Ukraine has entered 2023 as if going into a dark room where it is impossible to turn on the light. It seems that there are windows, but there is darkness behind them too. We must wait for the dawn or the restoration of the power supply. While there is neither one nor the other, darkness provokes a feeling of deep fatigue.
The Lviv University teacher and well-known Ukrainian poet Galina Kruk has noticed an unsettling pattern in her life – during a blackout, the power banks and batteries that feed her torches and lamps stop working about half an hour before the electricity comes back on. Then there is pitch darkness, which seems even thicker than when the lights first went out – that “early” darkness with which it was still possible to somehow cope, says in his article for The Guardian Andrey Kurkov.
‘Soon, as days get longer and nights shorter, nature itself will come to the aid of Ukrainians.’ Dark streets of Kyiv on 11 January, 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
These half-hour periods of impenetrable darkness, during which a person feels completely helpless, are the most difficult, both psychologically and physically. The time stretches to infinity – space shrinks and becomes terribly cramped. You feel acute hunger and a desire for sleep. Your muscles lose strength and physical movements require energy that is no longer there. For Galina, this state repeats itself every day and already she dreads these half hours without light.
In complete darkness, without additional sources of energy, a person indeed becomes defenceless. You might have a candle, but it gives just enough light to see your fear in the mirror, your inner condition written on your face, welling up in your eyes. After all, electricity allows communication with relatives and friends and the surrounding world in general. It is impossible to communicate with the help of a candle, except to send a signal from the window – “I am alive!”
A sense of helplessness worries many, and as the periods of darkness drag on and become more frequent and batteries and power banks are no longer equal to the battle, people seek advice on how to cope. They exchange information about new, more powerful power banks and rechargeable batteries, about LED lamps that work for a long time from power banks with brighter bulbs that allow you to read books for hours. There is also advice on taking vitamin D. Apparently, the lack of this vitamin exacerbates depression – a key danger for people who regularly find themselves in complete darkness.
People weave camouflage nets for the Ukrainian military in the dark, Lviv, 10 January, 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Complete darkness – when nothing and no one is visible – makes you think more about yourself. You pay more attention to physical problems and are more likely to hear your inner voices – anxious and nagging.
When light conquers darkness and the electricity is turned on, there is temporary calm and thoughts switch from yourself to the world around. Galina thinks about another parcel of medicines that she recently sent to the Ukrainian military in Bakhmut. Has it already been delivered? Have any of the soldiers found the medicines useful? Usually, packages for the Ukrainian army reach the addressees at the speed of courier mail and feedback from the frontline comes quickly.
Supporting the war effort has become a form of therapy, if not a cure, for many Ukrainians. Galina wants to write poetry about life and love, but she stops herself. She is not sure that during a war you can write about something other than war. But if you write only about war, then it is, as it were, magnified.
Galina’s friend, Irina, who also lives in Lviv, takes an ironic view of the forced darkness in the city’s apartments. She is sure that the city can expect a population explosion in the coming year. The lack of electricity and internet could also bring children and teenagers back to live communication, which she feels is no bad thing, although not everyone agrees with her.
Many parents dream of their children learning to live without the internet, but communication in the dark is not the most pleasant, and children and candlelight are never a safe combination.
The children themselves relate to the enforced darkness or the lack of internet in different ways. The son of our Kyiv friends, 13-year-old Artem, does not grieve when the electricity goes out in the morning or afternoon. He has remote school lessons at that time. No internet means no classes. But if there is a power cut in the evening, Artem gets bored: his mood deteriorates quickly.
Artem and his parents live on the 19th floor, and several times a day they have to walk up the stairs to their apartment. Using the elevator even when there is electricity is like playing Russian roulette. You can get stuck in there for hours! They have improved their fitness, but also go to bed earlier due to fatigue and the lack of electricity. Only Artem falls asleep much later than his parents. During the day, when there is electricity, he downloads movies and music videos to his smartphone – in the dark, he watches everything until the battery on his smartphone runs out or until he falls asleep.
Soon, as the days get longer and nights shorter, nature itself will come to the aid of Ukrainians whose depression is heightened by darkness and the lack of electricity. If good news from the front is added to this, it will be easier for Ukrainians to switch to a more optimistic, spring-like mood.
For now, they are holding on, sometimes with the last of their strength and willpower – holding on to their belief that Ukraine will win and restore everything that Russia destroys, including energy facilities, including the light.