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Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst and Sr. Fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa, which built its reputation for unrestrained exuberance and as a critical stage of the global food supply chain, resembled a ghost town Monday night after waves of Russian drone and rocket strikes plunged it into darkness.

Ukrainians aren’t waiting to see what an increasingly unhinged Russian President Vladimir Putin will do in response to the terror attack on a Moscow entertainment venue, which he pinned on Kyiv. For many, hell on earth has already arrived with the return of prolonged power cuts and unpredictable, round-the-clock attacks that include the use of extremely lethal hypersonic rockets.

Last Friday, the energy system suffered the largest attack since the start of the full-scale invasion. Major power provider DTEK said it lost around half of its generation capacity and two major power plants were knocked out. The grid network sustained major damage, leaving 1.5 million people without power, said chief executive officer Maxim Timchenko.

While it’s impossible to get into the twisted mind of Mr. Putin, there’s general agreement here that his forces won’t try to occupy Odesa ,but rather pummel it with further waves of damaging strikes. Already, Ukraine’s second largest city and a traditional centre of learning, Kharkiv, has been so severely bombed that classrooms for primary and secondary education have been moved underground. It’d be entirely part of the Russian playbook to use the Moscow attack as a pretext to escalate the war on Ukraine even further.

It catapulted residents back to a year ago when almost daily blackouts almost brought Odesa’s economy to its knees. But what’s different this time is what’s happening beneath the surface: one by one the young people that represent the bedrock of Odesa’s talent pool are leaving for safer ground in Western Europe. It isn’t a mass exodus but a slow death by a thousand cuts, triggered in part by the daily barrage of Russian drones and rockets that have lately targeted critical infrastructure. A friend who I regard as one of Odesa’s best, brightest and toughest told me recently that she needed to prioritize her mental health and will resettle temporarily in Western Europe. A well-known business owner, whom I’d long considered the threshold for me of whether to stay or go, left a couple of weeks ago.

There are signs too that after two years of war, the incredibly resilient Ukrainian economy faces difficult headwinds. In its latest report, the International Monetary Fund said “the outlook remains subject to exceptionally high uncertainty” and that a prolonged war and lagging Western pledges could slow growth further. Here on the ground in Odesa, the hardships are clearly visible: at a central humanitarian aid point for internally displaced persons, staff told me that now about 50 per cent of people queuing for the soup kitchen are locals. In the lobby of my apartment building in a relatively well-off neighbourhood, the growing mountain of unpaid utility bills are hard to miss. The total in unpaid utility bills in Odesa has ballooned to more than US$100-million, according to a city official.

My local friends nod in agreement when I voice concern that Mr. Putin’s aggression isn’t just about bombs and cyberattacks but a type of psychological warfare that wears even the most resilient down. Tactics have changed for the worse recently with drones and missiles arriving both day and night, along with powerful glide bombs, Onyx anti-ship cruise missiles and Zircon hypersonic missiles, which fly at cities at such velocity that there’s little chance to reach bomb shelters in time. A video that went viral earlier this week shows school children in Kyiv screaming in a mad dash for shelter as explosions ring out overhead.

Not all is bleak, especially as the sunshine and warmer weather returns to the western Black Sea. Ukrainian forces have been able to inflict such massive damage on the Russian navy that Odesa port has been deemed safe enough for international vessels to return, allowing agriculture exports at almost pre-war levels. And the students at the marine colleges still turn up for class every day dressed in their snazzy uniforms, showing no sign of giving up on their dreams of a life at sea.

We used to go to bed fearing what the night will bring from Russia’s aggressive and dehumanizing tactics. Now we wake up with the prospect of a violent day ahead too. If only the world would finally wake up to the prospect that if Mr. Putin isn’t stopped, this war could soon become their nightmare too.

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