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Thursday, May 19, 2022

In Kyiv, residents cautiously return and embrace a renewed sense of normalcy

The mood of the residents is one of deep gratefulness: that the city is still standing, that life can resume. It has made for a general sense of bonhomie.

By: New York Times |
May 3, 2022 6:25:54 pm
Ulyana Nalapko, 11, along with her sister Melania, 8, and their friend Mykyta Rubanik, 6, play at a playground, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, Kyiv region. (Reuters)

It had been a sound missing from Ukraine’s capital for months. Then, on a balmy spring afternoon, the chatter of children’s voices again filled a playground.

In a park beside the sky-blue cathedral of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, in central Kyiv, a few young children clambered over a jungle gym and rocked on a seesaw.

Mothers stood idly by, chatting. The scene captured the mood of Kyiv these days, as tension slowly seeps out of a city that for weeks had been in the grips of an almost unimaginable, electric state of alarm.

In the early days of the war, families fled. The thud of artillery echoed through the streets. Countless sandbag checkpoints went up. And looming over the city was the prospect of fighting in the streets or a drawn-out siege.

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Now, a month after the Ukrainian army defeated the Russian forces that had partly encircled Kyiv, the city is enjoying a return to something like normalcy.

For most of April, more residents returned to the capital than those who left, although the mayor has recommended that most families refrain from returning while threats from the ongoing war linger.

The prewar population of the metropolitan area of Kyiv was about 4 million; it dropped by half over a few hectic days in February. Despite some families returning, many people with children remain in western Ukraine or as refugees in Europe, facing an uncertain future.

Back in March, Honey Café, a cozy bakery and coffee shop on Yaroslaviv Val Street that for unclear reasons reopened for business quickly, seemed the only spot in town to sit down for coffee. Even so, servers warned, “Don’t sit near the windows,” lest an explosion spray glass shards.

Today, sidewalk cafes are popping up throughout Kyiv. Some restaurants are packed again, the once usual, if unwelcome, state of affairs. At Tin Tin Food Spot, a restaurant beside the city’s bicycle racing track, a lunchtime crowd filled every seat Sunday afternoon.

The mood of the residents is one of deep gratefulness: that the city is still standing, that life can resume. It has made for a general sense of bonhomie.

On a recent hours-long walk, meandering through the cobblestone back streets of the Golden Gate and Podil neighborhoods, passersby smiled or nodded pleasantly.

The chestnut trees were in bloom. And from time to time, on the crests of hills, the city’s still-intact skyline of golden church cupolas and high-rise buildings came into view.

To be sure, the war is still raging in eastern Ukraine. Cities such as Mariupol and Kharkiv are shelled daily. And few in Kyiv discount another attempt on the capital, should the Russian army muster the strength. Tens of thousands of residents of Kyiv have relatives in combat in the east who are in grave danger.

A view shows buildings destroyed by the shelling, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Borodianka, Kyiv region. (Reuters)

The vicious street fighting and widespread human rights abuses by the Russian army in Kyiv’s suburban towns, including Irpin and Bucha, left residents traumatized and most likely facing months or years of emotional adjustment before any sense of safety returns, officials and aid workers have said.

And countless families have been separated as they have been forced to flee their homes, either as internally displaced people or as refugees to other countries in Europe.

Russian cruise missiles, fired from hundreds of miles away, still target the capital from time to time, striking military sites and residential buildings. But they are isolated strikes, for now posing little general risk to residents.

And so, after weeks of upheaval and clenched nerves, Kyiv has become a city where, at the least, just one ordinary spring day can again be enjoyed as a small blessing.

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