After five difficult weeks in which Kyiv became a city of checkpoints, empty streets and Russian attacks, there are signs that the Ukrainian capital is coming back to life.
Kyiv remains a fortified city of sandbags and tank barriers, barbed wire and trenches, military vehicles and plastic boxes of Molotov cocktails, but it is trying to reopen.
While it may be too soon for a victory parade in Maidan Square, Russia’s hopes of capturing Kyiv are apparently fading, with locals saying that normalcy was beginning to return.
Inside Kharkiv, a city once close to Russia comes under daily bombardment.
“The city is alive,” said Sasha Changova, who runs Blur Coffee, which closed when the war broke out and has since reopened.
“More and more places are opening up, and more and more people are coming back.”
She expects more customers “because we have so many people who are missing the city and want to be here,” she said.
At a nearby gourmet food store, employees stocked shelves with bottles of wine on Fridays. The ban on the sale of alcohol, imposed by the Ukrainian government at the start of the war, ended at 11 a.m.
Customers pushing shopping carts roamed the aisles, although some shelves were still bare.
“It feels like we’re missing out on a lot of normal life, something that used to be normal, like having a bottle of wine on a Friday night,” Konstanin said, as she spent more than a month. Spanish wines discarded from ,
The software developer sent his children to Poland for safety, but he said that Kyiv was getting too busy, and there were more cars in the parking lot outside his apartment building.
Hours after President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine, some predicted the capital would fall quickly, but Russian troops were unfavourable, inept and sick.
Ukrainian security forces also proved surprisingly resilient and are pushing the stalled Russians away from the outskirts of Kyiv.
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A Pentagon official said around 20% of Russian forces were beginning to withdraw around Kyiv.
Moscow’s claim this week that it was withdrawing from Kyiv has been met with suspicion, and officials are calling it an attempt to redeploy Russian troops for fighting in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbass region.
What this will mean for Kyiv remains to be seen, but officials said the capital is getting back on its feet.
“The city is slowly coming to life,” Mykola Povoroznik, the first deputy of Kyiv’s administration, wrote on Facebook.
As she opened bottles of wine to fill the shelves at the store she worked at, Kate Polanska said that Kyiv was by no means normal, but that she could no longer be bothered by the Russian military. .
“We just don’t give a crap what they do,” she said.
She said it was good to be back at work, a distraction from the cycle of grim news.
“You can’t just stay at home and go through the telephone all the time.”
But she said the city will never be the same and that a “new normal” needs to be found that recognizes the dangers of living between Europe and Russia.
“I want us to be ready for every opportunity,” she said.
Half of Kyiv’s population has fled. Territorial Defense Forces stop traffic at barriers to check identity and inspect vehicle trunks.
Workers were clearing debris from a missile attack on a shopping mall.
But chef Volodymyr Yaroslavsky said the city’s food supply was improving day by day, and prices were falling.
Yaroslavsky, a judge on the reality cooking show MasterChef Ukraine, reopened his upscale Lucky restaurant on Monday.
They served only four dishes on the first night, then five and then seven.
He said he was attracting around 50 customers a day, compared to 300 before the war. His number of cooks dropped from the usual 11 to seven, but he was happy to be back at work.
“Looks like life is back,” he said.
Since the start of the war, his staff has been preparing 300 daily meals for Ukrainian soldiers, civil defense volunteers and doctors. “They protect us, we help them,” said Yaroslavsky.
But he said he needed to pay the bills, the workers needed their wages and the city was reviving, so he decided to open the doors of his restaurant once again.
“A lot of people are coming back, customers and employees too,” he said.
Christina Melnik was also among those who returned to the city.
The advance of the Russian army on Kyiv frightened the 26-year-old and she left the city with her lover, mother and brother. Her father left behind to join the volunteer Territorial Defense Forces.
The family took him in in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. But when missiles attacked Lviv, Melnik felt nowhere in Ukraine was safe and returned home to the capital.
The once bustling city was dark and quiet due to the evening curfew.
“It’s much better now,” she said. The city felt “too much alive, now we see too many cars.”
As soon as he spoke, a bus stopped. Passengers got down with shopping bags. A man passed by with take-out coffee. A bank and printing shop were open nearby. A taxi was waiting curbside for fares. A food delivery bike ran past.
Still, most of the city’s shops were closed and their windows were covered.
Melnick said it was a struggle to find basic things like milk. She used to order online purchases. Now he had to call to see which stores were open and what they had in stock.
“It’s still far from normal,” she said. “I think the war is not over and it will go on, unfortunately.”
Some residents return to Kyiv as Russian forces retreat