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Democracy dies in silence. Let Kharkiv live

The 17th largest city in Europe is under heavy Russian strikes every day. However, this does not seem to be even the 17th highest priority for the world media.

Smoke rises above the houses after a Russian military strike on Kharkiv. March 22, 2024.
Photo: Suspilne

It seems as if Kharkiv, just as its residents, was left with no means of communication after the Russian shelling. The city can’t make a phone call to the world and tell everyone what’s going on: about the daily wounded and killed by the Russians, about the houses destroyed by the occupiers, about how its city center trembles from the explosions.

Left in solitude, the reality of Kharkiv turns into its normality. The first underground school suddenly becomes good news – and not a metaphor from dystopia that the author will give up for being too unrealistic. In Europe, terrorists have forced children to study underground. European news about this situation is somewhere in the same place.

On their own, Kharkiv’s struggles turn into its routine. After the Russian shelling, not a single operating electrical substation was left in the city populated by over a million before the full-scale war. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of people must take turns cooking, climb the stairs to the upper floors, take care of themselves, and raise their children in the dark. Is this why our partners and allies can’t see it?

Unnoticed, Kharkiv’s tragedies turn into reports. Every day, the people of Kharkiv go to bed knowing that they will not sleep through the night: shelling will wake many of them up. And submerged some into eternal sleep. 

To be fair, some Western media occasionally write about this. Occasionally. After all, one can understand the newsmen. There is really nothing new in Russia’s daily attempts to kill Kharkiv residents.

Russia’s crimes are so brutal and obvious that they can no longer be assessed without an external point of reference. Like an image of a sea, the size of which is unclear until an island comes into focus. Kharkiv needs to get into focus.

Kharkiv. April 4, 2024.
Photo: George Ivanchenko

The number of Kharkiv residents is equivalent to Barcelona. In terms of its area, Kharkiv could accommodate about three Paris cities. All of Hungary has only twice as many universities as Kharkiv alone. And when missiles hit this city, they hit cultural landmarks of national importance, like the Slovo House, where the poets of the Executed Renaissance lived. One hundred years later the same executioners come back. 

In the heart of Europe, this cannot be a background noise. This must be a reason for headlines in the media, a reason for new air defense assistance from the allies, even tougher sanctions, and new circles of diplomatic isolation. 

Especially since the thunder of explosions in Kharkiv is already being followed by whispers of Russian propaganda: “Have you heard about the new offensive?”, “Have you seen the new offensive?” We have seen both the Russian offensive on Kharkiv and the Russian retreat. The latter even seems to have set some kind of military record.

Even though the city is now more defended and the Ukrainian Armed Forces are more prepared, the city needs to become the spotlight: in the media, during diplomatic meetings, in big speeches and grand gestures. Kharkiv must become the center of attention. And then the darkness will be afraid to step out into the light.

Today, however, the situation looks like an apartment from which strangers can hear screams, but no one wants to look into the window. Except that in Kharkiv, each shelling breaks out eight hundred windows at a time.

Opinion by Yaroslav Zubchenko, Strategic Communications Department, General Staff of the UAF