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Humans of Kyiv in the time of war. Part 3

Dear friends, now each person is a hero. Those who stay at home and hold informative war, those who left to save themselves and their family, those who host people, give shelter, help with food, those who joined the territorial defense, those who are medical workers, those who save animals. Our army, medics, firefighters are our heroes. Everyone is involved now.

The «Humans of Kyiv» team doesn’t have an opportunity to shoot and take interviews, so we decided to do it online. We want to document events that occur now through the stories of citizens.

Stay safe. We will win.

Serhii, baker

My name is Serhii, I bake bread. I quickly took out my family when all this war started, left them in a safe place and returned to Kyiv. I have 4 little kids and it tied my hands too much.

If the war hadn’t started we would have been working, opened new shops as there was a plan to open another 2 bakeries in Kyiv in spring. We looked for locations, worked on a business plan, raised money for everything so life was booming.

You know, I left, took out my wife and children, spent there only three days and understood that a calm life is not for me. And when I saw that there are problems in Kyiv with bread, that it can’t be bought anywhere and moreover that the part of our staff stayed in Kyiv I decided to continue my favourite thing which is baking bread for citizens and guests of the city.

These days lots of people come to us and…you know we receive huge gratitude that we are still working, that we are still baking fresh bread and buns. We work and it’s important. It was a bit difficult to organize as a lot of workers left and we faced a huge problem with provision. We have flour enough only for 5 days but we will find more. Now there are 6 people in our team. Some of them come from Troeschina, part of the people come from Obolon. Bakers stay overnight to have fresh bread in the morning. Bakers used to come at 5 am and we would already have fresh bread at 9 am. And now as the curfew is till 7pm baker stays, makes preparations and we open with fresh bread.

Karina and Oleh, producer and operator of the project Ukraїner

Between the end of February and the beginning of March, there should have been an active preparation for a new season of the expedition in Ukraїner.

Oleh and I were going to go to Avdiivka to film about local activists and on the 6th of March, we would bake a big cake and celebrate Oleh’s birthday. Oleh was to film an advertisement and social project in support of the army.

But on the 24th we woke up because of explosions and the crash of windows.

In the morning our friend Misha came to our place from another side of the city to bring Oleh’s camera. As each Ukraїner participant, we had instruction and a plan of evacuation so we decided to follow the plan. Our friend and colleague Bohdan took us from Teremky (Kyiv residential area) and we left in the direction of the west with his kitty and guinea pig.

It was a difficult and long road. But already on the way, we realized that we must return as soon as possible once it becomes clear how events unfold. After the way, we had a very strong and sweet sleep and we didn’t want to wake up to a real horror of war.

To resist fear we decided to do something and firstly joined together the territorial defence of Lviv. And while we were waiting for the queue to join a few days we filmed stories about people who did something for the military and civil people, collected material about people and initiatives in other cities. At the same time we helped our friends to organize humanitarian aid from abroad for defenders of Kyiv region.

There was no answer from TrD so we went on the first ride with the Lviv-Kyiv humanitarian aid to stay there. Everyone wanted to leave but we wanted to come back a lot.

And no matter how strange it sounds, returning to Kyiv I felt calm for the first time since the war started. During 10 days of war we stayed overnight in 6 different apartments but only in Kyiv the feeling of being at home returned. Although it’s been a week since we couldn’t reach our flat at Lisova.

I think our decision is not about the fault of the survivor but the intention to defend your home. In a relatively calm time, we shoot stories every day for the documentary movie about how Ukrainians protect their land in different ways, from grannies to the military. We film while there is such a possibility. And if we need to protect Kyiv physically the closest military office knows us.

Andrew, subway driver

The news of the war caught me while I was on vacation at a ski resort in Bukovel, it was the middle of my vacation. Before that, I had plans to go to my native village where my grandmother lives, I wanted to help there then return, go to work. I woke up on the morning of the 24th and saw that I had two missed calls from my mother and sister. On the same day I boarded a train to return to Kyiv.

A slight panic caught me in Kyiv, at the train station I noticed that people were trying to evacuate, there were a lot of people. My first days were very stressful, it was difficult to adapt to new realities, and I was in shock. The vacation ended on the 3rd of March, I spent these free days at home. I constantly read the news, worried about our people, about the soldiers who protect us, and I still worry. It's not as stressful now as it was in the first days, but anyways. At the same time, I understand that what happened had to happen, and I need to get used to it slowly.

From an early age I fell in love with rail transport, I really wanted to work on the railway, but life turned everything in such a way that I went to the subway. I do not regret it. There is a technical school in the Kyiv Metro that trains future drivers. The rules may have changed since I went to work as a full-fledged driver, but at the time I was studying I had to have at least a third rank of a locksmith and serve in the army. I graduated from university and had a military ticket in my hands, which gave me the opportunity to go to courses without hindrance.

The movement of the Kyiv subway is currently defective, it is sectioned. For example, on the line where I work trains don’t go on the bridge. The train goes from Chervonyi Khutir to Slavutych, from Syrets to Vydubychi. We move only on one of the tracks. On the left bank, one rolling stock goes back and forth on one track with an interval of about 40 minutes, and at some stations on adjacent tracks there are trains, and on each of these trains the driver is on daily duty, from around 9 am to 9 am of the next day.

On the first night since the beginning of the war, my mother and I had to spend the night at Poznyaky subway station, there were a lot of people. Most people were on rolling stock spending the night on the train. Now some people have, some stayed, but they are staying mostly at home and in bomb shelters here on the left bank of Kyiv.

On the 3rd of March, I went to work on duty. The subway operates in such a way that trains run on one track and don’t run on the other. There is a stationary warehouse on some tracks and I was on duty at some stations.

I decided to stay in Kyiv now. If I left it would be very much like a betrayal for me and my conscience would be tormented. I don't know how strong but I would definitely feel guilty. Actually, before the war I was preparing to go abroad with a working visa everything in accordance with the law. I had an offer to work as a railway driver in Germany. The war ruled out this possibility. I want to be wrong, but I think I crossed it out at this stage.

Nastya, purchase goods and medicine together with friends

«If the war hadn’t started I would have been working as well as all people. And also I would celebrate my birthday and I was going on a trip with my boyfriend to fulfil his dream. I didn’t think about staying or leaving, I just knew that I would stay. On the first day of russian invasion while all people googled how to get to Lviv my mom and I discussed how to make Molotov cocktails. We will defend Kyiv till the victory!

There are 4 of us in the volunteer team: Hastya, Vladyk, Ira and Oleh. We can’t just stand aside, lots of our friends left and saved their close people and we stayed and cooperated. By our strengths, our friends’ efforts and their friends’ we raise money on our card then buy everything vitally needed, collect packages for those who need help. It can be food, medicine, diapers etc.

Everything started with a call from a subway staff member. Staff and people in bomb shelters didn’t have anything already. I wrote a first post calling for help as together we are stronger! And we raised a decent sum of money. We helped subway workers, elderly people and people with disabilities. Now we still have extra money but there is a feeling there are more volunteers than people who need help and thanks to God it is not vice versa! Around Kyiv there is support and care in the air. Now everyone helps each other.

Sasha and Dima, contemporary art curators

My name is Oleksandra, that’s Dmytro and we are contemporary art projects curators. On the 24th I had a birthday, on that day we woke up at 5:30 am because of explosions. On the 24th it was really difficult to believe that it was happening. I work as a junior curator in PinchukArtCentre and on the 30th of March our huge international exposition was to be opened. We were working on it for 9 months and now ArtCentre is barricaded, the team is in different cities and we don’t know whether a stable state will be renewed or if the exposition is still relevant.

Dmytro: Today we went home to water the flowers and we are going also to do it in another flat of our close people as we don’t want our friends-plants to die.

Starting with the first days we were engaged in public diplomacy. We wrote in English, Polish, gave interviews, wrote letters to various art institutions about the boycott and pressed the government of different counties via our colleagues’ contacts. As we worked on different international projects we have a lot of partners, colleagues from other countries, from Britain, Poland, the EU in general, from States. So we started writing letters to everyone and this correspondence took some time. We also organized a small charity campaign for cultural workers and artists from Eastern Ukraine. They have the hardest time there. We did it together with Kyiv team, combined it and with the help of independent volunteers and anonymous patrons sent money to artists.

Sasha: Some time during these weeks we lived with a big company. There were two kids, 2 dogs and 8 people. It’s something new as we are accustomed to living just the two of us. We decided to get married once the war started. Well, not war but escalation because war has been for 8 years already.

Dmytro: Sasha suggested to do it on the first 10 minutes of bombing in the morning, so tactfully of her. It was born intersubjectively as Jean-Paul Sartre would say.

Sasha: We stayed in Kyiv due to a few reasons. Our plants are very important for us as they are with us for a lot of years and I think about a big number of houses, flats where people will return and find dead plants, I can’t even imagine it.

Our father is here and we don’t want to leave him alone. We are staying in a safe place now as the south suburbs of Kyiv is fortunately calm.

We received the first call to escape around 1am on the 34th. My friend from New York called and told us that we need to flee immediately. And as we were getting ready for the birthday, we cleaned up the apartment and so on, we told him «Don’t forget to congratulate me. Good night». Of course we always get calls and messages but we are calmer now although at some certain moments we discussed it a lot as we live not alone but with our close friends and our father.

We always discuss an opportunity to find a safer place but every time we come to the conclusion that Kyiv is a very safe place and it is close to home, close to those who stayed, whom we love and who may need our help.

Zhenia and Anya, illustrators

Everyone remembers with which words the war started for them, for us it was a call from a friend: «Zhenia, don’t panic. Did you see the news?» At once cold sweat comes. Since that moment checking news is your main action and anything else is secondary. You can take a phone to look at the time and at once you are stuck in notifications for half an hour. At first we panicked, we called our friends and relatives, then decided to go to Zhenia’s mother so that she feels calmer.

Just before everything started she broke her right hand and she almost can’t use it after the surgery. Leaving the flat we took clothes for a few days thinks in case of something we would come back and take what we need, we also watered flowers. Till today we didn’t come back there anymore.

On the first night we went to Klovska subway station as it is a bomb shelter now. There were a lot of people with dogs and cats. Our girl friends who live nearby joined us and all the time we discussed what should be done now but we couldn’t find an answer. We forced ourselves to eat, we couldn’t sleep at night. We heard alarms, distant sounds of explosions. Next six nights we spent in the bomb shelter which is located in the neighbour school. It was warm there, there were sports mats where we could sleep, water coolers. People organized, there were shifts to wash toilets and our commandant who is a physics teacher took care of everyone like we are relatives.

We are illustrators so if the war hadn’t started we would have been doing a book for kids about anxiety. We would continue to draw a visualisation of the game that we do together with our friend Les. Also probably we would make graphics for a book festival in Dnipro. And also we would be going to a book market in Bologna. Anya is among the winners of this year and her works are presented at the exposition of the best illustrations of this year.

Now we are in Chernivtsi already, we left firstly to take care of Zhenia’s mother. We draw every day mostly to collect money for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and for different fonds, for media who are ready to enlight a direct speech of Ukrainians, for tasks that now appear from the official Ukrainian services. But also for ourselves as psychological protection as a work that helps you get better.

Stephane, journalist of French newspaper Libération

Officialy I am leaving in Kyiv for 8 years but actually I started working in Ukraine 11 years ago for the first time when I was reporter in Paris. I moved to Ukraine during Maidan because I recorded the revolution from the very first day and in January 2014 my newspaper asked me to move to Kyiv to do permanent correspondence and I stayed here.

And 8 years later I am still here so I have recorded everything that happened in Ukraine starting with Maidan, Crimea and to war in Donbas. I made my life here. I just decided to stay in Ukraine because I love this place, my family is here now, so I became a Ukrainian. I am working now as correspondence for the French daily newspaper Libération and RFI & Radio France, it’s French public international radio which is the same as BBC world but in France and in parallel I am also working as a documentary maker and documentary producer. I also produce Ukrainian documentary films and that’s my main activity.

If war didn’t start I would have been in Kyiv, probably my main activity would have been focusing on the post-production of the upcoming documentary that I’m producing. We have been doing it for 2 years, it’s a documentary about teenagers on the front line in the Donbas from the mining cities Zolote and stanitsa Lugansk. So we were editing this film and I was preparing the postproduction, distribution strategy of the film. The film was supposed to be finished by the second semester of 2022 and we were starting the finishing line of the film. Yet the film is going on but we have paused it for now.

For me the war didn’t start this Thursday 24th of February. The tensions started to rise much earlier. I think I made the first article about territorial defence in early December and since then there have been rising tensions and rising tensions. I don’t want to say that I can predict things better than others, better than Ukrainians, but maybe being a journalist and being an outsider and living here for 8 years it didn’t surprise me that it happened. I was expecting this and in fact, I knew for a very long time and for many years I knew that there would be war.

The situation was not sustainable between Ukraine and Russia. This war in Donbas was totally strange. If you know history you just understand that Russia cannot be happy with the situation and that they want to dominate again in Ukraine. It was totally clear.

And it was just a matter of years that this war would start as a sort of historical explanation, you know this truth moment when either Ukraine becomes an independent state or becomes once again little Russia.

During the past weeks, in December, January, I was very nervous about what was happening because I felt that something was coming. But most of my friends from Kyiv and most of the people around me were in total denial and I feel it was the case for most of the Ukrainian society. I kind of prepared myself psychologically but people around me didn’t. So since January, I was already reporting a lot about the situation.

I was in Donbas on the 24th and 24 hours before the war started people there were in total denial and didn’t think it would happen and of course, it was a shock for me as well. We were in a hotel in Kramatorsk when the first rocket swelled, we understood exactly that something big happens. We stayed a few hours in Donbas and decided to leave. It took us 2 days to come back to Kyiv and since then I am reporting, I working a lot I write a lot, I produce a lot of radio reports and so on.

The war is very covered in the French media. There is huge public attention all over the world and France obviously too. The pressure on journalists is very strong now and I feel personally very strong duty because among the French journalists I am the one who is in Kyiv the longest.

I know well Ukraine, I know the background, I know the society I’m very deeply rooted in the society here and it even feels different from reporters who come here now.

They come for 10 days, report from the front line and 10 days after they return home and then they change and someone else is coming. That’s why I feel the huge pressure on me because in Paris people are aware that I know a lot about Ukraine and they are expecting a lot from me.

But I also feel duty because I want to bring something different, I want to bring another coverage of the situation. I want to make people who read me or hear me feel that I am a bit different from other reporters because I live here because it’s my home, Kyiv has really become my home.

As a journalist, I have a mission, duty to be a professional, to be cold blooded to report adequately. But at the same time, I cannot extract from myself that this place became mine. This is the place where my son was born, this is the place I have been living for 8 years, I had projects, I wanted to stay.

And as the war is in my city because I really call it my home, it’s very painful. I have to combine these two elements: the outside look and the inside. I need to be very professional in terms of ethics because I cannot totally fall into an emotional attitude to this conflict, I have to stay straight.

Last week we visited guys from battalion Aidar whom I have known from Donbas from 2014-2015 and those guys are fighting again in Hostomel. They were open to me because they know me. It’s a very emotional moment because during the war all the society which I know, all the people I met in Kyiv and also in Donbas as I spent a lot of time there are totally re-shifting. People are taking new positions in society, there are some people who were fighting in 2014 they are fighting again, there are new fighters, people doing things and for me, it’s amazing to be emersed inside this.

I did think about leaving Kyiv. It’s just the point of the family, my son is 5 years old and I have evacuated him to Uzhorod, haven’t brought him to France yet, it’s still a question. And my partner Alisa is a documentary filmmaker, she has been filming in Donbas.

This is the question when two of the parents are in a dangerous place when you have a child. I don’t want both of the parents to risk something, I think at least one should be in a safe place. So the question of being in a safe place is still open for me.

For now, as long as I can stay inside the city I stay. Because I want to defend Kyiv but I will never be taken to the army, this is not my duty, I don’t have a Ukrainian passport. Still, this place is very important for me because I love this city, and I totally believe in the values which have been defended by Ukrainian society over the past years. And I think this should be defended.

Each person in the city has a different war. And my war is to be a reporter I should bring images and sounds and voices of this city to the outside world. I decided to live here, this is the city of my son who has two citizenships, he’s French and Ukrainian and if I don’t defend with my own tools the place where my son was born this will be my personal defeating.

That’s why I decided to stay here. The only limit that I have and is still a question is if the city is totally encircled, for example. What do I do, do I stay inside or go outside? And in this case, safety is still something important because I have to continue my mission. And maybe I will be more useful outside. And also I’ll have my son and I need to think about him, to care about him. So when the situation becomes worse in becoming days or weeks I will have to review my position as I still don’t know what I would do, we will see.

It’s a very nice feeling to work as a journalist in the place which you know. It’s totally strange because I am really shocked that the war came to the place where I live. I don’t say that I’m not afraid but when I see some guys from territorial defence with guns and other crazy things I don’t feel nervous. I feel like a fish in the water.


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