to avoid leaving crews in Ukraine overnight.
Once you come up out of the media sphere, however, you find yourself in a different world.
The streets of Kyiv are busy and noisy as usual. People rush in and out, minding their own business, crowding onto the subway twice a day. The snowy city enjoys fine winter weather. It is late January, but Kyiv still isn’t over the New Year’s Day craze.
In Kontraktova Square, one of the historic centers of the city, there is still a joyful Christmas fair. Attractions, candies, lights, sweets, loud music. In the evening, many Kyivans enjoy hot mulled wine, dancing in the snow, and ice-skating.
The voice of reason says that Russia is not capable—politically, economically, militarily—of a World War II-scale blitzkrieg to subdue Ukraine. The price of such an act would be so gargantuan it makes the option seem absolutely unrealistic.
Illia Ponomarenko is a defense and security reporter with “The Kyiv Independent” in Ukraine.
This is a version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.