Serhiy and Iryna remained in Kyiv from the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Iryna continued to teach the children, and Serhiy helped with logistics around Kyiv and worked as a taxi driver. In 2004, the couple started a fight with the developer to keep Landscape Alley and won the case (2004-2014). They tell us their story of how they managed to do it and what Kyiv was like all those months.
Serhiy: I am now a "free artist" - a freelancer. Once I’ve been engaged in real estate, but all registers were frozen during the war, so there was no work. I continue some projects, but they are, let's say, barely alive. In the first days of the war, I took people to the station by car because public transport was not running, and people had to leave.
Iryna: Of course, I asked him to stay home because I feel calmer that way, but he drove until the last minute before the curfew. He arrived a little later in the first days, but Territorial Defense quickly explained that he shouldn’t do this.
Serhiy: From the first days, there were borders with combat positions around the city. We live in the historical part of Kyiv. Next to Mykhailivska Square, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, this is a quarter of diplomatic missions, which is why there is increased inspection. At first, everyone was worried because the Sabotage and reconnaissance group entered Kyiv, they were caught, and there were local shootings. Increased level of security. However, some people did not pay attention to martial law and curfew.
There were not so many taxi services in the early days, Uklon was an exception. You could register there, it wasn’t complicated. By the way, Uklon had serious support in the first weeks. Uber, Bolt, and small taxi services simply disappeared.
Iryna: I am a teacher at a school not far from my house, where my relatives and neighbors studied. Territorial Defense was stationed there on the third day. On the morning of the 24th, the school director wrote to our joint group that we would work remotely, and we kept working while everyone was scared and was going to the station. The next day, classes were also on schedule, there were few children, but everyone was in touch. Then we had a vacation for two weeks. From March 9, we contacted the children again. I conducted classes and talked, and everyone felt difficult. In my class in Kyiv, at first, there were seven people out of twenty-nine, and then four remained. 14-15 students contacted each day, some did not, but they still sent their homework. The training continued, and we hardly talked about the subject (of a full-scale invasion - ed.) because no one wanted to talk about it.
They plan to start school offline from September, but I don't know how to implement it because some of the children have already returned, and some have not yet. They really want to come back, but they don't know... today the were some shootings again.
I also have a student whose mother lives in St. Petersburg. She went there long ago, and he lives with his father and grandmother. He went to his mother a week and a half before these events, there was distance learning, and there was no difference from what location to get in touch with. When it started, he was so worried that he switched exclusively to the Ukrainian language, and wanted to return to Ukraine so much, now he is in Europe. The house where he lived is located between Kyiv and Bucha. His grandmother managed to leave the place, she spent 27 hours on the way to Prague without stopping.
Serhiy: On the morning of the 24th, my wife woke me up and said that the war had started. I got up, drank some coffee, and had time to fill up with gas and gasoline before the evening because there was no curfew yet. I didn't panic, I went through it all, and I saw queues for fuel in 2014-15. I reacted calmly. Well, war is war. We were worried before, two or three times, when there was information about the possible attack on Kyiv.
Iryna: I didn't hear anything. I fell asleep in the morning because I was checking my notebooks until two o'clock in the morning. At half past seven, a colleague called: "Do you know that we are not going to school today?". I thought: "Why? I have been preparing since the evening. I have a lesson at 8:30.”
I didn't leave the house for two months because I had seven Zoom lessons every day, and I had to prepare for the next day. We had no intention of going anywhere, Serhiy immediately said we would not go anywhere.
Serhiy: Everyone has their own opinions. Iryna's relatives invited us to Khmelnytskyi, but we refused. I just don't understand what to do there.
Iryna: And my daughter asked us with her, but we didn’t want it at all. I didn't even want to leave the house, I feel comfortable here, and it's not so scary.
When I heard the sirens, I didn't want to go anywhere. I wanted to lie down on the couch and curl up.
Serhiy woke up, drank coffee, had breakfast, and went to work as "Batman.” I mean, he was helping people while I had classes. Once I went out, and when I saw the neighbor, I was pleasantly surprised that he also stayed in Kyiv.
The fight for Landscape Alley
Iryna: Our whole life is connected with this place. My grandmother and mother were born on Kozhumyatska Street. Then they lived on Shchekavitska, that is, on Podil, and dad lived on Yaroslavska Street near the Zhytniy Market. There was no Landscape Alley yet. We had yards here. Dad had a garage near the house. Then all this was demolished, and a Landscape Alley was built.
We went to school No.17. Serhiy always came here to walk along Volodymyrska hill - his favorite place.
Serhiy: There was a lot here. No one knows what Vozdvyzhenka looked like in those years. If you manage to take a picture so that no wire gets into it - it seems like the nineteenth century. In the eighties, my Russian relatives visited me. We walked Khreshchatyk. I said: "Now I will show you the real Kyiv!". There was a wooden ladder, I brought them, and they wondered: "What is this?". It is real Kyiv.
We are the "Landscape Alley" initiative group. Legally, the struggle lasted for ten years. Sometime in 2004, the cultural space absorbers had the idea to build this entire space, almost three hectares, to the end of the alley.
We staged protests, broke fences, and filed lawsuits. I was directly involved in all this with the help of lawyers. Formally, I don't even know what we have reached, but such a situational victory was in 2007. The active phase took place for 3-4 years. There were such moments that at 4 a.m., we called each other, ran out wearing the cloth we had time to pick, and there were 3-4 people of us, fighting with people in sports suits who came on tractors, who felled trees, and dug a pit.
We connected with everyone we could: political forces, media people, and just concerned Kyivans to draw attention to the development. It turned out that the developers dug a pit. At that time, we had already broken the fence and solemnly carried it under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. This was one of our actions. They already thought they almost solved the case, and we hired about 30 dump trucks for the weekend and threw this pit.
There is also a legal aspect of the struggle. The main person here is my wife. Collective lawsuits could not be filed in courts, so we filed on our own behalf. The entire subsequent legal battle was based on this lawsuit. In this way, we managed to keep everything.
Iryna: I was born in the house next to Peyzazhka, and as a local resident, I wrote statements and complaints, connected neighbors, and collected signatures. People reacted differently; we had to explain to everyone what was happening. The people from another house signed, while people from ours - didn't care. They said that they have windows facing the other side.
Serhiy: Most people do not understand what old Kyiv is, and it is the Golden Gate, Batyiv Gate, Lyadski Gate, and Jewish Gate (the end of Lviv Square). The border was along Valy, here, on Peyzazhka, which did not exist before. And it was not our personal matter anymore, because we live here. This space belongs to the entire world community because it is a UNESCO-protected area.
I am a resident of this area, I am from Kyiv, and I care.
Iryna: Kyiv is our life. For me, Kyivans are not necessarily those who lived here for four or fifteen generations. We won back Peyzazhka, went to courts for seven years, collected signatures, and the people who helped us to bring it to an end - the family where a man is from Donetsk, and the woman is from the Odesa region. They studied here together. I have a colleague from Belarus. Her family loves Kyiv very much and doesn’t want to live elsewhere. A Kyivan is someone who loves this city, not someone who is "from the fifteenth generation."
Photos for the material were provided by Serhiy and Iryna.
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