Ukraine’s Strongest Weapon Is Societal Resilience

Ukraine’s Strongest Weapon Is Societal Resilience

We recently visited the coastal city of Odesa in the country’s south. Our experience reinforces that Ukrainians’ greatest advantage is the capacity to soldier on despite a constant state of war.


Not everyone is fine-tuned to the everyday implications of the new reality brought about by Putin’s brutal invasion, especially in Odesa, a predominantly Russian-speaking metropolis on the eve of the war. Only three hours before the sirens heralded in another evening of terror, we stumbled into a group of people in their early twenties singing along with a guitar, in Russian.

Our guide, Andy—himself a singer—immediately went ballistic. “They are singing a song from Polina Gagarina! She appeared at a pro-Putin rally to support the invasion wearing the letter Z!” Indeed, after the highly controversial event held in Moscow in March 2022, Gagarina was banned from Estonia and Latvia. The silver medalist of the 2015 Eurovision competition is now also sanctioned by Canada for “peddling Russian disinformation and propaganda.” Andy darted to the organizers, but they were dismissive, “It’s just a pop-song that people like. People are singing along.”


Enter the ongoing process of derussification. Since June 2022, there has been a ban in Ukraine on playing music by post-1991 Russian citizens on any media. The police were swiftly called. By the time they showed up, however, the singing shifted to patriotic Ukrainian songs. The officers calmly explained to us, that the law in question does not apply to a bunch of youngsters singing Russian pop songs on the streets. Unlike in Kyiv, where there has been a “temporary” ban on singing in Russian on the streets. It is highly questionable, however, if the enforcement of this symbolic act by the city council would stand in a court of law. The police officers wrapped up our conversation by adding that they will have a little chat with the performers about what is appropriate to sing between two Russian missile barrages, and what might be not.

The Next Day

The Telegram and Twitter channels went silent around 3:30 am. However, that didn’t mean that the air raid was officially over; it just signaled that the Russians stopped launching missiles and drones. We waited a good fifteen minutes, just to be on the safe side, and then we joined a couple of people smoking outside of the hotel. The eerie quiet was sporadically punctuated by the wailing of rushing ambulances in the distance. We’d just finished our third cigarette when the sirens finally sounded the monotone, high-pitched “all clear.” We went back to the spa/shelter to grab our belongings. The blonde woman in the bathrobe was already gone. We woke Andy up and finally went back to our rooms.

A mere four hours later at breakfast nothing was out of the ordinary. A perfectly dressed, smiling staff was serving us our beloved sirnykys—the heavenly Ukrainian cottage cheese cakes. Odesa was the same bustling metropolis that day: Arcadia beach already felt like one big party at 3 pm, with loud music coming from every bar and restaurant. Crowds of people danced along on the boardwalk sipping their cocktails. Bathing in the Black Sea though was still a no-no until mid-August because of the naval mines bobbing around under the crashing waves. Instead, for 100 hryvnias (approximately $2.7) anyone could throw darts at the picture of Putin in the hope of winning a bottle of whiskey. On Arcadia beach, the shriek of the air-raid sirens around 7 PM was almost drowned out by the dance music blasting from the clubs. Anyway, this time it was just a pair of Russian planes spotted by the Ukrainian Air Defenses. The party went on unabated—up until the start of the military curfew at midnight, when people wished each other “a quiet night.”

We couldn’t shake the feeling that the dancing on Arcadia beach in the hot July sunset and the evenings spent in shelters came hand-in-hand. Far from being some grotesque Danse Macabre, what we witnessed on the boardwalk felt more like a celebration of life, the life that the war cannot take away from Ukrainians. A safety valve to vent the stress, an intense flash of normalcy to keep the spirits up during those clear summer nights when rockets are falling from the sky instead of shooting stars. Finally, a snub at the aggressor: extensive damage to critical infrastructure causing power and heat outages couldn’t beat the population into submission during the winter, and evenings spent in shelters without sleep during the summer won’t do it either. Maybe desperately clinging on to these shards of a normal life is what propels the country to continue its struggle.

All in all, for millions of Ukrainians another ordinary day came to a close, and they soldiered on.

Monika Palotai is a research fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute and a former Visiting Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Kristof Gyorgy Veres is a senior research fellow at the Danube Institute and a non-resident expert at the Warsaw Institute.

Image: Shutterstock.