“Nothing prepares you”: a journey through Ukraine at war


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In late January 2023 the New Statesman’s Bruno Macaes travelled to the front lines in Ukraine. In the Donbas, in the east, he found scenes of total devastation – levelled villages and burned forests, the remaining residents “walking the streets like ghosts”. At the front the Russian army is sending wave after wave of troops in the hope of making the Ukrainians despair, making them believe that the war will only be won when they have killed every one of them.

In this vivid and sometimes surreal dispatch, Macaes talks to the soldiers and medics for whom this has become everyday life. How long is the gap between the warning siren and a shell, he asks? Two minutes, they joke: first the shell and then the siren. From the Donbas he travels to Kyiv, where he meets President Volodomyr Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podolyak, still living with the president in a bunker beneath the palace. Can Ukraine really win the war? Yes, says Podolyak: “You vastly overestimate the collective intelligence of the Russian Federation. They will not be able to notice the moment when they objectively have begun to lose. They will miss it.”

Nearly a year after the invasion, this is a fascinating account of a country under attack, told through its leaders and those living in the deepest fog of war.

This article originally appeared in the New Statesman magazine on 3 February. You can read the text version here.

Written by Bruno Macaes and read by Katie Stallard.

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