KYIV — What a time to be in Ukraine.
No weekend is uneventful in a country at war, but this one has been wild.
Never mind the air-raid sirens that kicked it off before curfew Friday night, ringing off and on through 6 a.m. (The death toll from those strikes on Kyiv apartment buildings stands at five.)
The city’s faced those since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February 2022, planning to take the capital in three days.
No, for perhaps the first time in more than a year, events outside the country have captured everyone’s attention for days.
“Of course, it was fun to watch Russia yesterday,” a Ukrainian soprano told me Sunday. She’d devoured the news before and after she performed in “La Traviata” at the National Opera of Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group took the crucial Russian military hub Rostov-on-Don and began a march to Moscow that had this city practically cheering for the mercenaries whose focus just days ago was killing Ukrainians.
With Prigozhin picking up turncoat Russian military divisions along the way, it seemed he might actually make it to the Kremlin — only to seal a deal with the devil that saw him agree to exile in Belarus.
Could Prigozhin have taken down Putin? Why on earth would he back down after getting so close? What did he get in exchange for letting his former pal stay in power?
I couldn’t wait to get answers Sunday from Ukrainians and American expats. But they were almost as puzzled as I.
The range of debate on the questions here is rather narrower than in America.
Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, might think Prigozhin, now an “alternative leader” to Putin, won’t stay banished in Belarus for long.
Yet when I asked if I’m right in thinking the Wagner Group chief is dead within a year, a young Ukrainian entrepreneur and activist practically laughed. “He’s dead in a few days,” Michael Poperechnyk predicted.
American experts, even the smartest, said Prigozhin had no chance against Putin.
But over green borshch and varenyky filled with pike perch, an American with a Ukrainian daughter who’s lived here for years pointed out Moscow was relying on poorly trained policemen to keep out Prigozhin’s battle-hardened warriors.
The Wagner Group’s sudden coup met an even swifter end — and even Ukrainians like Poperechnyk, who’s studied his aggressive neighbor his whole life and travels the European Union warning of Russia’s threat, couldn’t explain just what had happened.
Had Putin let Prigozhin attack his own defense ministry but quickly regret it? Was this a fake “coup” Putin staged to end a power struggle between Russian military brass and the mercenary leader who’d racked up more victories than they had?
Did the dictator figure out a way to get rid of a man whose work for the Russian glory Putin aims to restore made him a more popular figure than the president?
Everyone else in the world is asking the same questions. The difference is the speculation in Kyiv is better informed — and not just idle.
The answers might tell them how to proceed as they struggle for survival.
Kelly Jane Torrance is The Post’s op-ed editor.
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