Kyiv Diary 3/30/2022: ‘A Pretense of Normal Life’

Kyiv Diary, Latest

Moment is publishing regular updates from Helen, a Soviet American Jew living in Kyiv. Read all the diary entries here.

It has been rather quiet in Kyiv for the last couple of days.

I see some cafes are open, and I even saw two open restaurants in the vicinity of my apartment building. These establishments are starting to open because people want to communicate. They want at least to have a pretense of normal life, even though nothing is normal. Kyiv’s city center certainly seems less deserted than just days before.

Half of Kyiv’s population, 2 million people, has left the capital. That means that there are not enough employees to keep stores, pharmacies and clinics—never mind the eateries—operating. One in ten pharmacies is open. The same goes for stores. The grocery store nearby with nearly empty shelves is closing. I saw them packing the leftovers of their slim pickings today. Nevertheless, there are so many willing-to-work professionals who stayed in Ukraine! And now they are joining forces to keep those one in ten establishments open. I admire their courage and patience while working with distressed locals, maintaining smiles and providing exceptional customer service. As the Russian military unleashes its arsenal throughout the country, the desire for normalcy has not been ripped away.

What I find most remarkable is the resilience of the people here. There are so many volunteers who prepare and deliver food and water to those in need, help the elderly, rescue animals, donate blood, collect medicines, take people out of dangerous locations, as well as civilians who are trying to keep their spirits high in such incredibly turbulent times. I’m proud to be among those volunteers.

Sometimes I think about younger Ukrainians who escaped from Kyiv to western parts of the country—those in their 30s, with no children to care for—and I wonder, why didn’t they stay? I understand their decision, but I also sometimes feel that they abandoned their city and their people in a time of need. 

Rather than think too much about that, I spend my time volunteering, translating petitions. I also continue giving online English lessons to my teenage students over Zoom whether they are at home or in bomb shelters. These lessons provide some distraction for the kids and some peace to their parents. My heart bleeds for these youngsters who have not had the chance to experience their youth—no dating, no proms, no schooling—first due to COVID-19, and now the war. Now all graduation exams have been canceled. It’s so sad and painful.

Kyivites have experienced war not as a grand struggle of nations but as something more personal—something horrible and grueling, to be managed and survived. But beneath the ghost city surface, the heartbeat of the city still pulses. Garbage is collected, which means that street cleaners are still at work. Public transport and the metro still operate certain routes. Electricity is on and stable, and there is reliable internet connection and running water. Schools resumed remote learning this week, although with teachers and students scattered all over Europe they are not on a regular schedule. Medical care is offered at various locations throughout the city. There are organizations coordinating efforts to deliver food and basic hygiene products to people who are unable to leave their homes. And a new 24-hour hotline, staffed with psychiatrists, is available for children who have been traumatized by the war. There is a surreal calm in Kyiv.

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