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City of bold hopes. How Kyiv lives during the war

The war has certainly changed the capital, but despite everything, the streets of this city have regained their rhythm and retained their soulfulness.

October 2, 2022 - Olena Petryshyn - Stories and ideas

Photo: Gural Roman / Shutterstock

In the first weeks of the war’s escalation, bustling Kyiv resembled an exclusion zone: almost deserted streets, numerous checkpoints, and constant sirens. In the 21st century – when the entire civilized world has long since taken the side of light and development – the capital of peace-loving Ukraine suffered from barbaric Russian shelling. Bombed houses and taken lives sowed panic and despair… Fighting continued nearby.

In these dark days, it was difficult to hold on to hope, and only faith and joint struggle gave us the strength to survive and meet new, sunny dawns.

On April 2, the Armed Forces of Ukraine magically liberated the entire Kyiv region from the last traces of the enemy. And now, in the eighth month of the war, our Kyiv is living again. What kind of life is it?

Energetic, because new immigrants from the occupied territories arrive here almost every day and all of them need our help. Dynamic, because Kyiv residents realize that there is no time to give up, they need to work and help the army.

Anxious, because sometimes sirens go off several times a day. Mourning, because despite the remoteness of the front line, people say goodbye to fallen soldiers several times a week in the center of Kyiv.

And still unusual: because last fall we were boldly making personal plans, getting upset over trifles, arguing with each other… And today we realize that all this is so unimportant, and we want only one thing – Victory.

Kyiv peremohyny stop

In the morning, there’s not a drop of apple at the Zoloti Vorota metro station. The popular central transfer hub is once again as crowded with passengers as it was in the peaceful pre-war days.

The subway, which in early spring worked as a shelter and ran at hourly intervals, is now picking up passengers from the platform every 2-4 minutes.

If it weren’t for the stoppage of trains during sirens (two subway lines run over open-air bridges, which suspend traffic) and curfew restrictions, one could say that the Kyiv metro has completely returned to normal.

According to statistics, the subway carries about 3-3.5 million passengers every week. The police are on duty at the entrances, and the stations are still operating as shelters-even at night-but passengers are allowed in with a passport.

From time to time, workshops are held in the station halls: experts teach how to provide first aid and what to do in case of mine danger. In the busy rhythm of life, such exercises are just another chilling reminder that the war is on, and the danger is near.

Every day, buses, trolleybuses, and trams are on the move. Since August, an important rule has been added to the normal flow of public transportation in Kyiv. If a siren sounds during a trip, passengers must get out of the vehicle and go to the nearest shelter.

For this purpose, the city has more than 3,600 shelters that can simultaneously shelter about 3 million people. By the way, according to the latest estimates, this is the number of people in the city today. About a million have not yet returned…

Today, these people are calming their anxiety in western Ukraine, in neighboring Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Or even in distant Canada. Will they return? I want to believe they will.

Page “at home”

It was only in August that Alla, a young mother from Kyiv, returned from evacuation. Together with her 4-year-old daughter Anna, she spent the first two months of the war with relatives in western Ukraine. In May, they left for Croatia. Due to constant fear, Alla kept postponing her return to Kyiv. Her husband was also against it.

This decision was influenced, in particular, by the periodic shelling of the capital, such as when one of the rockets hit a high-rise building in the Shevchenkivskyi district in June. A 7-year-old girl was injured…

“The striking images of the child’s rescue were constantly before my eyes. I was afraid to even imagine my daughter in the place of that poor bloody girl… But finally, in August, we decided to return home. My Ania’s first words at home: “Mom, I’m very happy here!” Alla says today, barely holding back her tears.

Recently, members of the Kyiv City Council supported the decision to create a special housing fund in the city. The apartments will be provided for temporary use. The only thing the new residents will have to pay for is utilities.

For people who saw their homes in ruins or were forced to flee under fire, this news is very welcome. They say that this is not only financial but also therapeutic support for them. And a chance to start life from a new page.

Lesson “free Ukraine”

Even entire educational institutions are moving to Kyiv. Since April, the Mariupol State University has been operating on the basis of the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture.

The walls of the institution, which, by the way, is the same age as independent Ukraine, were destroyed during shelling in mid-March. Kyiv lent a friendly shoulder, and today teachers and students continue their studies here in the capital.

The youngest Kyiv residents have also returned to their textbooks, with 90% of students either taking lessons online or attending school.

Of the 421 municipal schools in Kyiv, 70% have shelters. Kindergartens are also open. Previously, only children of working parents could attend municipal preschools. Today, this decision has been cancelled.

Both schools and kindergartens have special rules. And now even a 4-year-old child knows that if a siren sounds, he or she must take an alarm backpack and go down to the shelter.

Basements have everything children need: from a desk to a bed, if it’s a kindergarten. There is also water, snacks and warm clothes. Each child has a note with their parents’ contact information and blood type… Someday these children – children of war – will grow up and remember their childhood in the past tense.

We want to believe that these disturbing childhood memories will be erased by the bright everyday life of adult life in peaceful Ukraine.

“Open” sign

At lunchtime, there is a several-meter-long line outside the Kyivska Perepichka, the capital’s trademark restaurant. Both passersby and employees of nearby offices buy the popular sausage pie. The cashier promptly hands out the change and kindly wishes them a “Good day.”

By the way, she says to her colleague: “Do you remember when we opened in April after a month and a half break? And how hard we were cooking. At the end of the shift, we were so tired! Today’s queues are only a fifth of those in April.”

In the first months of the war, most of the local establishments closed and started cooking for the Armed Forces, the terrorist defense, hospital patients, pensioners, and the poor. Recalling their contribution to this struggle, we can safely say that restaurants and small cafes in February and March were the “RVU” – the restaurant troops of Ukraine. Selflessly and selflessly, they did what they do best – cook. And they did a great job.

Today, almost all of the restaurants are back in business, attracting full houses of visitors. The war taught Kyiv residents to live in the here and now. That’s why, even despite the war, residents still have lunch or dinner in restaurants whenever possible. In this way, everyone is also trying to support local businesses, which are already struggling due to martial law.

By the way, at the end of March, the Kyiv authorities began actively encouraging entrepreneurs to return to work. Everyone understood that they had to fight on the economic front as well. For this purpose, businesses were even exempted from paying taxes for a while and allowed to avoid paying for utilities.

Thanks to the right priorities, entrepreneurs paid even more taxes to the local budget in the first half of the year than in the same months of peaceful 2021. Is this an indicator? It certainly is. Especially when you consider that these people work every day despite the danger of shelling.

News “loss”

“Dead again…”, “Dear community…”, “We have to inform you…”, “Sad news from the front…” – these are the messages that fill the news feeds and local Facebook groups every day. Is it possible to get used to it? No, it is not. Does it hurt less? No. Have we stopped asking ourselves how these children will continue to live without a father? No.

In recent months, the walls of Kyiv’s central shrine, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, have seen as much grief and tears as they have ever seen before. Traditionally, farewells to soldiers who have died heroically at the front are held here.

In general, this monastery has taken on a historic role since the Revolution of Dignity: it was here that the first bell sounded for several hours in a row since the Tatar-Mongol invasion. It was here that protesters hid from Berkut officers during the Maidan. It is here that funeral services are being held today…

By chance, I overhear a conversation between two teenagers of about 15 years old near the wall of memory, which was placed on the wall of the monastery.

“Have you ever thought that your photo could be there?” the girl asks.

“Neither did they,” he replies.

“In recent years, thousands of photos of fallen soldiers have been collected on this wall. Here are the faces of the heroes who have fallen since 2014 in the Russian-Ukrainian war. And this is another reminder that our struggle has been going on for eight years, since the occupation of Donbas, and in February of this winter it only got more intense.

The goal is “victory”

Over the past year, this city has become a city of bold hopes and new perspectives. Streets with totalitarian echoes have been renamed here, the names of “Russian drama” theaters have been changed, heads have been cut off the remains of Soviet monuments and “five-pointed stars” have been dismantled.

Today, the blue and yellow flag flies not only from government buildings, but also on banners and in shop windows, on cars and children’s backpacks. If you ask a first-grader what the Armed Forces of Ukraine are, he or she will probably say the Armed Forces of Ukraine without much hesitation…

Standing on Volodymyr’s Hill, which offers the most spectacular views of free Kyiv, the thought creeps in: despite everything, this land has managed to gain as much as it has lost.

And today, for some reason, it is here, in Kyiv, that this great energy of Ukraine’s unconquerability, the indomitability of Ukrainians, and our common bright “tomorrow” is most felt.

Olena Petryshyn is a journalist of with the Evening Kyiv web portal.

This article is published in the framework of the “Bohdan Osadchuk Media Platform for Journalists from Ukraine” co-financed by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation as part of the "Support Ukraine” Program implemented by the Education for Democracy Foundation and the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. 

Texts published as part of this project are available free of charge under open access Creative Commons license. Republishing is allowed under the CC license, however requires attribution and crediting the author and source. 

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