The resurrection of Kyiv
The Zigzag Café on Reitarska Street in Kyiv has reopened and on days of spring sunshine – few and much appreciated – they take tables out to the street that they collect at five in the afternoon, closing time since the curfew is in force in the capital of Ukraine from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Life appears in Kyiv after the Russian troops have given up taking it.
Goodbye to the deathly silence of the beginning of March: circulating cars, open small businesses, urban athletes looking at the clock, travelers with suitcases arriving at the train station, itinerant peasant vegetable stalls, friends sharing a coffee after weeks of anguish. Nor is it the vitalist Paris of 1914-1918, so close to the massacres of the Somme and the Marne…
“Half of the clientele comes to forget the war, the other half to have a coffee, without talking much,” summarizes Aleksey, 21, a psychologist from the Military University and the only one of the eight waiters of the very hipster Zigzag Cafe who worked here before the war.
Working is patriotic, says the Government to the Ukrainians, eager to revive an economy that is plummeting (40% of GDP, estimates the World Bank). The Russian military breath has disappeared, now that its tanks have moved away from the avenues of Kyiv that seemed made for them and despite the latest bombardments that sound on the outskirts, the capital is reviving, little by little, day by day. As Golda Meier, an illustrious citizen of Kyiv and Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, said of the key to victory over our Arab neighbors: “We had an advantage: we had no choice.”
Kyiv also has no choice but to look ahead and combine life and destruction and death, so omnipresent on television and mobile phones. “My parents had stayed and I had been suffering for them for many days,” says Tatiana, a teacher recently arrived from Ivano-Frankivsk, where she has spent the first 50 days of the war with her two children at an uncle’s house. The parents are octogenarians and did not want to leave the capital, their life.
At the beginning of March, Kyiv was a carbon copy of the great Spanish cities in the days of strict confinement. Not a soul. With certain differences such as the disbandment of women and children at the end of February or the constant, repetitive, pounding sound of bombings and anti-aircraft alarm alerts. Every few meters, checkpoints by militiamen who, days before picking up a rifle, worked in front of a computer. Having a coffee in a beverage kiosk and chatting with someone was miraculous, except for the pigeons that peck around these small businesses, for coffee or tea and some snacks.
There was no lack of food in the supermarkets, but there was also no surplus. Today, cans of caviar have returned to their refrigerators, along with the popular salmon or trout roe.
Many citizens have returned to their apartments and their jobs. “There is a big difference between them and those of us who have stayed and that is that they come back with more energy. Although in the end we all want the same thing, for this damn war to end. I, for example, dream of being able to return to the Dakh theater (a center for contemporary art)”, says psychoanalyst Sofía Andreichenko.
“Half the clientele comes to forget the war,” says Aleksei at the hipster Café Zigzag
No theater or cinema in Kyiv has reopened but she, for example, received a survey this week about whether she would go to the theater again, a question that was unthinkable two weeks ago.
“Of course I answered yes!”
For Olga and Irina, friends since university, the reunion on Friday April 1 at La Fabrique, one of the first chic bakery-cafes to open in the diplomatic quarter, makes them radiant. “I was able to buy some cosmetics!” exults Irina, who works in the fashion sector. Three weeks earlier, the few clients of La Fabrique had been taciturn and in a hurry. No one gave smiles…
Kyiv has an advantage over many European capitals when it comes to facing such a dramatic situation: calamities and wars are cyclical, they are part of its identity.
Tens of thousands of people died in September 1941 when the Germans took Kyiv and tens of thousands more died in 1943 when the Soviets recaptured Kyiv. In the small ravine of Babi Yar, 33,771 Ukrainian Jews, settled in the Ukraine for generations, were executed in 1941 before the great graves they had dug, all in just 48 hours. The so-called “Holocaust of bullets”. Post-war famines and a terrifying accident at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. Or blood and shots in Kyiv’s Maidan Square in 2014 when a pro-European revolt started the fracture between Ukraine and Russia.
Perhaps to forget so much add and go, Kyiv was one of the night capitals of Eastern Europe, a place to say “the city that never sleeps”. Oleg, a doctor and improvised table companion at the Musafir Tatar restaurant, at bursting noon on Saturday, April 9, assures that “before the war, you could have a drink or dinner at any time of the night, at one or at 7 in the morning. I should have seen Kyiv before the war…”.
In these days of conflict, the inhabitants of Kyiv have a habit of saying two things to the foreigner: a pity that he had not met her before February 24, 2022 or wishing that he would return to enjoy it once the war is over.
There’s no need. Kyiv at War remains an attractive city – even if you don’t walk in at first glance – with its grand Soviet-era buildings, misty parks and ambient fervor for being Western, Democratic, hedonistic and London.
Tea consumption declines, modernity is in coffee. The Kyiv of resurgence is made up of baristas in their thirties – thank God, they are serious about serving coffee – and uniformed customers, with a rifle but now a relaxed attitude.
Kyiv leads other European capitals when it comes to resurgence: its history is a succession of calamities
He has opened a fish shop in the Zhitniy market, in the Podil neighborhood! The very reopening of La Boquería de Kyiv, three weeks after the start of the war, is already a symptom of normality or of the desire for it because barely one in five stalls are open. Market of the fifteenth century, the current facility – somewhat decrepit – is a work of the early 60s, one hundred percent Soviet, when Ukrainians and Russians shared an ideal.
In the bittersweet hour of goodbye, the bad news is that the scooters have also returned to Kyiv and they are the sea of great…