A normal still far away

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A Ukrainian military man does his shopping in one of the supermarkets that have reopened in the capital. / Zigor Aldama

Dozens of businesses begin to open their doors in kyiv, although the threat of bombing prevents the capital from coming back to life

ZIGOR ALDAMA Special correspondent. Kyiv Monday, 18 April 2022, 09:27

The Government of Ukraine has issued an alert for kyiv at 10:28 p.m. Seek shelter immediately.” The alerts reach the mobile phones of the citizens of the Ukrainian capital constantly. And then the air raid sirens sound. After a week of some relaxation after the withdrawal of Russian troops to the eastern region of Donbas, the bombings have intensified in recent days.

Vladimir Putin promised retaliation for the sinking of the flagship of the Black Sea, the ‘Moskva’, and he is keeping his promise: on Friday he destroyed an arms factory and on Saturday he attacked the Darnitski district. And last morning there were some shootings in a western district. “It was our soldiers, who discovered a Russian drone and tried to shoot it down,” says Anastasiya Tarashchuk, a young Hispanic Philology student who lives nearby. “Who knows what the invaders are up to,” she adds with some concern. It is not for less. Several missiles have fallen in the vicinity since the war began.

However, the Kievites have already become accustomed to this situation. “At first we ran to the basement when the alarm was raised, but we don’t pay much attention to it anymore,” admits Nadia, a young woman from the center. The city seeks to return to normality. Many inhabitants have returned from Poland and Hungary, despite the fact that the mayor of the city has recommended waiting for the situation to calm down, and some businesses are gradually resuming their activity. They are still few, but every day some are added. Above all, catering establishments: from restaurants, to cafes and bars. “It’s not easy, because the 9 p.m. curfew forces us to close at 6 p.m.,” says the manager of Takava, a trendy cafe near the Dnieper River.

“At least it seems that life returns. We opened a few days ago and we need it because business has plummeted,” says Anastasiia, manager of an Italian restaurant that, during the first phase of the invasion, fed Ukrainian troops for free. Even today, soldiers eat without paying. But the uniforms are increasingly blending with civilian clothing. Despite supply problems with some ingredients, customers are beginning to arrive. Of course, they barely fill 10% of the tables. “People are still afraid,” analyzes Anastasiia.

His restaurant hasn’t laid off anyone, but many employees have fled the war. To avoid labor shortages, the businesses that remain open share staff: a waiter from Anastasiia can go help another local if that one has more work than his. And vice versa. It is a sign of the unity that the invasion has caused among the Ukrainians.

It is still not easy to move around the capital. The destruction of several bridges has caused traffic jams of up to four hours to access kyiv, a situation that is aggravated by the priority given to military, police and ambulance vehicles, which are very abundant. In addition, the roads are still full of checkpoints, sandbag barricades that slow down traffic and Czech defenses, those metal asterisks that are gradually being removed. They leave them in the gutter, lest they be needed again. Even the most significant statues and monuments are protected in every conceivable way to prevent them from being vandalized by the Russian military.

To further complicate matters, the few gas stations that are still standing – Russia has destroyed a good number of them – or that remain open, limit the sale of fuel to 30 liters per vehicle per day. And many are empty first thing in the morning. It is a situation that makes it difficult for companies like Sasha’s, a specialist in roof construction, to reopen. “I am without a job and without income since the invasion began. At least I don’t lack for anything, but there are others who are having a hard time. And the longer the situation goes on, the more people will despair.”

bad expectations

Economic prospects are not encouraging for Ukraine. Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko has acknowledged that the country’s economy could even shrink by half, although the most optimistic forecast points to a 30% drop, triple what was expected for Russia. Therefore, reactivating the activity of the country’s main shopping center is essential. So is ensuring communication channels with neighboring countries, a key issue to be able to resume the export of vital elements such as sunflower oil, of which Ukraine is the world’s leading producer.

Meanwhile, what President Volodymyr Zelensky is demanding from the European powers is that they stop buying Russian fuel. “I don’t understand how you can make money with blood,” he complains. Because if he receives a billion dollars a day in military material, Putin earns as much for that concept. And so the only thing that will be achieved “is that the contest is prolonged,” he assures.

Until when is the great unknown. In an interview with the BBC, Zelensky himself asked himself this last Friday. “Does a president have many options to end a war? Should he fight until the last Ukrainian dies as some countries wish? Should he seek by all means to save the lives of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people? Should he avoid the third world war? Without a doubt, it is a dilemma on which the fate of the Ukrainians depends, but also yours and the pockets of the Europeans.

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