War, guilt and last kisses: a deceptive and restless calm in kyiv

At the open-air gym on Venice Beach, the name given to an enticing stretch of sand on the majestic Dnieper River that runs through Ukraine’s capital, Serhiy Chornyi is working on his summer body, up and down, climbing and lowering a thick piece of iron.

The point of your sweat and effort is not to impress girls in your sparkly summer bikinis. Working out is part of her contribution to Ukraine’s war effort: The National Guardsman hopes to be sent east to the battlefields soon and doesn’t want to take her belly with him tofighting the Russian invasion force.

“I’m here to get in shape. To be able to help my friends that I will be with,” said the 32-year-old. “I feel that my place is now there. There is only one thing left: defend; there is no other option, only one way”.

Thus passes the bitter Kyiv summer of 2022, where the sun shines but sadness and grim determination reign, where kissing couples cannot be sure that their kisses will not be the last as more soldiers head to the front lines; where swallows flutter nesting while homeless people cry in blown ruins and where peace is deceitful, because it is devoid of peace of mind.

Afterthat the initial Russian assault on kyiv was repelledin the initial month of the invasion, leavingdeath and destructionthe capital found itself in the somewhat awkward position of becoming largely a bystander in the ongoing war to the east and south, where the Russian presidentVladimir Putin has redirected his forcesand military resources.

The charred hulls of Russian tanks are being removed from the outskirts of the capital, even as Western-supplied weapons turn more Russian armor into smoldering scrap on the front lines.

Cafes and restaurants are open again, the chatter and clinking of glasses from their outdoor tables providing a semblance of normalcy, until everyone returns home for the less restrictive than usual 11pm-5am curfew. it used to be when kyivseemed to be at risk of falling.

Sitting on the lawn sipping wine with friends one afternoon this week, Andrii Bashtovyi commented that "it seems that there is no war, but people talk about their friends who are injured or who are mobilized". He recently passed his military medical check-up, which means he could soon be thrown into combat as well.

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“If they call me, I have to go to the recruitment center. I will have 12 hours,” said the editor-in-chief of the online magazine The Village, which covers life, news and events in kyiv and other unoccupied cities.

Air-raid alarms still go off regularly, shrieking shrilly on downloadable phone apps, but they are rarely followed by explosions, unlike the battered towns and cities on the front line, which few pay much attention to.

cruise missile attacksthat destroyed a warehouse and a train repair shop on June 5 were the first in kyiv in five weeks. Dog walkers and parents pushing strollers unperturbed wandered nearby even before the flames died down.

Many, but not all, of the 2 million residents Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said fled when Russian forces tried to surround the city in March are now returning. But with the soldiersfalling by hundredsto the east and south, kyiv’s surreal calm is mixed with lingering guilt.

“People feel grateful but wonder, ‘Am I doing enough?’” said Snezhana Vialko, as she and her boyfriend Denys Koreiba bought plump strawberries from one of the summer fruit vendors that have sprung up across the city. city, in neighborhoods where just weeks ago nervous troops manned sandbag checkpoints and tank traps.

Now greatly reduced in number and vigilance, they usually wave through the restored hum of car traffic, barely looking up after spending time scrolling through the phones.

With peace still as fragile and more precious than ever, many are investing their energies, time, money and strength to support soldiers fighting what has become a war of attrition for control of towns, cities and villages. destroyed.

Trained as a chef and now working as a journalist, Volodymyr Denysenko whipped up 100 bottles of hot sauce, using his homegrown hot peppers to liven up the troops’ rations. He left them with volunteers who drive in convoys from Kyiv to the front lines, loaded with gun sights, night vision goggles, drones, medical kits and other urgently needed equipment.

“All Ukrainian people must help the army, the soldiers,” he said. “It’s our country, our freedom.”

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