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Ukraine gets used to living with war | International

Today’s war in Ukraine can be understood as a succession of dramas that has so far left nearly 15 million internally displaced persons and refugees, between 50 and 100 Ukrainian soldiers killed every day, more Russian soldiers killed than in the war in Afghanistan, dozens of missiles launched every day and an international crisis unprecedented in recent Europe. Or it can be explained from the theater of a cinema in kyiv, on any given Saturday, when the session is interrupted by the sound of alarms. From a cocktail bar in Dnipro where customers return along a street without streetlights to avoid air raids, or from a restaurant in Zaporizhia where diners and evacuees from the Donbas area share the front door. A country in which two realities coexist, that of the hard, cruel and bloody front, and that of cities in which commerce reopens, but with the wounds very raw and that is outraged every time from outside they ask that negotiate peace with Putin.

As the war progresses and the Russian positions in the east of the country are consolidated by taking over new towns, in the west of Ukraine little by little they timidly begin to open shops, shopping malls or theaters, passers-by return to the streets coinciding with the arrival of spring and the most elegant restaurants once again have a waiting list. Although the war has become more ferocious, the nightly speeches of the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, have less impact and some leaders and the media insinuate that Ukraine must seek a peace that accepts the loss of part of the territory, as happened this week with statements by the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, French President Emmanuel Macron, or a New York Times editorial.

The reality is that while in the east near Russia the wounded do not stop leaving along the same road through which new weapons arrive, the part of the country where the bombs are not felt gradually returns to routine, although the alarms remind periodically the danger of air strikes.

Cities like kyiv, Lviv and Odesa, with about five million inhabitants in total before the war, have entered a strange normality. In the capital of the country, the theaters and the opera have reopened, the subway moves overflowing with people and the traffic jams on the access roads have returned, accentuated by the controls installed by the army and the popular militias at the entrance of the city .

The paradox is even greater in cities like Dnipro, the fourth largest city in the country, with almost a million inhabitants before the start of the invasion and only 100 kilometers from the wildest front. While three missiles fell at one point in the city on Friday, killing 10 people and leaving 35 injured, the supermarket was still open in another deli Le Silpo, on Ekaterinoslav Boulevard, which donates part of its income to the Ukrainian army and operates 12 hours a day with shelves full of puff pastries, Huelva hams or Caribbean rums. Just a few steps away there is a restaurant that offers 77 brands of wine, where on Friday there was no table available and on Saturday it organized a tasting that took place while the sirens warned that new missiles were flying over the airspace. On the same boulevard, fashion stores with clothes by Chanel or Louis Vuitton have reopened and welcomed their first customers, still with sandbags covering most of the window.

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Passing in front of one of these windows, a couple pushes a baby carriage while walking with an ice cream in hand. “We have to do our usual life or at least try to do it. This war has left me without a job, but we cannot also give this victory to Putin”, says the man, who until now worked in a car dealership that remains closed. “The country cannot be paralyzed,” he adds as he walks past a terrace where diners are listening to an open-air jazz concert.

A group of customers take a photo at a cocktail bar in the city of Dnipro on May 27.
A group of customers take a photo at a cocktail bar in the city of Dnipro on May 27.James Garcia

Ukraine combines a timid rebirth with a reality that has radically changed in just three months. Today it is a broken country that accounts for between 50 and 100 deaths a day as a result of the military confrontation, according to President Zelensky, and from which, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 6.6 million people have left. To these refugees must be added the eight million internally displaced persons, according to UNHCR. In total, about 15 million people, around a third of the country’s population, have had to leave their homes due to the war. At the same time, the economy will fall by 30% at the end of the year, the industry continues to be partially paralyzed and it is impossible for Ukraine to sell grain and farm products that provide one of the country’s main sources of income.

The contrast is perhaps most striking in places like Zaporizhia, in southeastern Ukraine. Less than 50 kilometers from where Russia punishes with its artillery day in and day out, a restaurant offers sophisticated Georgian dishes on a terrace in the center of the city. Dozens of evacuees from Donbas wait to receive a meal every day through the same door that the diners enter, many of them soldiers and soldiers recently arrived from the front.

Musician Sviatoslav Vakarchuk performs during first aid exercises organized by two foundations next to the Lviv Opera House on May 27.
Musician Sviatoslav Vakarchuk performs during first aid exercises organized by two foundations next to the Lviv Opera House on May 27. PAVLO PALAMARCHUK (REUTERS)

“There are not two Ukraines, we are all united in this fight,” explains Yaroslav, a long-time resident of Mariupol who continues to bring clothing and food to his former neighbors every week. “They are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, we have to support the people who are having a hard time on the front lines or in the occupied towns, and on the other hand, we have to work and reactivate the economy as soon as possible,” he says about the fear that half the country will forget about what happens in the east of Ukraine. “People have started to get used to the conditions of war because this is our unfortunate reality. But that does not mean that Ukraine does not fight. The division was before, when there was a half closer to Russia and another half that felt more Ukrainian, but now those two halves are united by their hatred of the Russians seeing how they are behaving and that will be difficult to erase in the next generations. ”, he says at a collection center in Zaporizhia.

Two blocks from the collection center, Lena and Ludmila, 62 and 63 years old, attend a women’s clothing store hand in hand, waiting for a customer to enter. It was closed the first month of war, but two years ago they opened their doors in a saddened city. “There is no choice but to work. We have to lift the country’s economy while giving thanks to those who defend us and give their lives for Ukraine”, says Lena referring to the soldiers passing by on the main street. “I watch the news and I am sad and I cry, but we must work even if the alarms sound and my heart is broken,” she explains.

“We, for example, sell clothes, which people who left home with what they were wearing are in great need. With winter coats, a shirt and only a pair of shoes. Our role is also important in this new reality”. Lena admits that the sale is going poorly and that it does not even come close to reaching the level prior to the invasion, but “whoever gets up to work and does not raise prices also makes a country,” she explains. Her new clients are some of the evacuees who use the money to buy her clothes. “We are more united than ever, there are not two Ukraines, there is a game in two,” she says, raising her eyebrows when the sirens interrupt the conversation.

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