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Life during war in Ukraine

Ukrainian firefighters extinguish a blaze at a warehouse after a bombing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 17, 2022. Russian forces destroyed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering Wednesday and rained fire on other cities, Ukrainian authorities said, even as the two sides projected optimism over efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Ukrainian firefighters extinguish a blaze at a warehouse after a bombing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 17, 2022. Russian forces destroyed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering Wednesday and rained fire on other cities, Ukrainian authorities said, even as the two sides projected optimism over efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

In Mariupol, Ukrainians can’t abandon the city they love.

In Kyiv, families are living in subway stations.

No more chatting with neighbors, hurrying to school, walking in the park. War shatters the daily rhythms of life.

Today, On Point: For millions of Ukrainians who have not — and cannot — leave their cities, how are they enduring life in a warzone?


Alevtina Kakhidze, visual artist from Ukraine. One war frontline is around four miles from her home. Her neighbors have fled but she has chosen to stay.

Ivan Gomza, professor of political science at the Kyiv School of Economics. He is internally displaced, having fled Kyiv with his wife and young child.

Also Featured

Andriy Kozynchuk, military psychologist.

Olga Tokariuk, freelance correspondent. Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. (@olgatokariuk)

Olga Buzunova, co-founder of the Ukraine Witness Project.

Transcript: Ukrainians Reflect On Life During War

CHAKRABARTI: We’re listening to Ukrainians, civilian Ukrainians, on what it’s taken for them to survive this past month of shattering war in Ukraine. … I’m joined today by Ivan Gomza. He’s currently living in Lviv. He’s an internally displaced Ukrainian. He was in Kyiv. He’s a professor of political science at the Kyiv School of Economics.

And let’s listen to a moment to Olga Buzunova, co-founder of the Ukraine Witness Project. They’re keeping a video archive of scenes from daily life during the war. Now, she sent her husband and son away, but she has remained in Kyiv. And here’s a moment where she describes what it’s like to drive in the city, and how to make your way through tank traps in the street.

OLGA BUZUNOVA [Tape]: It’s something of a movie, let’s say, when you drive through the city, which is without people, nobody in the street, a few cars and you are driving and you see these cars broken and they are still there because nobody takes them out.

CHAKRABARTI: Olga Buzunova, co-founder of Ukraine Witness Project. Now we heard a moment ago from Olga Tokariuk, and she fled the fighting in Kyiv with her daughter, she’s now in western Ukraine. And she says part of the challenge of making it through a day is simply not knowing what will happen tomorrow.

OLGA TOKARIUK [Tape]: No place is 100% safe now in Ukraine, so we kind of think, OK, thankfully, nothing has happened here yet, but it’s yet. And we don’t know when it might change from one day or another. And of course, like we’re making Plans B and Plan C, what we’re going to do and whether we will have time to flee to the border, take like kids. And should … we pack like another go bag just to be ready?

CHAKRABARTI: Ivan Gomza, let me just quickly ask you, you’re in relative safety for now, thankfully. But do you feel the same way that Olga just described about having to have lots of plans in your head for what might happen next?

IVAN GOMZA: Yeah, actually, it’s truly that way. I mean, on the one hand, we got used not to have any plans, I mean not to think, what are we going to do the next week and whether they are going to move and so and so. But on the other hand, we have like the big plan. I mean, if the situation goes south, if the Russian comes south, let’s put it that way or rest, if they come … we actually have to have a second plan and a contingency plan, how to move further, how to get out of the harm’s way. So it is the only plan we can have.

CHAKRABARTI: What kind of toll does the uncertainty take on you?

GOMZA: Wow. You need to be a psychiatrist, actually, to make this kind of assessment. But actually, yes, it is difficult. I mean, there is a kind of, you know. It’s like jumping. when you jump, you can fly high, and sometimes during the war, you feel that feeling of high. I mean, it’s like, Oh, they are winning or maybe at least he killed, some bastards and so on. And then there are other days when you are going down, you are sinking into despair. You think how this will go on for months, years? Who knows whether the bomb will fall on you? So it is difficult. It’s like, you know, oscillation, that is the word, yes. Let’s put it that way. It’s like emotional oscillation. It is between hope and despair.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Ivan, hang on here for just a minute because I would like to bring Alevtina Kakhidze into the conversation now. She lives in a village close to Kyiv. And she’s a visual artist, lives in the village with her husband and three dogs. One of the frontlines of fighting is only about four miles away from her home. … Thank you so much for speaking with me today. First of all, Alevtina Kakhidze, you’re only about four miles away from one of the areas of fighting. Can you see/hear the shelling?

ALEVTINA KAKHIDZE: I hear shelling each 20 minutes, I think something like that.

CHAKRABARTI: Eery 20 minutes, all day and all night?

KAKHIDZE: Exactly, I’m totally zombie.

CHAKRABARTI: … Do you do you feel it as well?

KAKHIDZE: I already can make some categorization of shelling. Some of them, I’m used to already. Some of them pretty heavy and my body became very hot. So it depends. And … you can define the weapon which is used. Different sound and it’s also different vibration.

CHAKRABARTI: I see. So it’s been going on so frequently and for so long, you already can tell the differences between the types of artillery that are being used. Tell me more about how it feels in your body.

KAKHIDZE: I can’t explain more than saying that, like you have high temperature or something like this.

CHAKRABARTI: And you have four dogs, what happens to them every 20 minutes when all you can hear and feel the shelling?

KAKHIDZE: I have three dogs, and they react differently. Female dog try to be near me and if I put her in a house, she’s pretty OK, but male dogs, they like to fight. They bark, bark, bark trying really to do something, and then they are absolutely exhausted and again come to me. So actually, they like to be near us, near me and my husband. So they’re absolutely exhausted. And I feel really guilty in front of them because this war is not dog war. It’s human war.

CHAKRABARTI: You feel guilty for your animals.


CHAKRABARTI: With shelling going on every 20 minutes as you described, what do you do in a typical day? Can you describe to me how you spend your day?

KAKHIDZE: Oh my God, I never had so lot of things to do. I have so many interviews and also so many requests to send my drawings. I do draw from morning until evening and when it’s dark, we can’t use light. So I do produce text on my computer, in the cellar, which I prepared. So I’m working as an artist.

CHAKRABARTi: And what are you drawing?

KAKHIDZE: Everything, what I do feel. It’s like to reflect reality and then transmit this reality on paper. I produce diary of war time.

CHAKRABARTI: Can you describe to me what one of your drawings looks like that you may say this week?

KAKHIDZE: Yesterday, I made a drawing is actually a self-portrait, and I’m standing on the Earth and plants around and it’s written: This world is broken. No safe place is anymore, anywhere. That’s why I stand as plants and do not run.

CHAKRABARTI: Can you tell me how you made the decision with your husband to not leave your village?

KAKHIDZE: Probably you will judge me that we are crazy, but from the other hand, look, it’s not the solution. If everyone will run away, it’s just not possible, that whole population of Ukraine, 42 million can go somewhere.

CHAKRABARTI: I don’t think you’re crazy, I mean, I will not judge anybody who has to make a decision like that in a war. I just wonder, do you have everything right now that you need to survive for a long time? Is your water still running? Do you have adequate food? Can you describe that to me?

KAKHIDZE: Actually, we have electricity, as you can notice, we have internet and many of my neighbors left the village and they left me key and I have duty to feed their animals. … And I have got a lot of refrigerators. … And they all phone me and say, Take whatever you want. Of course, they don’t have groceries, but whatever you find in our fridges, please take. So I have not one refrigerator, but as I just described many, so we haven’t visited any supermarket from 24 of February. We don’t have a very wide menu, but we’re fine. But anyway, I actually lost five kilograms since the war started, and it’s not because I’m hungry. It just probably my body reacted to the situation like this.

CHAKRABARTI: You’re an artist, so clearly making art gives you great joy. What else are you able to do now? That makes you feel human and joyful, even as the shelling happens every 20 minutes.

KAKHIDZE: As I describe, I help my neighbors to run their houses. As I just described, to care about the animals, so I help them. They have to feel better, safe. So solidarity. And secondly, I also park my art in wood boxes. I do it every day with carefully writing down what I put in which box. So I’m not so crazy. I value the art I produce during 20 years, and I try to do whatever I can in the situation I have in order to save it. So I’m packing things, so this is my job for every day.

CHAKRABARTI: I understand trying to save things also includes putting your digital files into the cloud in case your computer gets destroyed, right?

KAKHIDZE: I’m doing this thank you to Apple company, I bought extra space since it started and friend of mine from Kyiv, he’s running my computer. He’s doing old stuff in order to put all my digital files to a cloud. And of course, I’m in contact with amazing creator who does live in Switzerland, who has all my key in case something happens.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Ivan Gomza, I hope you’re still connected here with us. … I’d love to ask you as well … What are the things that you and your family are able to do every day that give you a little bit of joy, or that sense of humanity?

GOMZA: Well, that is a good question, because as a professor, as a university teacher, my biggest joy of my life are to teach and to read books, I mean. And actually now universities are dispersed and displaced and students are partially in the army. Partially, they went abroad just to get shelter. So we don’t teach now. So the war [robbed] that part of joy from my life. And actually, I am not able to read either. Because I have a very interesting book. … I wanted to read it really badly. I mean, I bought it for a Kindle edition, and I wanted to read it. And now I have some time to do it. But actually, I cannot turn the Kindle pages.

You know, it doesn’t resonate with me anymore. I mean, why should I write or read about Chinese history of the 19th century? When there is something which is forever in my life here in Ukraine, the 21st century. So going back to your question … how can we bring, actually not normalcy, but some sense into our life, some meaning? Because you know, when your life is meaningless, there is no point in living.

So I am actually doing what I can do best. I mean, I’m a political scientist and I am, by the way, my field of expertise is social movements and political extremism. So I’m writing text about what is going on, about Russian imperialism and the nature of war, about war crimes committed by Putin and writing them in English so that people can read them.

Related Reading

Ponars Eurasia: “The Journey from Kyiv to Lviv | Ivan Gomza” — “Leaving my apartment in Kyiv, I deliberately stopped the wall clock at 5 AM. I hope the apartment will stand so that I can come back and set the right time. If not, I hope the wall where it hangs will stand to symbolize when I became an IDP.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.