Column by Victoria Yefymenko, newsletter editor (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv)

07-01-24 Kyiv in the holiday season

Two massive missile attacks marked this winter holiday season in Kyiv. The attack of December 29 became the deadliest, as 32 Kyiv residents died and 30 were injured. A day of mourning was declared on January 1. It is something of a lottery, because missile and drone fragments can land anywhere, sparing nobody, causing destruction, fires and sometimes deaths. For instance, one of the victims of the attack of January 2 was a Professor of Kyiv Mohyla Academy.

But despite all Russia’s efforts to spoil the holiday season Kyiv citizens and guests try to indulge in some festivities. This year Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated on December 25 and not on January 7, as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine adopted the revised Julian calendar. It is one more step away from ‘the Russian world’. The main Christmas tree this year is two times shorter than it was before the war and there are no food courts or other entertainments nearby. But there is a festival ‘Winter Country’ at the Kyiv Expo with an open-air skating rink, Santa’s residence, ice sculptures and other entertainments. There are also a lot of concerts, theatre performances, and tickets are often sold out.

Carols were performed on the central streets of Kyiv on the New Year’s Eve to raise money for the Ukrainian army. By the way, donations by Ukrainians increased 3 times in 2023 compared to 2022. And according to Charities Aid Foundation, Ukraine is the second in the World Giving Index 2023.

Demand for renting Christmas trees in Kyiv has increased and reached the pre-war level. Another current trend is opening new bookshops in Kyiv. Several bookshops opened in autumn, and one more large two-storey bookshop will open in January on the main Kyiv street Khreshchatyk. It gives hope for the future.

21-09-23 Remarks about Kyiv after 1.5 years of absence

I haven’t been in my home city (and Ukraine) for 1.5 years, since I fled at the beginning of March 2022, when the Russian troops were a mere 25 km away from the place I lived. I felt a bit scared before returning. In my memory I had pictures of the almost deserted three-million city with protective ‘hedgehogs’ and block posts. Now the city looks completely different. Crowds of people, among them a lot of young people, couples with children, walk or scooter along Khreshchatyk, eat at the open terraces of the cafes (unlike the subway and shops cafes continue their work during air alerts), enjoy sunny days in the parks (a park not far from my place was packed with kids, engaged in special activities, including climbing and overcoming obstacles in a rope park). I’ve had this forgotten feeling after COVID-19, when in peak hours it’s difficult to squeeze into a subway train. According to the recent data, the population of Kyiv is 3.1 million people, those who are still abroad are replaced by internally displaces people.

New cafes and restaurants have opened (exotic El Gordo with Mexican tacos was replaced by our own Chicken Kyiv). Prices in the supermarkets became much higher and the assortment of imported goods a bit narrower, one of my favourite types of bread – Belarusian rye bread – is no longer on sale (because of the name). In Kyiv, one may get confused because of a great number of renamed streets and subway stations (e.g. a centrally located Leo Tolstoy square is now Ukrainian heroes square). In the Motherland monument, one of Kyiv’s landmarks, a Soviet coat of arms, which had been on the shield for decades, was dismantled and replaced by a trident. Kyiv universities and institutes resumed onsite teaching after online studies during the period of pandemic and 1.5 years of the war. Advertisements in the subway invite citizens of Kyiv and guests to a huge exhibition of chrysanthemums that will open this week. Called The Magical garden, it will exhibit 35 flowery magical creatures and 10000 flowers.

But despite all these manifestations of a normal daily life the impact of the war is still evident. There are such reminders of the war as Banksy’s artwork on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where two children use a Czech hedgehog as a seesaw, the destroyed Russian military equipment on Mykhailivska square. The war is felt by the presence of the military on the streets, a curfew from 12 to 5 am and air alerts. Almost every night, sometimes during the day, the sirens warn Kyiv citizens about the danger of missile or drone attacks. Explosions at night (the work of air defense systems) are the scariest moments. Luckily for inhabitants of Kyiv (but unluckily for inhabitants of other Ukrainian regions) the recent attacks were aimed not at Kyiv, but at the southern ports of Izmail and Reni (the Russian input to the global hunger crisis) or at western Ukraine, where 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid was destroyed.

People remembering the last winter with power outages, and, as a result, the absence of the running water and the Internet, are convinced that the Russians will try again to hit the critical infrastructure objects. So, the worst is still ahead.

But eventually, as people say here, everything will be Ukraine.