Larysa Zariczniak, Kyiv.
It has been several weeks since moving to Kyiv and many people ask how living in Ukraine has been. A few years ago, I lived in Kyiv during the winter months and even though it was cold, it was still lively – young people out in the centre of Kyiv. Now, Kyiv is quieter.
This quiet was first noticed in August but it is the same quiet that is in the city now covered in snow. As you walk in the city centre, you can’t help but notice the increased number of military personal also walking around you. That’s no surprise as most of the volunteer battalions either have their headquarters in Kyiv or are first stationed there on their rotation. On one of the corners of Instytutska and Khreschatyk there is a permanent guard of volunteer battalion soldiers raising funds for their units fighting on the front in the Anti-Terrorist Operation.
As you walk along the streets of Kyiv, the trees almost painted in white by the wet sticking snow, the scars of the violence have physically almost disappeared. The tents are gone, the bricks have been put back into their place and the majority of the barricades are all cleared up.
There are some remnants of the protest that enraptured the whole world. In the middle of Hrushevskoho Street, right in front of the Dynamo Kyiv Stadium there is a small brick barricade still in place. Instytutska is closed from Hotel Ukraina to Khreschatyk – that is where the majority of the killings occurred and that section is lined with the pictures of the “Heavenly Hundred”. Walking through this area, people almost never really speak – they whisper, cry, pray and explain to their children what this street means to Ukraine’s history.
Walking down these streets, you see railings on the bridges are painted blue and yellow and the Ukrainian national flag is hung from any imagined edifice. This is the new Kyiv, in the middle of a transformation and a war.
There have been many reports that Kyiv is ignoring the war, that life is going even though there is daily devastating news coming in from the East. But life in all parts of the country is still going – life in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and even Sloviansk is still going forward. There are still people going out, having fun and trying not to think about the situation of their country for one night. Even Paris still had cafes and bars open during the Second World War. In Kyiv however, there is less of this activity than it once was.
You can feel the difference when you leave the city and go westward – into Lviv for example. The war is much further away there and life goes on. There are still young people going out, having fun, and drinking in the city centre. The line to get into the famous restaurant Kryivka in Lviv is long and the cafes are full of people. You hardly see any soldiers in Lviv – the war is in the distance there. Lviv has also grown into its European destiny, mainly by its geographical position and history.
At the same time, living in Kyiv is not like living in other cities closer to the fighting. There’s more calm here, everything is still open (even though most places do close earlier now) and the daily life of the city is still going. But you can’t run away from the war either: in most of the bars around the city centre there’s some soldiers from the front coming in or going. The other day, a Kyiv battalion came back from the front and was greeted in front of Kyiv City Hall by Mayor Vitaliy Klytschko.
This is Kyiv today – the capital of a country at war. With soldiers, memorials, flowers and donation boxes – one cannot forget that the war is ongoing or why it started in the first place.