KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Life in the capital of war-torn Ukraine seems normal on the surface. In the mornings, people rush to work holding cups of coffee. Streets are filled with cars, and in the evenings restaurants are packed. But the details tell another story.
Numerous buildings across Kyiv bear the scars of Russian bombardment. Sandbags are stacked around monuments, museums and office buildings to protect from possible attack. At nights, streets are empty after the midnight curfew comes into force.
In restaurants, diners chat about life, friends and jobs and discuss whether they liked the Barbie or Oppenheimer movie better, or which concert they might attend. But such conversations can suddenly turn to stories about burying loved ones, or how they hid during the most recent missile attack or how they adjusted their schedule to balance sleepless nights and the need to be productive at work.
“Death has become a very routine part of our life,” said Aliona Vyshnytska, 29, who works as a project coordinator.
Vyshnytska lives in downtown Kyiv. She tries to create comfort in her rented apartment by buying small trinkets and cultivating indoor plants. She has grown accustomed to objects being shaken off the windowsills by the vibrations of explosive waves. After each night filled with loud explosions, she develops migraines. But like millions of others in the capital, she continues to work and “celebrate life in breaks from the war.”
She fears the Russian aggression on Ukraine, which first started in 2014, “will last forever or for a very long time, incongruent with human life.”
“And it’s this sort of background feeling that your life is simply being taken away from you, a life that should look completely different,” she said.
In the second year of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv has suffered less physical devastation than in the first months. Ukraine’s bolstered air-defense units have become adept at intercepting Russian drones and missiles fired at the capital, mostly at night or in the early hours of the morning.
Walking around the streets of Kyiv this summer, signs of normality can be seen everywhere: A couple cuddling on a bench. Children playing in parks. Bungee jumpers hanging over the Dnieper River. A newlywed couple dancing to music playing in the street.
But people’s faces often show the signs of sleepless nights under attack, fatigue from the churn of tragic news and, above all, grief.
Olesia Kotubei, another Kyiv resident, says her loved one is serving on the front lines, and her best friend has also joined the military.
This keeps her from ever forgetting about the ongoing war. She recounts her birthday this year on June 7, when she turned 26. She and a friend visited a café in the heart of Kyiv. Seated in an inner courtyard adorned with abundant flowers and lush greenery, they savored their coffee with a direct view of St. Sophia’s Cathedral. Yet, even in this picturesque scene, she couldn’t shake off a feeling of unease.
It was the first days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, in which her loved one was participating in an assault unit.
“At this moment, you can’t influence anything; you have to wait and maintain your mental health, somehow not lose your mind,” she said. On the back side of her phone a picture of her boyfriend is tucked beneath the cover. Olesia says her image occupies the same spot on her boyfriend’s phone.
As she spoke, the sound of sirens began to blare. She noticed this with a tired exhale. Shortly after, numerous powerful and loud explosions shook the capital.
“These missile attacks, happening in parallel with my attempts to live a normal life, affect me deeply,” she said.