More than four months after the Russian invasion, the wailing of air raid sirens warning of an imminent attack has become something of a background noise for some Ukrainians: irritating, alarming, but also ignorable.
However, a string of deadly rocket attacks by Russian forces in recent days, hitting civilian targets, has changed the calculus, prompting Ukraine’s leadership to seek to reinforce the message that complying with the recommendation to seek shelter saves lives .
“I beg you again: please do not ignore the air alert signals,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said in a national address this weekend. “Appropriate rules of conduct must be observed at all times.”
Many people in Ukraine still do not have access to air raid shelters. In Kharkiv, the country’s second-biggest city, officials have said they don’t plan to reopen schools in the fall, partly because not all schools have one. In Lviv, the western Ukrainian city near the Polish border where hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians have settled, all new buildings must contain bomb shelters.
But many Ukrainians in larger cities are not only complacent in the face of danger, but too war-weary to worry about the threat of attack.
On Saturday night in Kharkiv, where Russian artillery strikes take place almost every night, young people drank at outdoor tables and listened to live music at a popular bar.
“My neighbors go into the basement; older people go, but young people don’t,” said one of the benefactors, Maryna Zviagintseva, 28.
“I think for the first month everyone was afraid they were going to go on the subway or somewhere else,” said Vladyslav Andriienko, 29, a construction worker. “Now people are trying to live normal lives.”
In last week’s deadliest attack, three Kalibr cruise missiles fired from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea hit the center of the provincial capital, Vinnytsia, killing 23 and injuring 140 others. Among those killed in Thursday’s strike were Liza Dmytriyeva, a 4-year-old with Down syndrome, and two other children.
The next day, at least ten Russian rockets fell on the southern city of Mykolaiv, hitting two universities, a hotel and a shopping mall. Later Friday, three people were killed and 16 others injured when at least one missile hit a target in Dnipro, central Ukraine.
Anti-aircraft batteries shot down a missile over the Kyiv region of northern Ukraine and four others in Dnipro on Friday, Ukrainian military authorities said.
And on Saturday, a Russian missile hit a warehouse in the Odessa region, causing a fire, according to a spokesman for the regional military administration Serhii Bratchuk. He said there were no injuries because security forces retreated to a shelter as soon as they heard the siren.
A senior US military official said Friday that between 100 and 150 civilians may have been killed in Russian attacks in Ukraine last week. Moscow denies it is targeting civilians in what it says is limited military action in Ukraine aimed at ridding the country of Nazis.
However, Ukrainian officials say the attacks are primarily aimed at spreading terror and are part of a genocidal campaign by President Vladimir Putin and his military.
“This is the annihilation of Ukrainians as a nation,” Oleksandr Motuzianyk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said on TV on Friday. “This is an attempt to break the spirit of Ukrainians and reduce their resistance.”
Moscow’s recent military gains, particularly in the Luhansk province of eastern Donbass, result largely from its artillery superiority, but an influx of arms from the United States and other countries is beginning to restore that balance. Zelenskyi said the situation partly explains the increase in recent strikes.
“The occupiers realize that we are gradually getting stronger,” he said. “The aim of their terror is very simple: to put pressure on you and me, on our society, to intimidate people, to cause as much damage as possible to Ukrainian cities while Russian terrorists are still able to do it.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.