Exhilaration in battered Ukraine as coup arises in Russia

After a night of Russian missile strikes on Kyiv apartment buildings killed three people, you’d expect the mood Saturday to be somber.

The air-raid alerts started more than two hours before the Ukrainian capital’s midnight curfew Friday and continued with cellphones blasting sirens at nearly 6 a.m. 

But something much more important had happened in Russia itself: Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose mercenary Wagner Group just days ago was killing Ukrainians, captured military supply-hub Rostov and began a march to Moscow, the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule since he took power in 2000. 

When I arrived in nearby Irpin, hit hard when invaded Feb. 24, 2022, I shook hands with former Mayor Volodymyr Karpliuk and remarked, “Good news from Russia.” 

“Da,” he agreed, a huge smile lighting up his face. 

“Maybe it will stop the war in our territory. He must take his soldiers to Russia,” mused the translator, Olha Hushchyna, 37.

Her husband has been a prisoner of war in Russia for eight years — their daughter just 2 when he was taken. 

Irpin church
A photo exhibit in the Irpin church that overlooks a mass grave of 1,500 bodies shows some of the worst atrocities Russians have committed in this invasion.

Road destroyed by Russians
Road destroyed by Russians (right), beside road being rebuilt, in Bucha.
Kelly Torrence

Former Irpin Mayor Volodymyr Karpliuk talks to Akhmed Zakayev, Chechen prime minister in exile
Former Irpin Mayor Volodymyr Karpliuk talks to Akhmed Zakayev, Chechen prime minister in exile.
Kelly Torrence

Millions of Ukrainians had the same thought. 

A tour of devastation in Irpin and Bucha could never be easy.

A photo exhibit in the Irpin church that overlooks a mass grave of 1,500 bodies shows some of the worst atrocities Russians have committed in this invasion. 

Everything to know about the Wagner Group’s attack on Russia

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenary fighting force will not face charges and will instead be exiled despite leading an armed insurrection against Moscow Saturday, the Kremlin said.

Prigozhin, owner and founder of the mercenary organization, called for an armed rebellion and threatened to rush Moscow in order to oust the minister who he accused of ordering the bombing of his war camps in Ukraine.

However, Prigozhin eventually agreed to halt the Wagner Group’s advance on Moscow just 120 miles from the capital city after a day-long negation the mercenary leader had with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who was given permission to broker a deal with Progozhin by Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s presidential plane left Moscow early Saturday, sparking rumors that he had fled the Russian capital as the Wagner Group’s mercenary forces advanced on the city.

The president’s aircraft was spotted on flight radar flying northwest from Moscow to the St Petersburg area — but then disappeared from the system near the city of Tver, the BBC reported, where Putin owns a large rural retreat.


But the mood there was mixed: Bombs had rained down just hours before, but spirits were high as regional leaders discussed the game-changing news. 

“We’ve spent a long time waiting for revenge,” Inal Sherip said to me with a deep laugh.

“This is, you remember, ‘The Godfather.’ ”

As the film’s title character said, “Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.” 

‘Russia is a circus’ 

Sherip, a Belgium-based filmmaker, is the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria government-in-exile’s foreign minister. 

I was late meeting his group back in Kyiv for lunch after Ukrainian police stopped my group and searched our car. 

Lunch was off the record: We were breaking bread.

But I couldn’t resist asking Akhmed Zakayev, Chechen prime minister in exile, at his group’s headquarters afterward if I could get on the record some of our discussion of the Shakespearean dimensions of Putin’s crisis, which he noted was entirely self-inflicted — invading Ukraine was a huge mistake that will end his regime. 

Zakayev was a Shakespearean actor before he took up the fight against the Russian dictator. 

Events in the big bear next door were moving quickly even as we spoke, with Prigozhin and Putin making a deal. 

But he’d already told me Putin would be in power “in September or October, probably November” — his exit predicted to be mere months away. 

Saturday night in Kyiv, young people leaving bars stumbled alongside the giant, lit-up Ferris wheel in Kontraktova Square. 

What did they think of the day’s momentous events? 

“Russia is a circus,” one young woman concluded. 

Kelly Jane Torrance is The Post’s op-ed editor. 

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