What it’s like to live in Kyiv during the war
It’s been over two months since Russia started its brutal military invasion of Ukraine — and, for a few weeks now, I’ve been living in Kyiv. I’ve written before on this war’s broader context — but in this post I’d like to give a sense of the daily life during the war.
Note that Kyiv is much safer than the beleaguered eastern regions of Ukraine, where Russia’s ground attacks are now focused, and the occupied parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. Also, the city of Kyiv itself hasn’t suffered from Russian occupation, unlike some of the towns around Kyiv like Bucha.
With that in mind, here’s a few observations on what it’s like to live in Ukraine’s capital today.
1) Despite pre-invasion fears, public services, utilities and communications work remarkably well. The internet is cheap and ubiquitous like before the war, we have running water and electricity, public transport is operating (and even became free of charge under martial law).
Within the last month, I traveled a few times to Western Ukraine and back by train, which is an overnight ride in one direction — and everything worked well with train rides as well.
This resilience of the Ukrainian state is largely thanks to millions of workers who’ve been running trains, repairing electricity lines, delivering food, and doing other critical services. It’s like essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic risking their health to keep critical systems up and running, just with the risk being even greater.
2) Unlike Kharkiv in the east or Mykolaiv in the south, Kyiv is not under risk from artillery fire — Russian troops are far from this region. However, the whole of Ukraine is under risk from long-range missile attacks.
Russia regularly uses what our foreign minister called “missile terrorism”, bombing civil infrastructure throughout the country. Civilians are dying as a result, including in Kyiv. Two weeks ago, a prominent journalist was killed and several people were wounded in their residential building in the center of Kyiv as a result of such an attack.
That said, you learn to live with that on a day-to-day basis. Few people I know are now running to bomb shelters every time when an air raid siren goes off. It’s like with other risks in life — every day there’s a risk of dying from a Russian missile, but it’s tolerable enough for you to keep living your daily life.
3) Although daily life in Kyiv is now relatively stable, there are still visible signs of the war raging and the martial law being in place.
We have a curfew that starts at 10pm. The metro closes at 8pm (though the stations work as shelters round the clock). Therefore, most shops close at 6pm or 7pm; only large networks (or small coffee shops whose owners live nearby) can afford to operate until 9pm. That’s pretty unusual for a capital city where 24/7 supermarkets and restaurants weren’t hard to come by in peacetime.
Most shops and cafés have already reopened (or hadn’t stopped working altogether), but a sizable minority are still not open. McDonald’s being closed in the whole country is maybe the most visible sign of that :)
Overall, there’re still notably fewer people in Kyiv than before the war, but folks keep returning.
4) COVID-19 became a thing of the past.
I was pretty vigilant about the pandemic for two years; in January, I would ask a taxi driver to put their mask on if they didn’t wear one. Within a few days of Russia’s open invasion, I stopped wearing a mask altogether, along with the vast majority of people around me. No one is checking any certificates either.
That’s not because the government formally lifted any mandate — but because the pandemic suddenly became the least of our problems. On some irrational level, getting rid of masks was a way for me to bring some joy into otherwise pretty grim daily life.
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