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Despite dangers and hardship of war, Ukrainians enjoy Black Sea beaches this summer


Ukrainians are defying Russia's invasion this summer in ways big and small. On the home front, Ukrainians are showing resistance in part by heading back to the beach. NPR's Brian Mann reports from the Black Sea coast.


BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When I was in Odessa last year, this beach and all the beaches in the city were closed. Even though missile strikes continue, beaches are open again. And a lot of families - they say they're coming here to relieve the stress of living in wartime.

TATIANA SAPUNSHTYN: This is a summer to be a little bit relaxed when we have kids and - really important for everybody, for every family.

MANN: Tatiana Sapunshtyn has come on a hot summer afternoon with her daughter, Polina. They wear bright red and blue swimsuits. They have beach towels and toys. But Tatiana says they're only wading in the shallows.

SAPUNSHTYN: We don't swim longer. I think it's dangerous, actually.

MANN: It's dangerous, she says. Tatiana is afraid if they go further out into the glittering waves, they might encounter one of the deadly sea mines Russia has scattered along this coast. She calls them bombs.

SAPUNSHTYN: Because a lot of bomb, and nobody know how it's moving in the sea.

MANN: One of those Russian sea mines, meant to blockade grain shipments from Odessa's port, floated up on another public beach earlier this month. It was cleared away. No one was hurt.


MANN: You find this weird tension in much of Ukraine. On the one hand, the Black Sea is a war zone. Russian ships and aircraft regularly fire missiles that hit Odessa. But people here say they have to keep living as well as they can to prove to Russia and to themselves this war won't wear them down. Khrystyna Shkorpeio works in a cafe here in Odessa and says her days are often broken up by air raid alerts and missile strikes.

KHRYSTYNA SHKORPEIO: Everything can end, but on the beach, you can (speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: "I don't know what to say," Khrystyna says. "I feel more relaxed here. It's easier to cope. After a day at the beach, life feels almost normal."

SHKORPEIO: Yeah, of course I'm really happy. It's - for me, it's like first vacation.

MANN: Last winter was exhausting and cold in Odessa. There were constant power outages. But on this day, there are children playing and lovers floating in the Black Sea. An elderly couple sits close under a beach umbrella. Dmytro Chernenko, a lanky teenager in blue swim trunks, has come with his mother. He says it's wonderful to just forget the war for a while.

DMYTRO CHERNENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: "Yes, we came to swim as soon as we learned the beaches were reopened," he says. Dmytro, who's 19, may wind up in the Army himself soon. He says the reality of this war is never far away. He was in Odessa last month when a salvo of Russian missiles slammed the city, damaging one of the cathedrals and injuring 22 people.

CHERNENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: "It was very intense," Dmytro says. "The night was intense. It was scary."

It is strange to stand on this beach surrounded by sunbathers and families running into the waves and people doing yoga on the sand at a time when the city is under Russian embargo, threatened with attack at any moment. Ukrainians say this kind of resilience, this effort to find joy and peace wherever possible, will keep their country in the fight as long as it takes. Brian Mann, NPR News, Odessa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAREN MORRIS SONG, "GOLD LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.