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Resiliency in Ukraine

People walking past anti-tank hedgehogs
People stroll past anti-tank hedgehogs in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 2, 2022. © Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA/Newscom

Early May is always a special time in Kyiv. It is spring, the best of the seasons, and the trees are starting to flourish. The Chestnut tree is the symbol of the city, and as the trees burst into bloom across Kyiv, we cannot help but think of the future and the better times they should hold.

Beginning in early April, when the Russian Army withdrew from the region, having failed to take the city, people began to return to Kyiv. And the city is coming back to life. There is danger, of course, but people are heading out on the weekends, filling the parks and the boulevards. There are more kids on the streets. Cafes and restaurants are reopening. The public transport system is getting back to normal and all three metro lines are running. Three weeks ago, service consisted of one train an hour. Two weeks ago, there were two. Now there is a train every 10 to 15 minutes. And more than half the bus routes are operating.

Food is readily available in Kyiv, but there are serious fuel shortages. Two-thirds of gas stations have no gas, either petrol or diesel, and often only propane is available. Where there is fuel , the lines are long. There are far fewer cars on the streets as a result.

We get our news from official outlets and independent sources we feel we can trust. Ukrainians are following bloggers who are reporting on the ground, passing on information through channels like Facebook groups and Telegram.

Ukrainians are willing to return to this life in Kyiv because the city’s activity and dynamism in the face of the invasion represent life to us. But we must live courageously because we know the new normal here includes the rockets that strike the city at least once a week. We also know that this is a state of affairs that could last a long time. We appreciate the efforts the West has made to help when their support consists of arms shipments and sanctions. But we cannot go on like this forever.

A young woman holding a child at a train station
A family fleeing the Donetsk region waits for a train to Lviv in Slovyansk, Ukraine, on May 4, 2022. © Iva Zimova/Panos/Redux

The Ukraine Democracy Fund has assigned the first tranche of grants to help displaced people who have left their homes but stayed in Ukraine, mostly in the west of the country. These are people who lived in the areas that suffered the most from the Russian invasion. As the Russian forces occupied their towns and villages, these civilians’ lives were threatened and they were forced to leave their homes. We are assisting volunteer organizations that are working with the most vulnerable groups of people, like the elderly and disabled and people with serious illnesses. Some of them are dealing with cancer, leukemia, and other chronic conditions as they are having to relocate. Volunteers are helping take care of them. We are also assisting localities that are accepting displaced persons to increase their logistical capabilities so they can manage the massive influx of people.

Our organization, the International Renaissance Foundation, is functioning well, taking on a very different role from our usual peacetime function. We moved our base of operations to Lviv and will stay there for at least two to three months. For a month, our main office in Kyiv served as a base of operations for health care volunteers. This office has partially reopened for business, and staff and board members are holding meetings once again. Other institutions like embassies are opening their doors. Foreign leaders are visiting the city. When we meet with other donors, we are making plans for a post-war Ukraine and a future with a fully functioning civil society.

I love being in Kyiv. I feel the city stands as a stronghold of freedom and a beacon for the world. The spirit here is truly remarkable. Despite everything, the mood is good. We know the war is not over, and our optimism is tempered by reality. The citizens are heroes, living bravely in the present, looking forward with hope. We know that the cost of our freedom is extraordinary, but when I’m in Kyiv, I’ve never felt more free.

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