The lady at the hotel reception first presents a declaration of commitment to be signed. If you die or get injured here, “then that is the responsibility of the aggressor country and not the hotel management”. Then she explains where the shelter is. If there’s an air raid. How often is this currently happening? “Well, that depends on Putin,” she replies. “Unfortunately.”
Welcome to Kyiv, a city of contrasts in times of war. The subways are full. The American fast food chain KFC has reopened, McDonald’s is still closed. Cafes are open, ice cream parlors, a bagpiper delights people sitting in the sun at Kyiv’s Golden Gate. A shop has changed the range to solidarity with the war heroes, their own of course.
For example, there are T-shirts with tractors towing away Russian tanks, “proudly made in Ukraine”. The Kyiv Food Plaza has reopened, reminiscent of chic Berlin market halls with good food, a large selection of wines and craft beer. Well filled in the evening. The first concerts are given again in the opera.
During the day, Kyiv tries to forget the war, and when there is an air raid, many don’t even go into the bunkers and shelters. At the same time, important government buildings are hermetically sealed off. Sandbags in front of the windows, concrete barriers, heavily armed soldiers patrol.
Destroyed, captured Russian tanks and rocket launchers are set up on Michaelplatz, in the shadow of the famous monastery with its golden domed towers. Signs explain where each weapon was captured, such as a 152mm MSTA-S howitzer that was destroyed in the Sumy region in June. The Russians have lost more than 50 of these devices since the beginning of the war.
The war scrap is intended to motivate the citizens, it is intended to prove that the war against Russia can be won. The exhibition, an idea of the Department of Defense, has become an attraction. Children climb on it, fathers and mothers take photos.
Next to it, sandbags are stacked up to form a tower, with red letters reading: “World help us.” It’s a memorial. Labels are attached, in English and Ukrainian, urgently advertised for new soldiers, “of all ages and genders”. The salary offered is $1,200 a month.
Everyone is also thanking the fighters in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, who held out there for weeks, had to surrender in the end and many of whom were killed. On the other side of Michaelplatz, hundreds of meters of pictures hang on a wall showing all the Ukrainians who have been killed since 2014 – the soldiers who have died since February 24, 2022 are not even included.
“You can’t live in war all the time, you need your island of normality,” says Roman Wybranovskyj, who drinks a beer in the Kyiv Food Plaza in the evening and works for a transport company. “That’s what all psychologists say, all soldiers. With their warfare, the Russians want to force us to despair. And we’re showing Putin: No.” That’s why he and his wife recently made a conscious decision to return to Kyiv from the safer city of Lviv in western Ukraine.
He pulls his smartphone out of his pocket and shows a video of the TV tower in the capital being bombed in the first days of the war. The family lives around the corner. A fireball can be seen in the video. At that time there was a risk of losing their homeland – and worse. “Now new cafes are opening there again.”
How close the catastrophe was can be seen less than 30 kilometers away, in suburbs like Irpin, where people are waiting for the bus amidst the ruins that day. The rubble is gradually being cleared away, it’s a long way back to a certain normality here. Especially in Bucha.
The Russian attackers came very close to Kyiv, but underestimated the reaction force and resistance of the Ukrainian army. Most of the bridges destroyed by the Ukrainian army, which helped stop the Russian advance, have also been repaired, and the train can once again serve suburban towns like Irpin as usual.
No place in Kyiv is more symbolic than Maidan, Independence Square. Colorful flowers bloom in the beds and a sea of blue and yellow flags greets the passers-by. But here, too, calls for “military recruiting” are hanging everywhere. The mood is one thing above all – just like in the loveliest corners of the city: serious.
A skateboarder negotiates sandbag barricades at high speed, a pensioner tries to earn money by selling blue and yellow solidarity bracelets.
Questions continue to be raised as to whether German support will continue, fearing that Putin’s gas policy could dwindle interest in the war, public support for more arms shipments and Western sanctions. And that, in the long run, Russia could turn the tide in its favor and then reach out and bomb Kyiv again.
Many have lost their jobs, are struggling to get by, and there is a great sense of togetherness. Some are trying to defy Putin in their own way. In a café that offers Crimean tartare specialties such as chebureki – deep-fried dumplings – a picture of Putin has been embedded in the toilet bowl. Likewise on the steps of the entrance staircase, every guest has to step on his face if he wants to enter the shop.
The war can be somewhat forgotten during the day, less so after dark. Then Kyiv goes dark to protect against attacks, and there is a curfew from 11 p.m. So it is a summer of hope and at the same time of concern. A resident says: “We must have no illusions. The Chechens also put up a heroic fight against the Russians at first. Then they reorganized and hit back all the harder.”