Around 2.5 million people live in Kyiv. In the first summer since the beginning of the war, the capital, like the whole country, oscillates between opposites, the people have little choice. What a champagne photo of German politicians has to do with it.
Anyone walking through Kyiv these days can quickly forget that there is a war on. Once the checks with soldiers, anti-tank barriers and sandbag crates at the city limits have been passed, the Ukrainian capital presents itself almost as it did before the Russian war of aggression.
People stroll through the streets and eat ice cream, young and old meet in cafés, children play in parks next to parents picnicking. It seems a little as if many of the approximately 2.5 million Kievans would prefer to ignore the invasion that has been going on since February 24 in everyday urban life – even if the sirens are once again warning of impending air raids for hours. A search for clues in a city of contrasts.
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“What should we do, hole up in the basement crying because of Putin? Are we not allowed to laugh anymore?” counters a young Ukrainian when asked, which obviously surprises her, about her fears in everyday life. The woman, who says she is studying in Kyiv, is waiting for her friends in a shopping street not far from the Olympic Stadium and is deliberately relaxed.
The Russians would have won at the latest when the Ukrainians stopped walking out the door out of fear. “They’re attacking our freedom, so we’re showing them that while they can attack the country, they can’t attack our desire for freedom.”
In view of such words, it is not surprising that everyday life in Kyiv is only slowed down when, for example, the sirens warn of missiles. The zoo, museums, theaters and cinemas are open – if you want distraction and distraction, you don’t have to look far.
And another question arises in view of the debate about the recent visit of German politicians to Kyiv. It is about a picture of Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (both SPD), Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko and German Ambassador Anka Feldhusen.
In the photo, taken on Monday on the balcony of the ambassador’s residence, the four are holding champagne glasses and laughing at the cameras. In Germany, a wave of indignation immediately formed, there was talk of “alienation”, and the critics overturned their interpretations on Twitter.
Without a doubt, the picture seems out of place from a local point of view, but in Kyiv and the surrounding area the contradiction is just as much a part of everyday life as the visits of Western politicians – and that’s also part of the truth.
For example on Michaelplatz, a few kilometers away, where the contradiction is shown even more vividly in the form of rusted tanks and other war equipment. Here the government is displaying destroyed Russian weapons, in the background the golden dome of St. Michael’s Monastery gleams, and families with small children in colorful T-shirts and sandals stroll between them.
The unreal scenery is not only a popular photo motif – the trophy show should also aim to convey confidence and perseverance to the increasingly war-weary population.
And for legitimate reasons: When walking through the city, not only combative statements can be heard for a long time. There are also other tones, doubtful ones that reveal the desire for peace and a future perspective: “How long is the war supposed to last? What prospects do we have against the Russians?” says a middle-aged man.
Unfortunately, it is not foreseeable that the West will get involved in such a way that the Russians in the east and south of Ukraine can be pushed back again.
The urban population has long since reacted very dulled to air raids. When the sirens sound, it gets very loud in some places, banks and individual shops also close, but normal life goes on.
Film screenings are only canceled if the alarm lasts longer than 30 minutes. Not even the subway, the main bomb shelter, was open all the time. If you want to seek shelter in a station at night, you have to call an officer on duty.
Unfortunately, it has been shown again and again that the blunting also poses a danger. Rockets did not hit north of the city until Thursday – there were injuries. In late June headlines made the rounds that a nine-story apartment building and the grounds of a kindergarten were hit by rockets.
In any case – you can also see this when driving through Kyiv – the situation in the suburbs is completely different. For example, in Irpin, Hostomel and Bucha in the northwest, the traces of destruction are omnipresent.
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Car wrecks are piled up in the parking lots on the arterial roads, mostly burned out and with bullet holes, the windows of houses are missing, the walls are black with soot, it still smells of burnt rubber.
A large proportion of the people who managed to escape cannot return, even months after the Russians left, because most of the houses are uninhabitable. But here, too, normal life finds its way again – children play on the remains of playgrounds, women push prams past sandbags and roadblocks.
In contrast to Kyiv itself, the atmosphere is very different given the destruction. People seem scared and don’t really want to speak to journalists.