People eat out and get their haircut in Kyiv as capital attempts return to normality

 People eat out and get their haircut in Kyiv as capital attempts return to normality

In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, two months after the start of the bloody conflict, signs of normality are beginning to return.

A handful of restaurants and bars are open and joggers are seen out in the mornings.

Coffee shops are trading again and hairdressers have opened their doors. Today, some families will gather together to celebrate Orthodox Easter.

“Now, Kyiv looks like a peaceful place. Some of the restaurants are open, some bars are open. Lots of people are jogging around parks in the morning, ”said Yaroslav Zhelezniak, a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

“Lots of people are outside buildings when the sun is bright and its good weather.”

Ukraine’s parliament are still meeting in the capital; part necessity, part defiance. They have met six times since the war began.

But Kyiv remains “eerily” quiet; with many of its residents having fled their homes to the west of Ukraine, or left the country altogether, said Rachael Cummings, an aid worker with Save the Children working in Kyiv.

“There’s an eerie calm. I’ve never been here before but, but in normal times it’s a big bustling, young city. Now, its very quiet. A lot of the shops are boarded up and windows covered.

“I personally haven’t seen any bars or restaurants open, but there are coffee shops dotted around. I walked to our office along an underpass, and all the shops in the row were closed. There aren’t many people on the street, or cars on the road, ”Ms Cummings said.

A lesson for children on egg decorating as part of the upcoming celebrations of Easter, in central Kyiv, 22 April 2022 (Photo: Gleb Garanich / Reuters)
Yaroslav Zhelezniak with his colleagues at the Ukrainian Parliament in Kyiv (Photo: Supplied)
An Orthodox priest sprinkles holy water on believers during the Orthodox Easter service in Kyiv on April 24 (Photo: Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

Mr Zhelezniak said it felt like the city’s population had dropped to a third.

“It’s much quieter,” he said. “When you’re driving around Kyiv, it looks like you’re driving at the weekend. There are many fewer cars. ”

As more time passes since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, and with Russian troops focussing their efforts on the east of the country, there are reports of the city’s inhabitants returning.

“A lot of people are returning from abroad, returning from other regions, as it becomes safer,” Mr Zhelezniak said.

The new normal for the capital does not come without painful reminders of war. Kyiv’s unnerving calm is interrupted only by the shriek of air raid sirens, which still ring out regularly.

Residents live with the knowledge that a missile could strike at any moment and military checkpoints are stationed around the city.

There are first aid classes to teach people how to help wounded soldiers, or civilians caught in airstrikes. Funerals take place in the capital for those who could not be saved.

Military barriers in Kyiv’s Independence Square are a painful reminder of the war for residents (Photo: Metin Aktas / Anadolu Agency via Getty)
Volunteers of the Hospitallers Medical Battalion train to provide first aid and evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv on April 20 (Photo: Viacheslav Ratynskyi / Reuters)

“The war is mainly far away from Kyiv, but there is still a risk of missiles. There could be airstrikes, ”Mr Zhelezniak said.

“There’s still a lot of risk even in Lviv, which is much further from the Russian border. It’s not a military target, but this week there were four or five strikes in a day. You understand that you could be dead at any time, but you hope that doesn’t happen. ”

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Many people have stopped going to bomb shelters when the air raids sound, tired of uprooting every few hours and getting used to the sirens.

But therapist Nataliya Yashuk, 43, who has stayed in Kyiv throughout the conflict, said the city’s residents were “not relaxing.”

“We are concentrating all the time as you don’t know when the next rocket of the Russian army will attack,” she said.

As confidence grows, people are getting their hair cut and spending more time out and about, but many are still following routines and limiting unnecessary trips.

“It’s pleasant that step by step people in Kyiv have started going to hairdressers and are getting a more pleasant view of things as spring is here and it’s starting to get sunny,” Ms Yashuk said.

Nataliya Yashuk with her daughter on Ukrainian Independence Day in August 2021 (Photo: Supplied)
People lay flowers on a coffin during the funeral ceremony for Ukrainian serviceman Volodymyr Karas, who died during the fight with Russian troops, in Kyiv’s Independence Square on April 20 (Photo: Sergei Supinsky / AFP)

But for now, long-term plans are off the table. “All our tasks are done one or two days in advance as we cannot predict what will happen after that,” the therapist said.

She still isn’t shopping regularly, only stocking up on the essentials during sporadic trips outside. “We’ve been living like this for the past two months.”

And as the danger close to home subsides slightly, Kyiv’s attention is focused on the Donbas, where fighting is only escalating.

Ms Yashuk explained: “We can say that Kyiv is returning to a normal life as everyone wants to earn money and live but all our thoughts are directed to helping people in the east as it’s really hard there now.”

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