Wartime Kyiv

January 15, 2023

Many monuments in Ukraine are protected by sandbags. This is the Princess Olga Monument, located in front of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, Kyiv. Image: UT, OFP

Walking on a typical Kyiv sidewalk in Podil, I was thinking about the context of this article. My thoughts went around in circles as I passed one of those ubiquitous generators that have become a common sight in this city. The sound of the one-cylinder engine faded as I rounded a corner. Not to my surprise, there was yet another generator, sputtering away a few meters ahead. Chained to a wall, the little power unit’s engine rotated in a near constant speed, creating electrical power for a small store.

Then, it hit me … a weird thought that spontaneously popped into my mind. As the piston moved up on its exhaust strokes, it seemed to utter, fuck-you-Putin, fuck-you-Putin, fuck-you-Putin, over and over again, in rapid succession. In this war, the Ukrainians have found numerous ways to tell Vlad where to shove it. These generators are but one of them.

There seemed to be hundreds, but most likely thousands of generators spread across this large city, creating the electrical power that a modern society needs, and proving that Russia’s months-long campaign to destroy Ukraine’s ability to produce and/or to disburse electricity is a clear failure. The Ukrainians had found a way to ease some of the pain that the numerous and lengthy blackouts are causing. With a generator, a store could stay open for business, children could attend school, and patients in a hospital can be properly taken care of.

A common sight in wartime Kyiv; generators. Image: UT, OFP

The blackouts are the biggest observable changes in the country on this second visit to wartime Ukraine since my first one, back in September. This was not an issue at all a few months ago. I’ve gone through blackouts before in my life, but naturally, they weren’t anything like I’ve seen in Kyiv. At the beginning of my visit, they happened several times a day and lasting for several hours. They occurred in different city quarters at a time, changing from one to the other so as to properly ration what little electricity there is available. During the two days of New Year’s, however, the power stayed on. And, from this day onward for the rest of my stay, the blackouts were fewer per day and not lasting as long anymore. The workers and engineers of the country’s electrical infrastructure systems have worked wonders to repair and to even increase electrical supplies in the midst of near interminable attacks.

With incessant power outages having become a part of daily life, it’s no big surprise to see a huge growth in the number of generators in Ukraine. Generators aren’t anything new in this country. Blackouts have always happened every so often in Ukraine and a few establishments had them to bridge the gap in power supply. The many generators that I saw come in all possible makes, models and sizes. Some units are quite small, easy to carry even by a woman, and some are large, movable only by heavy machines. Even during daylight hours, it’s easy to tell whether there’s a blackout in the neighborhood or not, just by the generators, if they are running or not.

Other things that I saw more of during this visit were soldiers. I saw plenty of them back in September, but this time they were more numerous. I also saw more military vehicles. Naturally, I won’t say where or when I saw all of this.

For the average man and women, it’s hard to imagine living in a place that suffers from occasional air attacks. It’s not easy to accept the fact that your property, your loved ones, or even you could fall victim to russia’s (small case spelling on purpose) criminal acts at any time, day or night. Thus, I was particularly curious to see how the people would react when there is an air raid alert going on. This would be a good indicator of the psychological state they are in.

Normally, when the sirens howl out their warnings, all stores must be closed and the people must seek shelter. I experienced numerous air raid alarms during my visit, and what I saw straight away was people that were in no panic and none had any desires to get to the nearest shelter as quickly as possible. The country’s population seemed to have gotten used to the new situation and have lost their fear of what could happen in a worse-case scenario.

A case in point; we once were out shopping and had just arrived at one of those huge building supply stores on the eastern side of the river. We suspected that it was closed, since an air raid warning had been issued no so long ago. We sat in the car, contemplating on what to do next, when suddenly we heard what sounded like thunder. It was a clear day with no clouds anywhere, thus we knew that it was no thunder, but the sound of Kyiv under another attack. We got out of the car and went to the far side of the parking lot. We wanted to get a glimpse of the happenings in the sky above and so we hoped to get a better view from there, since the building blocked the view to the direction of the detonations.  Other people who were also in the very large parking lot were doing the same thing. No one ran for cover. Although there were around twelve detonations, we couldn’t see any of them because of the building. Needless to say, it was a surreal experience. And, despite of this, there were no signs of distress in the expressions of those around us. The people were quite casual.

Other aspects I was curious about were the retail businesses. Are the stores still well-stocked with merchandize, as they were in September? Are all still open for business? Is fuel still widely available? Can people afford their products? After all, it was the tenth month of war and the increased attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure could’ve had a negative impact on all of this.

Well, all the stores that I saw are still open and still well-stocked. There’s even a brand-new supermarket that had opened for business just recently in Podil. It is not only large, but is attractively set-up and sports amply-sized aisles with plenty of goods, very neatly displayed on the shelves. Like most large supermarkets in Kyiv, this one also offers a large variety of imported merchandize, both from Europe and the United States.

A new supermarket in Kyiv …modern, neat, spacious and well-stocked. Image: UT, OFP

The same goes for the building supply stores, which offer the usual huge varieties of goods, just as they’ve always had during peacetime. It was a bit surprising to even find generators there, which I thought would be hard to come by these days. There were several makes and models up for sale. There were also plenty of flashlights, candles, batteries, and camping lamps, all of which I thought would be sold out by now.

Gas stations too, were all open for business and this from the Polish border all the way to the last corner of Kyiv that I visited. They had the usual range of fuels for sale and the gas stations shops were also well-stocked with goods.

There were two exceptions to the availability of goods in Ukraine – or rather in Kyiv – that I know of. One is the new car market, which did see a reduction in quantity of new automobiles for sale, sometimes drastically, and two, a perfume store, which had barely half in stock of what it used to during pre-war times.

The city of Kyiv is said to have a population now that is near the pre-war level. Of course, I don’t know if this is true, but my personal perception tells me that this could be true. I know how empty the city was in March. It was a dead city. Now, it’s filled with bustling life … including the deplorable traffic jams.

My observations during this trip, however, shouldn’t be viewed as a downplaying of the real dangers involved or that the people of Ukraine are fools. Quite the contrary is true. The dangers are very real, mind you. We see it often enough in the news. And, as far as the people are concerned, they are mostly realists and have come to terms with life in wartime Ukraine. Panic serves no one in a positive way. Panic, dread, trepidation, hysteria are contra productive. Unity, strength, rationality, and austere discipline much serve the country in positive ways. The soldiers on the front are more at ease knowing this, and they do know very well the mood of their people. This is but one pillar of strength for the common Ukrainian fighter. There are many people who even find the time, strength and love in their hearts to help not only their soldiers on the front lines, but also the homeless animals, whose numbers have increased since the war started. This is in stark contrast to some orcs, who, according to a news article published some time ago, were hanging animals by their necks, even one kind that’s on the red list of endangered species.

One of Kyiv’s many Points of Invincibility, where people can go to warm up, drink hot beverages and have internet access. This one is in a sort of tent, located on Kontraktova Square. It was surprisingly warm inside and has many comfortable lawn chairs. Other Points of Invincibility are in various buildings and shopping centers. Image: UT, OFP

Will destroying Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure soften up the Ukrainian willpower to resist? Sure, the new situation goes on the people’s nerves. There are many things you cannot do without electrical power. The worst thing for the people to endure is the darkness. This is the dead of winter and daylight is quickly over and the nights are long. At times, you come home from work or school and the house or apartment is pitch-black. However, the answer to the above question is still a clear no!

Zelensky’s words come to mind: “Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you.”

No one wants the ruskies in the country. No one wants to risk getting murdered, raped, tortured, kidnapped, or have the house or apartment looted and the floors full of their shit. Sitting in the dark is the better option. Way better…

I am almost at my destination. I hear the sonorous tone of a large generator nearby, powering a large building. I hear it clearly, its message resonating from the surrounding walls, saying over and over, fuck-you-Putin, fuck-you-Putin, fuck-you-Putin…

3 comments

  1. Outstanding insight facts!
    The people have learned to adapt to the filthy terror tactics with characteristic bravery and stoicism. A couple I know recently moved back there from Lviv because they wanted to ensure that their business would survive and hopefully be poised to take part in the coming peacetime dividend; God willing.
    A useful accompaniment to your story is the latest video from Pavel and Luba; a couple of vloggers who used to produce charming videos about Ukrainian village life before putler unleashed hell. They also adapted and now show vivid details of how life carries on during a time of extreme anguish and stress:

    https://youtu.be/-I7PE4b3nIY

    • Thank you, Sir scradge for the kind words and the interesting video. Those two went through pretty much the same what we went through, including a few bank visits, although we didn’t have to wait outside. It was cool watching it.

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