For month after endless month, nights in Kyiv were punctuated by the wail of air raid sirens and the sound of explosions from missile and drone attacks. Now, an unusually long lull in nighttime bombardments of the city by Russian forces is allowing residents to do something they have been dreaming of — finally getting some sleep.
“I really feel the difference,” said Anastasia Tsvion, looking rested after a good night’s sleep, undisturbed by missiles dropping or sirens going off and forcing her to seek safety in a nearby subway station. “I can live a normal life,” said Ms. Tsvion, 27, who works as an analyst for a group tracking malicious Russian information campaigns. “Physically, I am not exhausted.”
While no one expects the lull to continue for long, it has been welcomed by residents of a city that has been subject to more than 1,000 hours of air raid sirens from the start of the war through late September of this year, according to local authorities, as Russia sent waves of missiles and drones in an attempt to destroy crucial energy and military infrastructure, and break the will of the population.
Some 170 people have been killed since the attacks began last year, according to city officials, but health experts say that the repeated attacks have also taken a toll on those who survive, causing sleep disorders and chronic stress.
With the pause in attacks, Kyiv residents say they are feeling healthier, are more productive at work and less prone to nervous breakdowns.
Dara Molchanova, a 32-year-old employee of an information technology company, said she had initially been surprised by the newfound tranquillity over Kyiv’s skies, but quickly embraced it. Her new morning routine includes workouts, and she said she is able to donate more to the Ukrainian Army “because you work better and earn more.”
“It was a productive month compared to a month when there were frequent sirens,” she said, sitting in a trendy cafe in a light-filled courtyard bustling with locals enjoying drinks on a recent afternoon.
Like many other Kyiv residents, Ms. Molchanova said she associated her sleepless nights with the month of May of this year, when Russia launched barrages of missiles and drones at the capital, most of them at night.
Kyiv’s powerful air defense systems, including Western-supplied Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries, managed to repel most of the attacks.
But that did not stop the alarms from constantly sounding, through a citywide system that blares monotone sirens in Kyiv or through phone applications that imitate their sound and play chilling voice messages such as “Attention! Air raid alert. Proceed to the nearest shelter. Don’t be careless, your overconfidence is your weakness.”
“I was tired and exhausted all the time,” Ms. Tsvion said, recalling how she would jump out of bed at night, dash from her building and into a bomb shelter in a subway station.
Bleary-eyed people heading to work in the morning became a fixture on Kyiv’s streets.
Many residents developed techniques to squeeze in some sleep, including scouring social media to assess the risk of imminent attacks after hearing air-raid alerts. Drones, which are easily shot down? Back to bed. Ballistic missiles? Take cover. Some people said they eventually deleted their air-raid alert phone applications.
Ms. Molchanova said that after a sleepless night, she would sometimes ask her employer for time off or “attend a meeting, and then say, ‘Sorry, I’ll take an hour to sleep.’” A doctor prescribed melatonin pills to help her sleep better, she said.
Daria Pylypenko, a Kyiv-based somnologist, said new patients had flocked to her since the beginning of the war and that she had diagnosed many with insomnia.
The authorities have warned that another air campaign against Ukraine’s energy grid is highly likely — meaning that the quiet nights may soon be a distant memory.
“We are almost halfway through November and must be prepared for the fact that the enemy may increase the number of drone or missile strikes on our infrastructure,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Sunday.
Already, residents of Kyiv have noticed a slight uptick in the number of alarms recently. They have sounded 10 times since the beginning of November and, for the first time in more than a month, sirens went off after midnight on Wednesday.
“If there are no explosions for more than two weeks and up to a month, we are in a strong state of anticipation, which causes us to wake up at any sound, and sleep deteriorates,” Ms. Pylypenko said.
Some residents said they had become so used to the sirens that they were now imagining their sound in their absence — and waking up as a result.
This paradox has been captured in a popular meme that has recently spread on social media, depicting a conversation between a sleeping girl and her brain.
“Are you sleeping?” the brain asks the girl. “Yeah, so shh,” she responds.
“Guess,” the brain continues, “is this siren real, or am I kidding?”
The girl opens her eyes wide.