• If all sounds but human voices ceased to exist, what was heard in Ukraine in the wake of the NATO Vilnius summit would be a deep sigh. Those of the older generation probably said: “We’ve been here before.”

    In 2008 at another NATO summit Ukraine received a vague reply to its membership aspirations, which can be summarised as: “You are definitely welcome some time in the future.”

    This position infuriated and empowered one person wanting to conquer Ukraine and other former Soviet and Eastern Bloc states ― Vladimir Putin. He understood that he could lose influence over these countries “some time in the future”. 

    Logically, the Russian president realised the time to act was sooner rather than later ― and started testing the West. Four months and four days after the 2008 summit, Russia invaded Georgia. This short war showed that invasions are still possible in Europe, as well as impunity for waging them. “It’s horrible if you think about this,” my then-editor at the Ukrainian daily newspaper told me. “And who’s next, if not us?”

    He was right. Putin unleashed war against Ukraine six years later.

    Now the story seems to be the same: NATO is still irresolute. But I feel optimistic.

    It’s understandable that if NATO accepted Ukraine now, it would have to compromise its principle of defending a member who is under attack. Too many NATO states oppose sending troops to Ukraine, and to compromise on this issue would erode the alliance’s future. If NATO introduced a concrete plan for Ukraine membership, Putin would know how to make its achievement impossible. 

    So that is why this slight disappointment makes me optimistic: if there is no plan, Ukraine can theoretically join NATO anytime. Also, this messes up Putin’s plans. Once he’s weak enough ― we will probably get in. And he’s getting weaker.

    This is the number of times Kyiv’s public workers have painted over a specific line of graffiti, while leaving its neighbouring words and pictures intact.

    The graffiti asked in Ukrainian “Who do you call when the police murder?”. This first appeared on 16 September, 2019, against the backdrop of numerous reports of unsanctioned police violence. The graffiti has constantly been restored by activists, and spread to other large Ukrainian cities.

    As the full-scale Russian invasion started, the reputation of the police improved drastically: many officers are on the frontline, defending their country and sacrificing their lives. But the problem of police impunity still needs to be addressed.

    After the full-scale war in Ukraine started, six biking organisations in Ukraine launched an international campaign #BikesForUkraine. Now they collect foreign donations to help deliver bicycles to war-torn communities. Initiative participant Maryna Bludsha tells more.

    Why does Ukraine need more bicycles?

    In times of hostilities, road networks and public transports system become ruined: some buses catch fire, or are stolen by invaders, such as in Kherson. Also, there’s often lack of fuel. Thus, a bicycle becomes the only reliable mode of transport. Right after Russia’s full-scale invasion began, we started receiving requests for bikes. People still need more than we can provide: as of June 11, we have given 1,391 bikes to local communities in Ukraine, but we have requests for 2,974.

    We often give bikes to volunteers who distribute medicine, goods and food. Also, there are doctors, social workers and local authorities who need bikes. These are mostly from war-torn regions, but we also help other communities which have many internally displaced persons and need to provide more services.

    Who provides the donations?

    Most help comes from the EU countries, which includes 40 out of 50 of our key supporters, especially Germany, The Netherlands and Lithuania ― people or organisations help with either money, so we can to buy new bicycles in Ukraine, or they collect bikes from locals in their area. Often they also repair the bikes before sending them to Ukraine. Our Berlin partners, Changing Cities, have organised bike repair gatherings, so people could help Ukraine in this way.

    In the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Kyiv cyclists organised a volunteer service to deliver urgent aid. Do you know any other examples of how bicycles can be useful in war?

    In Kyiv we have a bike courier company called CargoCult, which also delivers goods to people and organisations in need. Traffic in the city was jammed at checkpoints and in queues, and bikes turned out to be the fastest way to get around.

    Helping corrupt officials avoid punishment, “burying” laws, enjoying an inexplicably luxurious lifestyle on his modest state salary are just a few things of which Ukrainian judge Pavlo Vovk is suspected.

    In 2010 ― at the age of only 31 ― he headed the District Administrative Court of Kyiv, an entity responsible for solving disputes with state officials and structures. This court decided whether a law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament could be put into practice, or whether a decision to ban a political party financed by Russia was legal. Vovk could influence such cases and, according to state prosecutors, he took advantage of his position.

    Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities published several tapped recordings of Vovk’s conversations. They are full of phrases such as “I’m totally for any lawlessness in the Ukrainian court system” and others which imply he can act on the wishes of this or that top politician.

    Pavlo Vovk admits these recordings are true. But he says the accusations are no more than an attempt at revenge. Ukrainian anti-corruption bodies are trying to influence the court, because many of the cases they started have been stuck there. When asked why, he said: “I am strong, and the court is independent.”

    “Vovk” means “wolf” in Ukrainian, which was a gift for headline writers, who titled articles “Living by wolf rules” or “Wolf justice”. His court was popularly called “the justice shop”. For years, he was notorious and untouchable.

    Despite all the hatred, protests and legal suspicions against him, Vovk kept his post until late 2022. Different presidents ― Victor Yanukovych, Petro Poroshenko, Volodymyr Zelenskyy ― answered questions about him and his court with vagueness and a lack of decision. He seemed to be too influential and useful. Finally, on 9 December last year, the USA imposed sanctions on Vovk “for soliciting bribes in return for interfering in judicial and other public processes”. After this, the war-torn and West-dependent Ukrainian state finally gave up Vovk ― by disbanding the court.

    Now part of Vovk’s routine is attending hearings against him. These cases are also stuck in the judicial system.

    This Sunday, at the French tennis open Roland-Garros, a scandal occurred. The audience booed Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk after she refused to shake hands with her opponent, Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus. The crowd on the tribunes perceived this as a sign of disrespect. This was not the case.

    In modern times, sport has always been a symbol of common ground, fair play, rule-abiding and aspiration, despite state borders. International competitions underline the statement that all humanity is one large family. This was especially visible in the tournaments of post-USSR countries, where nations had a shared past, one language that everyone understands and common training methods, which created a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

    But what happens when one of these countries tries to erase another?

    Since the Russian aggression against Ukraine started in 2014, the approach that “sport is outside of politics” became quite popular among Ukrainians. For two reasons: first, there still was a feeling of kinship inside the sport community. Second, in prosperous Moscow, everything was “citius, altius, fortius” – faster, higher, stronger.

    The prospect of higher incomes and better careers pushed many Ukrainian professionals to seek out Russia as a location for their training and development. Though any wins of Ukrainians over Russians were considered almost military victories: the nation was triumphant.

    Since last year, when Russia’s intention to annihilate Ukraine became perfectly clear, the idea of the two countries working together in sport, art ― or, actually, any discipline ― became a no-go for most Ukrainians.

    But many international sports federations haven’t excluded Russians or Belarusians, as Minsk is Russia’s official ally in this war. So Ukrainians still face them as opponents, and leaving world tournaments would effectively end their careers. But there are no hugs, no smiles, and no handshakes.

    Kostyuk said that before the match she was following the news from Kyiv, where her father is living. The Ukrainian capital suffered its most critical drone attack. Aryna Sabalenka stated that, at first, she thought the boos from the Paris crowd were addressed to her. She understands everything.

    “Are there any emotional sentences, loaded statements, rhetorical devices in the given text? Please identify, tokenise and list all of them.”

    The text in the picture above is an answer to the prompt given to ChatGPT by the President of the Kyiv School of Economics Tymofiy Mylovanov in a masterclass dedicated to using AI to detect and combat disinformation. The text in question was a study by the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland about Western businesses who remained in Russia after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

    “Uncovering and busting disinformation is one of the significant challenges Ukraine is facing. If you choose the prompts carefully, ChatGPT can analyse massive amounts of information ― not as well as trained humans, but in just a few minutes,” says Mylovanov.

    New AI tools have a positive image in Ukraine and are used in distance learning, business meetings, budget compiling and in warfare. On the other hand, officials and experts are calling for the development of a policy on ChatGPT usage. And there are some disappointments: when ChatGPT answers to users with narratives that echo Russian propaganda.

    Zoya Lobod, Kyiv entrepreneur

    Soon after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, online lodging marketplace Airbnb declared it would provide help for up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in Europe, US and Canada. The San Francisco-based company offered vouchers for up to €2,000, to be used for renting a place for up to 14 days.

    According to Airbnb’s website, 100,000 people took up the offer, but we don’t know how much Airbnb profited from its generous action PR-wise.

    The sanatorium ― this is what Russian soldiers called the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in March 2022. At that time, they used its territory as a location to rest between their failed attempts to capture Kyiv, which is 120 kilometres to the south.

    As it was too dangerous for the Ukrainian army to shell the nuclear site, this became a place of shelter for the occupiers. Chornobyl’s radiation, which was a global menace in 1986, now offered protection for an invading force.

    But most Russian soldiers didn’t understand the threat of radiation and ignored basic safety rules.

    They laid down on open ground and ate outside, where their bodies absorbed radioactive particles that will never go away. They dug trenches in the Red Forest, the most contaminated area around the power plant, and breathed in the dust. They stole abandoned army vehicles from the open air museum, which were kept about ten metres away from visitors during peacetime.

    Without crossing into the firing line, they still did irreparable damage to themselves.

    According to intelligence reports, nuclear power plants (NPP) were the primary targets of the Russian invasion. As well as offering shelter, they could be used to blackmail both the world and local population. While the former fears another Chornobyl catastrophe, the Russians can cut off the latter from the power grid, if they are not loyal to Moscow.

    All this makes NPPs an even bigger threat to mankind. Right now there are no discussions in Ukraine about abolishing nuclear power as they are critical to the current energy balance.

    But in the future, there may be more reasons to remember the phrase one of Chornobyl’s workers said to the occupiers: “After a fight here, you have only two options: a zinc coffin or a lead one”. While the first is commonly used to transport dead bodies, the second is a casket for radioactive matter.

    Petro Zherukha is reserved and soft-spoken, and not the usual kind of man you would expect to see in military uniform. Until last year, he spent his time debating at a book club, playing chess, and, above all, playing music, as he was studying at the music academy in Lviv. Now he is a volunteer in the Ukrainian army.

    Petro has made a similar life-change to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, but another detail made his journey specific: he is homosexual, and in war, this brings complications. The issues are not social: in many interviews, Ukrainian gay and lesbian soldiers have said how they do not experience discrimination either from their comrades, or from their superiors. On the contrary, when you see people from different walks of life defending the same values as you, taking the same risks as you, and suffering as you do, this builds loyalty. The problems start when homosexuals move from the field of battle to the field of law.

    In Ukraine, only relatives can visit a person in intensive care, identify the remains in a morgue, or be the legal representative of the deceased. A gay couple may live together for 30 years ― but legally they are strangers. Petro wants to change this. He is pushing for a new law on civil partnerships for same-sex couples ― a more inclusive alternative to what his country has traditionally considered a family.

    “Now I’m sitting on a bag of sugar in a house under shelling,” Petro wrote in a post asking for support for the petition to pass the law, “My private life is on pause, but I still think this law is timely. I am fighting for an Ukraine where there is no discrimination, and where everyone can defend their relationships.”

    Within five days, the petition gathered 14,000 signatures. Parliament is expected to discuss the draft in the spring. The legal space in Ukraine is still lagging behind people’s attitudes and experiences, but society is bringing change.

    A moment after this picture was taken, the woman held in an embrace in the centre broke into tears. Her legs gave way, and she collapsed, swallowed by grief.

    This is Alina Mykhailova, a fiancé of the Ukrainian military Dmytro Kotsyubailo. Known by the call sign Da Vinci, he was one of the most talented and respected young officers in the army. Recently, he was killed in a battle near Bakhmut.

    At his funeral on 10 March, the President of Ukraine, the Commander-in-Chief, the Minister of Defence and thousands of other Ukrainians stood down on one knee ― a mark of the highest respect.

    Photographers kept taking pictures, and images of the heartbroken woman went viral. This caused a debate in Ukrainian society: how ethical is the broadcasting of psychically and emotionally challenging moments of someone in such a position as Alina?

    One side says that Alina is a victim, and her right for privacy is sacred. The other side, which often includes journalists, insists this is war, and such expressions of grief are a significant part of it. To show this to the world is just and even necessary.

    “I watch this ― and in my guts I feel that Ukrainians exist and I’m among them. The woman in the photo turns all of us into a living, pulsating social body,” wrote art curator Olena Chervonyk in a widely read article.

    “It’s possible to nurture your Ukrainianness by other means. A person has the right to life and to death, which has to be respected even in such circumstances,” replied lawyer Larysa Denysenko. “This is not my pain, not my trauma, not my private space.”

    Alina Mykhailova is also a politician and a soldier, and probably has her own thoughts on this issue. But she has not yet shared them, as she has been spending long hours every day at Dmytro’s grave.