24 shkurt 2023
Year of war: Kyiv after the Russian invasion
*Photos by Daria Meshcheriakova
Every Ukrainian today can remember exactly what they did on the night of February 24th 2022. This day divided life into before and after. While nobody believed that Russia would decide to attack Kyiv, when it finally happened, everyone was shocked.
Exactly one year ago, on February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a pseudo-historical lecture, after which he ordered his troops to invade Ukraine in the North, East and South. He called it a "forced measure" since “NATO was already closing in on the Russian border” and that “the Ukrainian Nazis had seized power in Kyiv”.
Neither of the statements made by Putin is true. NATO has been at Russia's borders since March 29, 2004, when Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had joined the Alliance. It surely did not threaten Russia, and the “Ukrainian Nazis” is a fabrication in an attempt by Russia’s leader to justify the unjustifiable aggression on Ukraine. After all, what kind of Nazism can we talk about considering that the legally elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a Jew. In addition to this, it is worth noting that Kyiv is a Russian-speaking city.
When Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it was the people of Kyiv who were most shocked. Ukrainians have gotten used to the idea that the East of Ukraine will always be under the guns of the Russians, and they need the South for a land corridor to Crimea.
With over 4 million inhabitants before the war, Kyv is one of the largest cities in Europe. With its 200,000-strong army, Russia gravely underestimated Ukrainian resilience, while Putin was confident that Zelenskyy would surrender, and that the Russian army would parade down the central street of Khreshchatyk on the third day of war!
I spent the first 10 days of the war in Kyiv. The streets were uncharacteristically empty, as rockets and missiles were frequently flyng over our heads and exploding somewhere around the corner. People were swarming the supermarkets, buying everything. Life had turned into complete chaos. There was even news that Russian tanks had been spotted in the north of the capital.
Shaking and in distress, I packed my things on March 4. I put my cat in a box and headed towards the evacuation train. I traveled to Lviv standing for 12 hours in an overcrowded carriage. The cat lay in a box under a pile of coats and jackets. I could not reach him and it seemed that the cat had suffocated there.
When I saw Tommy alive at the Lviv railway station, I exhaled and burst into tears. The train was so packed with refugess fleeing the war, that I had struggled to breathe all along. Tommy and I left Ukraine on March 5th.
I spent the next months on Telegram and YouTube, with all my attention focused on the news coming from Ukraine. And only after 11 months I finally got back to Kyiv.
Back to Kyiv
The first thing that caught my attention was the 101 Tower building, which was attacked by Iranian drones in October. A huge glass skyscraper stands half-broken, now funcitioning almost as a welcoming sign for the Ukrainian capital, since it is located right next to the railway station.
I got into a taxi and went home. I did not see the suffering war-torn city. All this time, life in Kyiv went on almost as in any ordinary metropolis. The most surprising thing was that it has remained mostly Russian-speaking. According to the law, all service employees must address visitors only in Ukrainian. And this rule is respected. If before the war few people had paid attention to the language, now restaurants, beauty salons, hospitals, shops switched to service in Ukrainian. But a person can easily switch to Russian if they are addressed in Russian. In personal communication, people for the most part continue to speak Russian, kind of laughing at Putin. He had name-called us ukro-nazi, but Ukranians still speak Russian.
I stopped recognizing Kyiv when it got dark outside. Always bright and full of light, the city sinks into darkness after sunset. Due to massive missile strikes and attacks by Iranian kamikaze drones in Ukraine, energy infrastructure facilities have been significantly damaged. That’s why the streets of Kyiv are very dark at night. People walk around with flashlights and phosphorescent bags and clothes to be visible to vehicles in the dark.
The panic in the city ended somewhere by mid-March 2022. Now the people of Kyiv are very calmly reacting to flying missiles and air raid sirens.
“If the alarm is due to jets taking off in Belarus, then no one even moves,” a friend of mine, who did not leave the city throughout the war, told me.
Among the Ukrainians there is even a joke: "After the victory, every Ukrainian should get the chance to go to the Belarusian military airfield in Machulishchi and hit the MIG-31K aircraft with a sledgehammer once."
The MIG-31K is a carrier of the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, so an air raid siren is on every time it takes off.
The air raid sirens can be heard more frequently than not in Kyiv – in total of 675 times for one year. During a siren, city transport and underground metro halt at a stop, and underground metro stations serve as bomb shelters.
Incredibly, people have grown so accustomed to this new reality, that when a cruise missile flew over us quite loudly, no one did not bother to look up.
The people of Kyiv rejoiced the announcement by the authorities in early February that there was no more power shortages in the capital. The next day, trolleybuses and trams reappeared in the streets.
The pre-war population has already returned to Kyiv. According to the mayor, Vitalii Klitschko, today there are again more than 4 million people in the city. Resilient and determined to fight back against Putin’s genocidal intent to destroy Ukraine, the Ukrainians are living a dynamic life and are filled with optimism about the future.
The city is covered with banners about the feat of Mariupol and all the soliders who are now in captivity. The billboards also remind that Luhansk, Donetsk, Simferopol, Melitopol and Mariupol are Ukrainian cities that are going to be liberated soon.
At the railway station, a poster with train routes to the occupied cities reflects the dream of all Ukrainians. So far, the Ukrainian train has only gone as far as to Kherson. However, the Ukrainians are confident that the railway will resume its route to other cities that are currently under occupation.
This is what they sing in songs that are heard in Kyiv from everywhere. After all, the most distinguishing quality of Ukrainians is humor. It helps to no longer be afraid of the aggressor in spirte of constant warings about massive attacks on the war anniversary and a looming new Russian offensive.
Artikulli i përkthyer.
24 shkurt 2023