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Those left behind in Kyiv are trying to keep life going amid the Ukraine war

It’s hard to think of a more unlikely combination than war zones and cinnamon rolls.

But there the buns sit in the display case of Khlibar, a high-end bakery and cafe (whose name means bread bar) in Podil, the hipster district of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Coated with cream cheese icing, they sit on trays laden with poppy seed buns, cherry buns, cheese braids, and delicately constructed puff pastry cakes with a touch of frosting.

There is no shortage of customers, with dozens of diners lining up in a chaotic line outside or perched on high chairs inside for a dose of sugar and caffeine, despite the pounding of Russian artillery and rockets falling on the outskirts of Kyiv to fire.

It’s a sign of the new normal here, as the city’s remaining residents adjust to life amid conflict.

The two columns of Russian armor rushing towards the city spurred Kyiv to go to war. Checkpoints sprouted up on every major street and boulevard with large anti-tank obstacles in the form of toy jacks, concrete slabs and sandbags, manned by nervous soldiers and reservists.

People lined up outside supermarkets and pharmacies to stock up on supplies before rushing home. Most other facilities were closed as possibly half of the city’s 3 million residents fled to safer areas.

But three weeks after the invasion, some of those who are still here have started making changes.

Khlibar closed early in the war but reopened three days later, initially by offering loaves of bread to ease supply shortages, said Sergei Chernets, 42, an entrepreneur who owns the bakery and three other businesses.

“We saw a problem. People even got into fights over bread, so there was a need. We opened and the lines were all around the block,” he said.

A woman on a park bench near birds

A woman sits alone in a park as the sun sets in Kyiv, Ukraine.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Still, people wanted more. “When people came for bread, they kept asking, ‘Where are the pastries? We want pastries!’” said Chernets. “So we decided to do that too.”

He had already called his three bakers back to work; Luckily, the rest of his staff was still in Kyiv, including two pastry chefs. He called them all back.

“Every day we get more customers,” said Chernets, adding that until this week he was the only pastry shop in Podil. “Before, they were only Podil customers. Now we are getting them out of the center and the other districts.”

For Victor Mozhovi, a cameraman with local public broadcaster Suspilne who sat down at a table and smashed an eclair with a colleague, places like Khlibar are a sign that a time seems long gone.

“I drive the car, we drive around and I see my office. … I remember the work. It’s only been a few weeks but it feels like a year,” he said.

Mozhovi had volunteered as a military videographer in 2015 and covered the war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine for a year before returning to civilian life. Now he was at war again.

“A lot of people cannot understand this transformation. But I saw that in 2015 and I already know war is war,” he said, threading his fork through the eclair, which burst open with a soft, creamy crunch. “It’s important to have that just to feel like I’m still living the life I had a few weeks ago.”

Woman cutting another's hair in a salon

Theresa Voloshyna cuts hair of client Valentina Yermak at Koko Nailroom in Kyiv, Ukraine.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

A stroll on a sunny spring day through Podil, a sort of echo park on the Dnieper River that was once the heart of Kiev’s industrial trade, shows that others are also trying to recapture a glimpse of their pre-invasion lifestyle.

A few blocks from Khlibar, Valentina Yermak, 61, sat in a chair in the Koko Nailroom while Theresa Voloshyna fixed her keen eye on a lock of Yermak’s hair, her hands a constant twirl around her client’s head.

“I want to feel like a woman. I don’t want my looks to go under and I want to stay elegant,” Yermak said. She pointed to Voloshyna. “And Theresa is excellent.”

The salon reopened on Tuesday after the owner, who now lives in Bulgaria, received many requests for appointments on her Instagram page. Voloshyna, 54, was one of three employees who are still in Kyiv – “everyone else went to Germany, to Poland, Lviv, everywhere,” she said. The building she lives in has 300 units, but only 15 are still occupied.

She initially volunteered with a group that prepared medicines and other supplies, but there was less need of her there at the moment, so she decided to return to work. But that, too, was a form of help, she thought.

“People are very happy when they see us. They pay us to take a taxi to their house and they pay us extra. It’s relaxing for them to see us,” she said, adding that she’s received calls for something as simple as a manicure touch-up.

Voloshyna, a fashionable woman with a blonde pixie cut and an air of steely competence, said that while the salon cannot be open 12 hours a day like it was before the war because of the curfew, there is still a lot of walk-in customers.

“People tell us, ‘Because I see you opening the salon, we have hope,'” she said, adding that only one appointment was scheduled that day but that seven people had come so far.

A woman bicycles in the Podil district of Kyiv, Ukraine

A woman rides a bicycle in the Podil district of Kyiv on Thursday.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

The reopenings are more than just a psychological boost. The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the country’s finances: This week the International Monetary Fund said Ukraine’s economy will shrink by 10% – and potentially by as much as 35% if the war goes on for a long time.

Although the IMF has announced quick financing measures for Ukraine, they cannot stop the devastation of the country’s infrastructure, which is estimated at $100 billion.

That prompted President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week, in between speeches to lawmakers around the world arguing for more military aid, to relax regulations and tax requirements for businesses, scrap VAT and profit taxes, and increase just a single 2% corporate tax raise. on big companies. Tax payments are voluntary for smaller companies, said Zelenskyj.

“That means if you can – pay. You can’t — no questions asked,” he said in a video address this week.

The inspections would also be canceled for all businesses “to allow everyone to function normally, so that cities can come back to life, so that life can continue in all places where there is no fighting,” he said added that “economic oppression of Ukraine” was one of Russia’s war aims.

“There is only one condition: you must ensure the normal operation of your business within the framework of Ukrainian legislation,” said Zelenskyy.

Some entrepreneurs are also realigning their businesses to help the government. Michael Chobanian, a bitcoin connoisseur who launched Kuna, a cryptocurrency exchange, had already relocated much of his staff from the company’s Podil office to the Balkan nation of Montenegro before the hostilities. He, too, has left Ukraine but is using his exchange to help the government in Kyiv convert the estimated $100 million in crypto donations received since the war began into US dollars or other currencies.

“We’ve done some of that already, and now we’re trying to scale up because a lot of the donations come through bitcoin,” he said. “My job is to make sure everything is done as quickly as possible with minimal commissions and costs.”

Zelensky’s reopening message has also resonated with Kievans engaged in more mundane businesses. That’s why Maria Liashenko, a 31-year-old barista who hid amidst the equipment at a Buck Coffee Roasters branch in Podil, reopened the store on Tuesday.

“I did it for the guests, for the economy. It has to be supported. Our military needs to be paid,” she said.

“This is my country and I will not give it up.”

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-03-17/war-ukraine-kyiv-try-keep-life-going Those left behind in Kyiv are trying to keep life going amid the Ukraine war

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