A recent article in Bloomberg CityLab by Shlomo Angel, professor of city planning and former Captain of the Israeli Defense Forces, elaborates on how Ukraine could endure the war now that the fight has been brought to its cities. He emphasizes the incredible difficulty an invading army faces when the war forces them to mount a siege of a city and the advantage it presents to a motivated population.
Sieges throughout history have been costly to both the besieged and the besiegers. It also rarely achieves the besiegers’ military goal. Now that the Russian forces have decided to lay siege to the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, they have greatly reduced the effectiveness of their air superiority, hard-hitting tanks, and the size of their army. They’ve been forced to funnel their troops into smaller areas, surrounded on all sides by buildings from which resolute Ukrainian city-dwellers can counterattack with their home field advantage.
Angel says the true advantage comes in the cities’ “infinite complexity — millions of people making billions of unrelated decisions on their own, day in and day out, and it all comes together somehow. Cities ‘work’ because of their innate resilience; they have an inexhaustible ability to reinvent themselves, to regenerate their civic spirit, to fashion and refashion innovative solutions to crises, and even to rise from the ashes.” This is how Ukraine could win and hold onto its independence and democracy, but it will take time and support.
Transforming their cities into maze-like fortresses gives Ukrainians an advantage, but to keep it they will need continued support in the form of food, medicine, and armaments. Angel cites the recent example of the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. The Serbian Army had the city surrounded for nearly four years yet were unable to take it or break the will of the Bosnians defending their home, who also maintained an 800-meter tunnel for smuggling supplies. This was essential for Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s survival, and the odds are a little better for Ukraine’s cities.
Kyiv is an enormous city of over 300 square miles and once over 3 million inhabitants. It is made of many interlinked suburbs and has a density much like Los Angeles. This makes it harder to surround and much easier for supplies to get into the city. Ukraine has also gained much international fervor that can help in receiving supplies.
While the duration of the war may go on for more weeks, months, or even years, Ukraine is fighting where it has the best chance: in its urban strongholds.