Ukraine: Russian radio voices sow fear in Ukraine war zone

LYSYCHANSK (UKRANE): The portable radio in the dark basement of the missile-damaged kindergarten broadcasted news in Russian over the airwaves of the Kremlin’s military triumphs in Ukraine.
The six frightened women and lone man huddled in the heart of the eastern Ukrainian war zone had no idea whether to believe the monotonous voice — or who was actually patrolling the streets of the besieged city of Lysychansk above their heads.
All they knew was that their building had been hit by a Grad salvo a few days earlier, with the tip of one of the unexploded missiles sticking out of the sidewalk at a sharp angle, a stone’s throw from the back door.
Their feverish fears fluctuated between the idea that the only entrance to their hideout might be blocked by falling debris and the Kremlin troops knocking on the door unannounced.
“The Russians on the radio just said they have taken Bakhmut. Is that true?” Natalia Georgiyevna asked worriedly to a town 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the southwest that remains under full Ukrainian control.
“We don’t really know anything,” her neighbor Viktoria Viktorovna added from a corner bed just outside the beam of light that illuminated a lonely patch of the damp basement.
“I assume we still have the Ukrainians here, don’t we?”
Nearly three months of war have turned this mining town of 100,000 mostly Russian-speaking people into a wasteland lacking everything from water and power to cell phones.
Most of the people who crawl out of their hiding places during the midday battles go to the city’s lonely natural spring to stock up on water that they have to boil to make it safe to drink.
Some women in the kindergarten basement — so afraid they’ll only reveal their patronymics instead of their last names for fear of being discovered and punished — said they hadn’t been outside for two months.
This crippling isolation is exacerbated by agonizing Russian and Ukrainian radio broadcasts that appear on random airwaves and bring conflicting news.
The unidentified voices drop in and out and just disappear every now and then.
“The Russians say they are winning and the Ukrainians say they are,” said Natalia Georgiyevna.
“When we had the internet, we could watch the news. But now…I have no idea who these voices are or where they come from.”
– Information vacuum – The concept of warring factions filling the information vacuum with propaganda is not new.
Radio was a powerful Western weapon against the Soviet Union in the Cold War era that Moscow was trying to jam.
Russia has spread its take on news about eastern Ukraine during an eight-year uprising that preceded the all-out invasion of the Kremlin on February 24.
Lysychansk’s broadcasts contribute to a heightened sense of paranoia that seems to reign for weeks over the utterly lawless streets of a sprawling industrial zone teetering on the edge of the eastern Ukrainian front.
The Russians are approaching Lysychansk’s sister city Severodonetsk to the north from three directions.
The Ukrainians are fighting with all their might to prevent the Russians from moving south of a strategic river separating the two cities.
Because of this, people like miner Oleg Zaitsev are just as concerned about the identities of the gunmen who whiz around in battered cars as are the grenades that fall randomly from the sky.
“My main fear is that a stranger will drive up to me and ask for my papers. You never know whose side they are on these days,” said the 53-year-old on his way back to his basement.
“It could be the Russians, and who knows what will happen to you.”
– Urban conflict – Residents said the Grad salvo at the beginning of the week appeared to have been aimed at an elementary school across the yard that housed one of the Ukrainian units defending the city.
The controversial topic of military personnel occupying civilian buildings in times of urban conflict is ubiquitous in the propaganda war waged over Ukraine.
Some locals love the idea. Others say Ukraine has no other choice because Russia was the one who brought war to its cities.
Basement resident Yevghen Polchikha seemed less concerned about the morality of housing soldiers in schools than the possibility of the Grad rocket still protruding from the ground exploding.
“It just lays there,” said the 58-year-old. “Our kindergarten seems solid enough. But you never know.”

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