kyiv tries to forget the worst of the war: “It’s scary to get used to alarm sirens” | International

Young people in caps and gowns take selfies with their brand new university degrees, but when asked how they are going to celebrate, they say that they only think about starting work to donate money to the army. Two men dressed as soldiers enjoy a drink in the shade of a tree, but the calm they seem is just a facade: the next day they return to the war front. Two girls laugh on the bench while they share confidences, but, when they inquire a little about their lives, they say that they have just returned after months of refuge in another city and that the invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin has left them jobless.

These days kyiv looks like a box of mirrors where nothing is what it seems. The Ukrainian capital experiences a spectacular transition from spring to summer, which sometimes leads one to forget that one is in a country at war. But it is enough to ask anyone to verify that if this is normal, it is very strange. Each person is a source of exciting stories, and mostly quite sad.

The City Council of the Ukrainian capital has just announced that citizens can return to parks and squares without risk: all have been inspected for explosives, and only six remain closed for now. The theaters have been opening little by little – first it was the works that were performed underground – but they have had to advance their schedule due to the curfew that governs kyiv from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. So the spectators now have to get used to seeing the works in the early afternoon. In addition, the traditional Russian Drama Theater (has reopened, albeit with a slight change: its entire repertoire, before February 24 in the language of Leo Tolstoy, is now performed in Ukrainian. This linguistic leap has also led to reconciliation with its traditional rival, the Ivan Franko Theatre, which has moved its performances to the Russian Drama stage for security reasons, as its headquarters are just opposite the presidential palace.

All this would suggest a relative return to normality in kyiv, even if this is with a curfew and a landscape of sandbags and security checkpoints on the outskirts. A siren is also heard from time to time, warning of the risk of an air attack, but nobody seems to pay much attention to it. A walk through Taras Shevchenko Park, opposite the University, seems to confirm this impression of tranquility. But Lena Karchevska, 23, refuses to talk about this supposed normality: “It’s very hard. Now we are here sunbathing at ease, but it is scary to get used to the noise of the sirens. Furthermore, Ella Karchevska admits that she finds it impossible to abstract herself from what is happening in the rest of the country. Thinking of Mariupol and so many other cities punished by the Russians prevents her from being calm. The father of one of her best friends has gone to fight on the front lines. Does he know how he is? “No, just that he is alive,” he replies.

Several people play chess in Taras Shevchenko Park in kyiv on Monday.
Several people play chess in Taras Shevchenko Park in kyiv on Monday.louis doncel

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Nor does Natalia Hurinenko want to use the word normality. Before February 24, the day Moscow troops stormed in, this 20-year-old led a conventional life as a business management student. But when the war started she decided that she had to contribute, so she took a first aid course and now she travels through different military units to instruct soldiers on how to make tourniquets and deal with massive bleeding. The day before, she had arrived from a center 30 kilometers from the front line, near Severodonetsk, the eastern town that the Russians already control almost entirely. She admits that she has had problems with her parents because they don’t want her daughter to be exposed to danger. “But I have to do something for my country,” she says with a smile. In the park she is with her computer, doing homework from her first life, but she says that at any moment they can call her to return to her second life, that of a soldier instructor. “I don’t understand very well that here, in this park, we are doing as if nothing were happening”, she says goodbye.

An admirer of Jordi Savall

Because it is true that while people are walking, chatting animatedly on the benches or playing chess or backgammon in the park, the bad news keeps coming. Like, according to the mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boichenko, in the city controlled by the Russians 100,000 people do not have access to drinking water; or that in Odessa, in the south of the country, there have been several explosions; or that the Russian missiles fallen in the province of Dnipro, in the southeast, have killed three people. Taras Kempanichenko has first-hand news of these tragedies. In Ukraine he is a well-known composer who plays the lyre and bandurria. He declares himself passionate about baroque music and the Catalan viola player Jordi Savall. But the war has forced him to change instruments for weapons. The next day he will go to the Donbas front. A friend of hers has just learned of the death of her son in the war. One more fallen in a war that costs the lives of more than 100 Ukrainians every day.

Daniel Trubnikov, 22, takes photos with three friends in front of Shevchenko National University, where he just graduated in Finance and Banking. He is full of joy, but at times he seems to be ashamed of his joy. How are you going to celebrate? “I would like to go to a club, but they are closed,” he answers at first. Then he thinks better of it and adds: “But I understand that in these circumstances they are closed. We really don’t feel like celebrating. We’ll go get something to eat and that’s it. What we want is to start working to earn money and be able to make donations to our army.” It is not very clear if this is what he really thinks or what he thinks he should respond to a foreign journalist. But it does make it clear that in kyiv there remains little to celebrate.

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