Breaking: The sounds of war in Kharkiv

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The Sting by our writers at the heart of the war in Kharkiv.

Kharkiv, a city of 3 million people, is a city not under siege, but under continuous aerial bombardment for the fifth day in a row. While images are often described as being worth a thousand words, words must now accompany images, seeing the campaign of what can only be described as propaganda, hatred and division, sowed no doubt by parties we know to be guilty.

In the rectangular screens of our smartphones and desktops around the world, there is a safe distance from the sounds of war that Kharkiv’s besieged residents must live through. The sounds that blare from our speakers, are shockwaves that tear through windows, buildings and human bodies, the flashing pixels on our screens are blinding lights mimicking sunsets in a grotesque parody that does not end.

For our friends and colleagues who are in Kharkiv, doctors and scientists, young medical students, policemen and lawyers, these are the civilians who measure time now not in the manner of days of the week, but in the span of time between continuous bombardment from Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, called the “Grad” and “Uragan”.

Each named for something innocuous in Russian, Hail and Hurricane, both aspects of nature that cannot be controlled. The airstrikes that blow apart schools and residential areas come with reassuring regularity, and there is nothing about them that isn’t uncontrolled. As a fire burns Kharkiv’s School 134 to its mere skeleton, it is difficult not to conjure images of purgatory. With the airstrikes and bombardment of residential areas and civilians lying dead or injured in the homes they sought shelter in, that is no longer a tepid metaphor. 

There is much to be said of the fog of war, and indeed there is much to be said about words themselves. There was a Russian assumption that Ukrainians needed to be saved, and that they would be greeted with flowers, reminiscent of tropes conjured in some propaganda from some other war in the past no doubt. The truth is often horrifyingly different.

The natives of Kharkiv, accustomed as they are to the bombardment, gunfire and infernos around them, need saving only from the screeching jet fighters and strategic bombers raining hellfire from above. The citizens of this city need saving only from the incessant explosions and debris from their beloved landmarks. If there ever was a need for salvation, it would be this, the need to be able to sleep without the vibration of shockwaves of explosions from missiles. 

This was a city of dreams, this was a city of hope, this was a city where people came together. Now they wait. They wait as the delegations at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border talk, but the bombing has only intensifed. The night sky is vermillion, the shade of purgatory, and there is no crime here except the greatest of them all, the targeting of civilians as they take refuge not knowing what comes next. This is history repeating itself, changing only continents,but the sounds of war remain the same. 

About the authors

Dr. Lolita Matiashova is an Internist and a PhD candidate in the L.T.Malaya Therapy National Institute of the National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine. During the siege she has remained in the city offering physical and remote medical consultations to patients from all over Ukraine

Aparajeya Shanker is an Intern Physician at Medical University Pleven and the Director of the Standing Committee on Public Health. He can be reached at

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