Kyiv. This is the portrait of a city at war

Kyiv. This is the portrait of a city at war
Kyiv. This is the portrait of a city at war

Kyiv. This is the portrait of a city at war

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A group of young Ukrainians from Lugansk and Severodonetsk who had joined volunteer militias were forced to flee their cities. They moved to the west of the country (in Transcarpathia), where they created in February 2022 an agricultural cooperative linked to the Longo Maï movement (a network of agricultural cooperatives with an anti-capitalist orientation). This cooperative deals with the reception of people displaced by the war from the village of Nijnié Sélitché. Here, Nastia, David and their friends are renovating a house in the forest, not far from the village, where they plan to live for the time being, since they cannot return to Donbass. Photo Lundimatin

Iryna Slavinska
Journalist and producer at the Ukrainian public radio Радио Культура (Radio Culture)
Mediapart – Billet de blog – August 31, 2022

“I have the impression that everyone in Kyiv is used to war,” says this acquaintance and former colleague of mine. Instead of answering or discussing it, I ask her if she heard the thunder the day before yesterday. He turns pale. And I know very well why.

A few days ago, a great storm tore through the sky of Kiev. I was working in my office with a colleague when the first lightning was heard. I saw the pale, startled face before me. I imagine mine would be too. That afternoon had something different for anyone who experienced and held back the sound of the explosions. This storm immediately reminded me of a night on February 25th in the basement of our building. While we waited for the alarm to end (which only came in the morning), we each took turns going outside to listen for another freak mid-February storm in the freezing night. A few kilometers from here, the Russian military targeted Vasylkiv and Gostomel airports, firing on civilians in Irpin, Bucha and other towns around Kyiv.

You may wonder why this storm takes on so much importance in this text. It is quite simple, it sums up the spirit of Kiev in these days of war. At first glance the city seems “peaceful”. People on the subway are in a hurry in the morning to go to work. But the rhythms of their daily lives, from the metro to work and from work to home, are dictated by the curfew hours.

The people outside in the cafes remind me every night of the scenes of the other life. But it is enough to watch the conversations at any table to hear words like “front”, “missile”, “killed”. People talk about their hometowns and I often hear the voices of newcomers in the bustle. They did not dream of changing their place of residence, but were forced to do so because of the Russian attack. Many discussions revolve around personal experiences from the war. And many stories refer in particular to the noises that are heard, as early as February 24 – like the sound of a siren.

All this becomes even more apparent in moments of air raids. Metro stations preferred by people as shelters are the best example. Another unforgettable experience is the voices that all react together to the sound of the alarm. I’m not sure if what’s being said can be translated into French, like the new jokes that came out after the Russian attack.

It is also our refuge in Radiomegaros. I showed this to my French colleague the other day when I was showing him around the studios and monitor rooms in the basement. Yes, the microphones and all the equipment are the same as in any studio. But there is a completely different “bunker” atmosphere here. Also, I’m not sure if the Maison de la Radio in Paris has a proper shelter.

What changes the climate is the list of alarms announced in one or another Ukrainian region. Presenters working at Ukrainian Radio announce each alarm. I happen to be on the air all day and report them all. The last time was on Independence Day, August 24.

But the true face of a city at war is hidden in private conversations. It is the moment when you learn the stories of missing familiar faces – dead, killed, hostages of the Russian army. The moment you learn more about the funerals and lives of families whose loved ones were captured by Russian forces. It’s also the stories you hear about the DNA tests that have to be done to identify and return the bodies of the dead. The conversations of families separated by the Russian occupation and all the “small” stories of such a routine as not being able to find insulin or other medicines in an occupied city.

The lightness of summer is an interesting paradox. The city looks so summery but still superficial…

But it is impossible for me to complete this thought. While editing the previous paragraph, I learned that the brother of one of my closest friends is dead, killed. One of those brave Ukrainian soldiers who went to war to protect Ukraine from Russian occupation. My tears in front of the computer are also an integral part of this war in the summer. So was that strange subway ride one night when I learned that a former colleague of mine had been captured by Russian forces. With headphones in my ears, I try to stand straight and not sob in front of the world, keeping my eyes fixed at a specific point in the semi-transparent window.

This weekend, right after Independence Day with the ten or so alarms in Kyiv that I told you about, I was on the outskirts of the city. The village festival with tomatoes, pumpkins and everything that goes with it. I see the teenage girls, who are in front of a table with all kinds of homemade cakes. They are selling them for the military, they will give all the money they make to someone who knows how to help the soldiers. I give my 100 hryvnias to these girls, I take a small apple pie from their hands… In the past, there was a lot of talk about carefree teenagers. I dream that I am in this reality of light, silly and mischievous teenagers – those who do not have to think about their adult siblings, their fathers and mothers who went to fight the Russian invaders. I dream that these girls will never hear the news of the death of their loved ones.

This is the portrait of a city at war.

See in Almanac (26.03.2022) another article by Iryna Slavinska: A day that lasts forever

The article is in Greek

Tags: Kyiv portrait city war

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