One facet of the war in Ukraine that doesn’t often get shared is that Kyiv is still a really fun city. Everywhere you’ll find basement speakeasys, streetside cafes and parks bustling with people enjoying the rhythm of summertime everyday life, just like in any other European city. Afternoon parties turn into late, but not too late-night revelry as the music and drinks must stop flowing at 9:30 so that folks can get home before the midnight curfew.
On the surface, Kyivans seem to be living a normal life, but scratch a little below and you’ll find wartime guilt weighing heavily on everyone.
War is always on my mind
No one ever forgets about the war raging in the east and southern regions of the country, even while trying to blow off some steam. Nightly drone and missile attacks still plague Kyiv, but fortunately Ukrainian air defence is rock solid thanks to the top-notch military equipment supplied by Western allies. Life is quite a bit easier in Kyiv than it is in Kherson for example, which is in range of the murderous Russian artillery.
Everyone works hard to pay their bills, but also donate whatever they’d normally squirrel away as savings to the military. Whenever a group of us is sitting & chatting after the rooftop the bar has closed, there’s lots of laughter, but there’s also a stiff dose of reality.
One of my friends has a father fighting on the front lines but hasn’t heard from him in four days. Two others have family trapped in occupied territory, and there’s always someone talking about volunteering to fight. Men are constantly drafted and everyone knows a friend who’s died at the front.
A Guilted Cage
Ukrainians are people just like us. They want to be happy and enjoy life, but it’s very hard to be happy about anything while friends & family are dying just a few hours away. When living day by day, how can you not need to blow off steam? At the same time, celebrating just seems wrong, a guilty pleasure that should be reserved for people not at war.
After a year living in Ukraine I’ve learned that war causes untold damage and heartbreak, but it also brings people together to resist a common enemy. Ukrainians and Russians are like a fractured family who’ve spent decades together but are now experiencing a horrendous estrangement.
In Ukraine, guilt is a paradox, but so is an unjustified, murderous war with your brothers and sisters.
Slava Ukraini! Heroaim Slava!