The electronic panels that demand that NATO close the airspace coexist in the streets of kyiv with the posters that continue to announce the Iron Maiden concert on May 29 and that the conflict has forced to suspend. The capital of Ukraine is a city in which children are barely seen after the month of the Russian invasion, which began on February 24, has passed. Approximately half of the three million inhabitants have left fleeing the war. Men between 18 and 60 years old have to stay, but many women and minors have been leaving in stages. They are part of the ten million Ukrainians who have fled the bombing, 3.5 million outside the country and 6.5 million internally displaced. The capital of Ukraine has learned in the last month to live with the din of the fighting that can be heard in the background, the sounds of the alarms, the nights in the shelters and the half-deserted streets. This is the testimony of some of the neighbors who are still in kyiv.
Alexei, Glovo delivery man with bulletproof vest and helmet: “People are afraid to open the doors of their houses”
It is a ghostly image reminiscent of the closure of public life around the world due to the covid pandemic. The print of the riders through the streets of kyiv in the middle of the war is for some the symbol of the unstoppable and merciless advance of capitalism in the former Soviet republic. His presence between half-deserted avenues and zigzagging between the barricades reminds of those days of confinement imposed by the virus, but here the delivery men pedal between the bangs of the Ukrainian Army and the Russian Army. The application that regulates the orders and deliveries of Glovo is blocked as soon as the alarms begin to sound that warn of a possible attack in the Ukrainian capital. Alexei, 36 years old (he prefers not to give his last name), has not quite gotten used to these breaks, but he takes it with resignation. He acknowledges that the company pays them a little more for each trip because of the danger involved in working these days. “If I’m already on my way when the alarm sounds, I don’t throw away the order,” he points out with a certain sarcasm. He explains that he takes it to its destination and waits for normality, if it can be said that way, to resume to wait for new assignments.
This single father of a ten-year-old daughter has been making a living like this for three years, as a part-time delivery boy. These days of conflict, it does so especially in the downtown area, which is the quietest and is kept away from the fighting, although “the echoes of the explosions from other parts of the city are heard and there is tension,” he points out. For this reason, when he has to go to more remote or conflictive areas, he assures that he does so with the helmet and bulletproof vest that he has obtained as a member of the civil defense groups in which he has enrolled. He says that what customers are taking most is tobacco, cereals and bread, but that the warlike climate after a month of conflict has made the population rarefied. “People are afraid, they are afraid to open the doors of their houses. If before you rang the bell and they opened you, now you have to call first. They ask you questions and sometimes you have to show the documents”, he comments with his hands resting on the handlebars and the yellow backpack on his shoulders.
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He says that many of the delivery men have left the city or have joined the defense groups, so there are few left. In addition, he adds, the number of orders has decreased because the city now has a smaller population. But on balance, his workload has not sunk because before the war he made about 10 orders a day, and now on the days he considers good, without many alarms, he makes around seven or eight. But in the bad, with many security warnings, only one or two. In short, he has fewer orders but charges a little more for each of them as risk. If he used to earn an average of between 1,000 and 1,500 hryvnias a day (30-45 euros), now he gets between 1,000 and 1,200 (30-37 euros). But Alexei insists that, beyond the bicycle and Glovo, his role right now is more to defend the town from him and for this he relies on his mother, who is the one who takes care of the daughter of the.
Julia, reporter for channel 1+1: “The front is now my home”
Julia, 34, was christened as a war reporter in 2014 in the east of her country, in the Donbas region. There, pro-Russian separatists have been defying Ukrainian troops all this time. Now, Julia Kyriienko, a journalist for the television channel 1+1, is being caught by the war on her doorstep, on the outskirts of kyiv. In addition, her husband, until a few weeks ago a mobile phone salesman, has gone to the front with the Army while their two-year-old son has taken refuge in the west of the country with his grandmother. “In Donbas, you knew where the enemy line was, where the shots could come from”, but “now we are all under fire, it doesn’t matter if you are at home, at work or on the front lines. My personal life has changed since February 24 because the front is now my home.”
Julia is part of the teams of Ukrainian journalists who are allowed to be embedded with their country’s troops, something foreign media hardly get. “Many times we have to continue working until the sirens go off, being on the street or on the way to shoot. The risk is maximum”, he recounts during an interview first thing in the morning at the headquarters of channel 1+1, which is part of the group of seven media outlets that have come together under the war to, together, broadcast uninterruptedly the 24 hours a day. In this way, explains Julia, they keep the population permanently informed and, at the same time, face the lack of personnel, since many workers have left for security in kyiv.
Each channel is responsible for a time slot that rotates every day. “The journalist’s work has not changed, only that the time we have to cover on the air has increased to about three hours each day.” Sometimes Julia meets her husband around the front line, but she cannot accompany him because “she is in a division that does not allow her to work with him.” Regarding the implication that the war may have in her way of covering current affairs, she points out: “We understand what Russia is doing and how it tries to make our nation disappear. We have been at war for eight years. The Russians are sinking into their fake news and everyone can see it, we don’t have this problem of having to dismantle their myths. Everyone is laughing at them.” The reporter shows on her mobile some images of her front, among them, a selfie in which a dog appears in the background eating the corpse of a Russian soldier.
Volodymyr, driver of a funeral company: “When there is a dead child you cannot understand it”
Every day when he gets home Volodímir tries to “change the chip” and think about something other than his job. Hundreds of jars with ashes are accumulated arranged in alphabetical order in the rooms of the crematorium of the Baikove cemetery in kyiv. The black smoke that comes out of the chimney permeates the environment. Many families do not go these days to look for the remains of their loved ones from the war. In recent weeks, workers have opened new cavities in the ground to try to speed up the burial process, but they cannot move forward without completing the bureaucratic procedures. As in many other professions, the funeral vehicle driver has also been affected by the conflict. “After February 24, some bodies remain in the morgues. It is impossible to get them out because of the panic, many people have fled and the process is slowing down. The work is the same as before, the only thing is that there is a lack of people”, explains Volodímir, 34 years old and a driver for 12 years in a mixed public and private company.
He has gone to the crematorium to transfer the body of a man who died a week before from a gunshot while helping to evacuate civilians in his car from Irpin, on the front line on the outskirts of the capital. In the two small chapels the processes are fast, ceremonies of just a few minutes. Some religious even say goodbye to some of the deceased inside the same van in which they arrive. They open the coffin, wave a small censer, and voila. Volodímir assures that there is also a lack of gravediggers and that coffins are beginning to be scarce because there is no one to manufacture them within kyiv. Despite his years of experience, he admits: “Unnatural deaths scare me, like these days when people are being killed. When there is a dead child you cannot understand it, your brain explodes and you think why? Lately I have seen children and young people who have been shot during the evacuation from Irpin, from Bucha…”. For this reason, at the end of the working day he tries to leave work at the door and dedicate himself to taking care of his wife and his children.
Roman, sheltered in a home for the homeless: “I don’t talk to my family. I have no one”
Roman, 43, shows the underground shelter with five bunk beds that, in the current situation, has emerged as the star of the humble shelter where he lives together with twenty homeless women and men in kyiv. “I’ve been in this place for about two weeks, a little after the war started,” he explains as he organizes the few belongings he has. Since 2008, when he was evicted for non-payment, he has been stumbling and now he has been forced to seek protection from a humanitarian organization because curfews prohibit citizens from staying on the streets. Roman has an ex-wife and a son. He knows that they are in the kyiv region, but does not maintain contact with them. “I don’t talk to my family. I have no one”.
In the house, in addition to the basement, there are two bedrooms where women and men sleep separately. The house is entered through a room that serves as a small living room and kitchen. Several men kill time there cooking or cleaning. The most exciting thing about Roman’s story is the “three kilometer” walks to fetch water because, he says, they can’t drink the water from the tap. Upon learning that the reporter is Spanish, he immediately tells with a surprised face that his mother has lived in Avilés for two decades. He assures that she would like to leave kyiv, but the law obliges all men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay and defend the country and he himself admits that he has “nowhere to go”, because he cannot even find a job. He is accompanied by three Armenian men, Georgi, 53, Aram, 52, and Tigram, 39, whose circumstances are similar. They have been trapped in the Ukrainian capital without being able to get out.
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