Letter from Moscow: When war suddenly explodes over your roof

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Letter from Moscow: When war suddenly explodes over your roof

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In Moscow, it can be easy to ignore the devastating but faraway war in Ukraine. But that changes quickly when drones and anti-aircraft missiles start exploding in the skies overhead one morning.

Had this occurred a couple of years ago it might have been difficult to even guess what was happening, but now it was immediately clear that this was the sound of war raging – directly around our village.

Razdory is just a few miles to the west of Moscow, on the path that armed drones fired from Ukraine would follow in an attack on Russia’s capital. It’s also an area where a good deal of Russia’s top elite, including President Vladimir Putin, live. And – I never knew this – it’s apparently very well defended.

The many deafening bangs that rattled us this morning were made by numerous anti-aircraft missiles attempting to intercept at least eight – some reports suggest up to 32 – Ukrainian drones coming in at very low levels and aimed at Moscow. A few of them reportedly got through, causing minor damage and a couple of noncritical casualties in a few parts of the huge city.

But according to our local, very lively Telegram chat group, at least one was shot down nearby, and several fragments of what are probably Russian air defense missiles fell down inside the village itself.

Well, at least now people are talking about the war. The local chat group is alive with questions: Why doesn’t our village have an air alert system? How do we know when it’s safe to go outside? What is best to do when something is happening, go to the basement?

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It’s all quite sudden, extremely jolting, and totally new.

The manager of our village co-op, an unflappable fellow whose name I won’t mention, posted a message of vigilance on the chat channel.

“Dear residents, it is necessary to inspect the surrounding area for damage to buildings, infrastructure, and other property. If some objects are detected, do not approach or touch them with your hands and immediately call the police!!! We are monitoring the territory, but not everything can be seen at once, and we need your help. …

“The situation is very serious. Maybe now many people will wake up and realize that the fighting is going on, much closer than we thought, and that things will not be the same in the near future. Stay alert and take care of yourself.”

It’s astounding that no one seems to have predicted this. It’s been more than a year, and the nightly news has reported one unpleasant surprise after another to Russian audiences. Earlier this month two Ukrainian drones actually hit the Kremlin, one of them crashing directly onto the dome of the Senate Palace, where Mr. Putin’s office is located.

And, of course, Russian forces have been pounding Ukrainian cities from the air since the beginning of what they still call the “special military operation,” including more than two weeks of ongoing missile and drone barrages against Kyiv. All of that is thoroughly reported in the Russian media, as is all the chatter about Ukraine’s upcoming military counteroffensive. So, it’s not as if people didn’t know.

But today’s drone strike has brought the war home to Russians in a fresh and unexpected way. What will be the effect of that? Militarily, the attack was little more than a nuisance, so its intent must have been psychological. It’s never easy to read Russians, and they are famously tough and resilient. There’s certainly no sign of panic around here.

But the war came to Moscow today. And I, for one, felt I understood a bit better what Ukrainians are going through.


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