In Northern Ukraine, fear of a Russian invasion has shattered cross-border relations

KRUTY, Ukraine — Lyuobov Sova, a 54-year-old shop owner, once considered Russia a friendly neighbour. Three of her high school friends had moved to Moscow, an eight-hour drive away. Crossing the border is a quick procedure.

Now, as Russia poured more than 100,000 troops Traveling to the regions adjacent to Ukraine, Ms. Sova no longer discussed the news with her former classmates who were supporters of the Russian President.

Vladimir Putin. And, like many ordinary people in the northern regions bordering Russia, she is still trying to absorb the idea that a war with Russia could befall her homeland.

Sova shook her head and said, “We were all like brothers. “I never imagined that one day we would have to be afraid of our brothers attacking us, bombing us. I’m still trying to hope that war won’t break out and I’m telling everyone to stay positive. What more can I do? Kneel down and whine? ”

Lyuobov Sova, who lives in a Ukrainian town on the way to a potential Russian invasion, tries to hope that war won’t happen.

The question of what to do suddenly becomes urgent in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, which lies on the most direct potential invasion routes from Russia to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. About 30,000 Russian troops on Thursday start of military exercises near Belarus. Russia says it has no plans to invade. Ukrainian Army are organizing their own maneuvers, with helicopters buzzing on the outskirts of Chernihiv and military convoys moving.

Chernihiv, with its ancient city with ancient churches recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located far from the eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian troops have been battling Russian-backed forces since 2014. Cho Until now, people living in this area rarely think of their homes as potential frontlines.

Putin frequently talks about how Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians are one people. In the Chernihiv region, where the three countries meet, numerous family, work and educational connections still lie along the borders that emerged after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

However, nothing has done more to elucidate the pattern of relationships between people New threat of tanks spilling over into Ukraine from Russia and Belarus.

Satellite images show large-scale Russian rockets and artillery stationed around the Ukrainian border. The WSJ reviewed images of equipment deployed by Moscow to understand why US security experts think Russia could launch an attack from multiple locations. Photo compilation: Eve Hartley

Sergey Boldyrev, head of the protection and civil affairs department of the Chernihiv regional government, said: “My children, my acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances all call me. “They asked: should we stop buying properties in Chernihiv? Should I exchange money to US dollars? Young families fear that they might invest in a home, and then lose everything they own if war breaks out. “

While Mr Boldyrev, a retired air force colonel, has often replied that he did not anticipate shelling of residential areas, his job now is to ensure that hundreds of bomb shelters from Soviet era in the residential buildings of Chernihiv are ready for use. Russian bombs began to fall.

On Wednesday, he met with the mayors of towns and villages in the area to prepare them for procedures to evacuate civilians in the event of an invasion. Chernihiv’s regional authorities, like others across Ukraine, are also overseeing the new territorial defense brigade composed mainly of civilian volunteers, who will be provided with weapons and ammunition on campus. in the event of war.


Sergey Boldyrev, a Ukrainian regional civil protection and defense official, was busy checking bomb shelters in residential buildings.

A former Soviet air force intelligence officer who was born in the Russian city of Astrakhan and came to Ukraine as a child, Boldyrev belongs to the ethnic Russian community in Ukraine – the kind of person Mr. Putin says he seeks to find. protection from discrimination. . “Everybody with a mindset here believes that Putin is our number one enemy, and such people make up the majority,” Boldyrev said. “A very high percentage are ready to defend Ukraine with weapons in their hands.”

Mr. Boldyrev said he had cut off contact with his cousins ​​who live in Astrakhan. “In many families, the relationship between parents and children, between siblings and sisters is no longer perfect, because they are on opposite sides,” he said. “It’s not their fault, but these people are serving a state that attacked me.”

The town of Kruty, southeast of Chernihiv, has a special place in Ukrainian history, with the 1918 battle at a railway station considered a Ukrainian national holiday. Just like now, the Ukrainian state was controlled and overwhelmed by the Russian military. When the Soviet government, formed just three months earlier, sent about 6,000 troops to Kyiv along the railway line, the newly independent Ukrainian republic was only able to muster about 600 men. Their resistance delayed the Russian offensive by several days, allowing Kyiv to prepare a defensive force.


Kruty has a museum dedicated to the 1918 Battle of Kruty, in which a force outnumbering Ukraine attempted to thwart a Russian attack on Kyiv.


The Kruty Museum is inside the train, and the battle of 1918 took place around the station.

Many of the Ukrainian soldiers in Kruty are 17-year-old university students with little military training. About 30 of them, taken prisoner by the Russian army, were quickly executed. “Killed by Cain,” wrote a verse about these events by one of Ukraine’s most famous 20th-century poets, Pavlo Tychyna.

Inside the centuries-old carriages there’s an on-site museum, whose exhibits show what followed after Soviet Russia’s victory – mass executions and famine killed millions. Ukraine in the 1930s. The Last Hall honors Ukrainian soldiers who have died since 2014 fighting Russian-backed forces in the eastern Donbas region. About 189 of them are from the Chernihiv region, population 961,000.

North of Kruty, at the Senkivka border junction, where a 1970 monument called The Three Sisters stands on a roundabout connecting Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, thousands of people pass through each day. Before the war in Donbas and Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014, Ukrainian border guards maintained friendships with their Russian and Belarusian colleagues, visiting each other’s homes.


A gun shop in Chernihiv, an area of ​​Ukraine where people are uneasy about the possibility of a Russian invasion.

These days, Ukrainian border troops at the Senkivka junction are only observing Russian forces through drones, surveillance equipment and binoculars. The only communication is through the force’s regional headquarters. “We are on high alert and fully prepared to repel a possible invasion from the Russian Federation,” said Lieutenant Roman Zheliba, commander of the border troops. pointed to fortifications along the border.

With normal passenger traffic virtually non-existent, the cross-border passage at Senkivka is mainly used by truck drivers carrying goods to Russia from Moldova, Romania or Serbia. On a recent day, a Serbian truck driver, wearing white socks and black crocs despite the snow, refused to say if he saw the Russians on the other side. “It’s a military secret,” he said. “Russia and Ukraine are both Orthodox brothers to me. Only the US, which bombed my home in Belgrade, is sparking war between them,” he said, echoing the story carried by Russian state media. He declined to give his name.


The Belarusian and Russian militaries exercised this week.


Russian Ministry of Defense / TASS / Zuma Press

According to military analysts, Russia has an overwhelming military advantage over Ukraine, especially in terms of aviation and missiles, and could overwhelm the Chernihiv region in a few days, if not hours. military analysts.

Keeping it, however, would be another matter.

“There is no army in the world that can surpass a motivated and trained people. Ukraine is ready to fight for a long time and sacrifice,” said retired Major General Serhiy Kryvonos, former commander of Ukrainian special forces and deputy national security adviser who traveled to Chernihiv this week to help organize protect territory. and rebel units. “Look at Afghanistan: The Taliban have absolutely no heavy weapons, but they still force the United States to leave.”

Maksym Konashevych, a Donbas veteran who is helping establish the region, said territorial forces and rebel units are planning to continue the resistance even as Russia knocks out the command and control system. control of the Ukrainian army and beheading the central government in Kyiv. try. “Even if the country’s leadership asks us to surrender, we will continue to fight,” he said. In the city of Chernihiv alone, about 30,000 people own shotguns, many of which can be easily modified into more lethal firearms, he said.


Oleksandr Kovalyov, a Soviet commando in Afghanistan decades ago, said he and veterinarians are planning for resistance, should it happen.

Oleksandr Kovalyov, the owner of a Chernihiv security company who served as a Soviet commando in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said he remains in touch with his relatives in Russia, in part to gauge whether whether they were prepared by Russian TV programs for an invasion. . He says he is encouraged that levels of vitriol are, so far, lower than in 2014. “They are not told that there will be war tomorrow, and this gives me hope that there will not be. there is war after all”. he say.

But should Russian troops arrive, Mr. Kovalyov, 56, said that he and the Afghan veterans had a plan for how to resist. “We will all protect our homes, and everyone knows that. he said. “I want peace, which means we have to prepare for war.”


The Chernihiv Collegium building in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

Write letter for Yaroslav Trofimov at

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