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Life in the Ukrainian city of Kyiv — one month into the war


There's a certain dread that runs through this city every night. When the sun disappears, people here draw their curtains, dim the lights. They sometimes eat dinner in the dark. It's almost as if this entire place is trying to hide from the next Russian airstrike. No one knows where it will land. This is life one month into Russia's invasion of this country. But by day as we drive through the center of Kyiv, it's clear that as the war grinds on, people are adapting in their ways.

Oh, look at this. An entire residential block, the top of the building has been hit so that all the windows have been shattered out. It's so weird because it's like kind of people trying to be normal - I saw a guy walking his dog, somebody riding their bike, people picking up their groceries - and then a building that's clearly been hit by a missile with windows for, gosh, a block and a half shattered out.

On one side of the street, a group of men shovel the debris into piles, broken brick, glass, ribbons of film dangling from what used to be a second-story camera store.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: Looking on across the street are two women, Olena Murashka (ph) and Victoria Litush (ph), surveying the hollowed out stores in front of them, shopping bags in their hands.

We're just wondering what you're doing out today. Are you shopping?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) I came here to check what's happened because, actually, we used to work here. I was selling cigarettes there, and I just went here to check again that my workplace is gone.

FADEL: Can you just describe what it's like to see where you used to work look like this, the shattered glass, building destroyed?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) I feel anger, and I feel terrible grief because I'm a citizen of Kyiv of the 15th generation. So I'm the 15th generation to live here. And I feel terrible grief because I'm not the person - I'm not kind of the person who even threw rubbish on the streets. And then this huge disaster is a grief for me.

FADEL: As we're talking, there's a distant explosion.


FADEL: Maybe artillery. The women shrug.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Through interpreter) Of course, we used to it because we're living here. We hear it every day.

FADEL: Underground below these women and this destruction is a subway station.


FADEL: So usually, this is a busy metro station, and now it's, like, sleeping bags and mattresses and people who live here overnight so that they don't get hit in the strikes.

A train arrives every 40 minutes. On the platform, a woman knits under a blanket, a man drinks tea next to a stack of board games. At the end of the platform, we find Harraba Olha Vaselebuh (ph) and her friend Aleena Bumeister (ph) sitting on a leopard print blanket playing with her gray cat, Sonee (ph).

ALEENA BUMEISTER: (Through interpreter) Our men, our military, they're fighting together.

FADEL: Is this the first time you're apart?

BUMEISTER: (Through interpreter) Yes. We are always together and even in a restroom (laughter). And this the very first time we are apart.

FADEL: Do you get to talk to him a lot?

BUMEISTER: (Through interpreter) From time to time have this rare possibility of communication with him, sometimes only a message. Plus means that everything is fine.

FADEL: So how long have you been down here?

HARRABA OLHA VASELEBUH: (Through interpreter) We've been here since the first day of the war.

FADEL: Some people have given up on staying in shelters, and they just go home. And you've decided to stay. Can you talk about why you stay here, what you're scared of?

VASELEBUH: (Through interpreter) We are afraid because you never know what building will be hit next. And our apartment, it's not so solid and safe. And we don't have shelters nearby.

FADEL: So they stay here. They spend a lot of time waiting, passing time.

VASELEBUH: (Through interpreter) Usually, we read books, playing with cats, sometimes we even listen to music and watch cinema on that very screen.

FADEL: Oh, there's a screen. Oh, I didn't see it. Is it hard? There's no windows down here, no light.

BUMEISTER: (Through interpreter) We're taking vitamin D.


FADEL: Aleena can take a supplement to make up for the lack of sunlight. She can read a book to stave off boredom. But it's the future she can't control. She and her husband were trying to have a baby. Now she says she's waiting for peace to start her family, to resume her life.


FADEL: A few miles away, others are choosing to start finding normal now. We stumble upon a hair salon, and it's open. Taras Safchin (ph) is doing a woman's hair.

TARAS SAFCHIN: (Through interpreter) Yes, we have a lot of people coming in here. And we don't have enough hands, actually, to do our job because a lot of our employees, they just moved to western Ukraine or Europe. And so if there are some hairdressers in Kyiv, please come and help us.

FADEL: Exsinya Kojushko (ph) is getting the trim.

EXSINYA KOJUSHKO: Yeah, I feel guilty for having my hair done right now, and I actually done my nails just a few days ago. And I hated myself for that. But I'll feel better, and I'll be able to work better, to do my - like, be better at everything I do. So I'm trying to give this justification of me being here, chilling, having a coffee. I know it's surreal to me because I'm sitting here like nothing happens. But somewhere on the outskirts of Kyiv right now, like, people cleaning their houses from broken glass, broken walls, et cetera, et cetera, so...

FADEL: I think it's so understandable, though, to want to feel normal. Is this maybe a little bit of an escape for you for a moment?

KOJUSHKO: Yeah, like the little island of normality while everything is burning down in flames.

FADEL: A month into the Russian invasion, Kyiv is a changed place, a place where so many people told us they don't know if they'll make it to the next morning. So they say, why not put on that great outfit? Why not get that haircut or go for that cup of coffee, a brief escape from the war around them? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.