As the war in Ukraine shifts east, many people are returning to the capital Kyiv. Residents in the heavily-shelled suburb of Bucha continue to clean up and businesses are starting to reopen.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
As the focus of the war in Ukraine has shifted to the country’s east, hundreds of thousands of people have returned to the capital, Kyiv. Residents in the nearby heavily-shelled suburb of Bucha continue to clean up bombed-out apartment complexes. And despite numerous challenges, many business owners are attempting to reopen. NPR’s Jason Beaubien reports from the Ukrainian capital.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: For the past eight years, Sergiy Dromov has been running a coffee shop on the south side of Bucha. As Russian troops advanced on Kyiv in the early days of the invasion, two shells ripped through the small bazaar where his cafe is located. Workers are still cleaning up the twisted sheet metal and charred remains of the shops that were directly hit. More than two months later, the smell of ash still occasionally wafts through the air.
(SOUNDBITE OF ESPRESSO MACHINE HISSING)
BEAUBIEN: Last week, Dromov reopened his cafe for the first time since the fighting engulfed Bucha at the end of February.
SERGIY DROMOV: (Through interpreter) I took my family abroad, and then I returned here.
BEAUBIEN: So it’s just you.
DROMOV: (Through interpreter) Yeah.
BEAUBIEN: His cafe is nearly in the shadow of an eight-story apartment building that had much of its roof blown off. Despite the top floor being completely burned out and there being no running water, people are moving back into the building. On the other side of his cafe, motorists wait for hours in a long line to get fuel at a gas station. Dromov says the only supplies he can get delivered are his paper coffee cups.
DROMOV: (Through interpreter) No, there’s no, like, malls or deliveries here. Everything I’m bringing, I have to bring from Kyiv directly. But as I say, I still hope that, soon, it’s going to get better.
BEAUBIEN: After their failed attempt to take the Ukrainian capital, Russian troops pulled out of this area in early April. Now, as it’s become clear that Moscow’s attacks are focused hundreds of miles to the east and south of here, residents are slowly returning. Yatsug Oleg, who runs the shopping pavilion where Dromov has his coffee shop, says not everyone, however, is ready to come back to Bucha. And some shop owners are afraid to reinvest after their stores were bombed and looted.
YATSUG OLEG: (Through interpreter) Yes, they are afraid of that. Everything they had was invested in their merchandise.
BEAUBIEN: But slowly, people are returning. Businesses are reopening. And this is happening in Kyiv, too. Kyiv is not only the capital – it’s Ukraine’s largest city. Before the war, the city proper had roughly 3 million residents. Hlib Vyshlinsky, the executive director of the Centre for Economic Strategy, a non-partisan think tank here in Kyiv, says cellphone location data shows that at one point in March, there was only a million people left in the city.
HLIB VYSHLINSKY: Now it’s closer to two or two-point-something million people that are back in Kyiv.
BEAUBIEN: He says the recent return of diplomats from the U.S., Canada and many European nations sends a strong signal to both Ukrainians and international companies that Kyiv is safe enough to live and work in. But the city still faces huge challenges. The airports remain closed, as they are everywhere in the country. Buildings and bridges are destroyed. Drivers can only get three gallons of gas at a time. The subway transit system still isn’t fully operational. And a 10 p.m. curfew forces restaurants to close early. The National Bank of Ukraine estimates the Russian invasion will cause the overall economy to contract by 30% this year. But Vyshlinsky says that contraction is going to be much more intense in the east.
VYSHLINSKY: We are now in some transitory stage of the war. It looks like the first phase is over.
BEAUBIEN: In this next phase, he says, Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine where there isn’t active fighting should be able to rebound quickly. In the work-from-anywhere culture that came out of the COVID pandemic, many Ukrainians can return to the virtual office, even if they’ve fled the country. Russian attacks on infrastructure and the naval blockade of exports will continue to be huge problems for the overall economy, Vyshlinsky says. But in this next stage of the war, he predicts fighting will continue in some parts of Ukraine, while businesses and residents will get back to their pre-war work in others. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Kyiv.
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