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‘I had to find a way to support my country’: Community spirit boosts morale in Kyiv

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In the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, life is far from normal. But local businesses are finding their own ways to help civilians who have stayed behind in the city, despite the threat of a Russian attack. FRANCE 24 meets some of the workers who keep the capital stocked with food and medicine.

Residents of kyiv have been waking up to the sounds of shelling as early morning Russian strikes have targeted residential areas. In the early hours of Friday, March 18, a residential building was attacked in Sviatoshyn, killing four people, according to local authorities.

Four hours later, not far from the scene of the attack, the chaos of the early morning has dissipated. Smoke, sirens and ambulances have been replaced by civilians coming and going with shopping carts.

In a high-end supermarket, some shelves are bare, but overall the store is well stocked. There’s meat, coffee, and hummus, and even kombucha, the trendy fermented health drink.

At the back of the store a queue is forming near a bread counter selling fresh baguettes cooked on site. Manager Iryna Gorshkova says that the supply problems experienced in the first days of the war have been mostly resolved.

The supermarket chain is managing to supply its 240 branches throughout Ukraine with more or less success. “We still have some problems, but we have been able to resume online orders and home deliveries. Those are really important for older people,” says Gorshkova.

“The supermarket is running today thanks to the employees,” he adds. “Some come to work on foot, because there is hardly any public transport left.” Others have stopped coming to work altogether because they live too far away or have fled the city.

The shortage of staff has been covered by volunteer workers, such as Iryna and Vitaly.

“I am old and I have health problems,” says Vitaly, a retired engineer. “I can’t pick up a gun to defend my country on the front lines, so I had to find something else to do to help. The government and the army have made sure that daily life can continue and things don’t fall apart.”

Iryna, her partner, is an accountant who still works remotely for a pharmaceutical laboratory, but there isn’t much work at the moment. Instead, she spends a few hours each day stocking the shelves so that “Ukraine can continue to stand. We are going to rebuild our country,” she says, adding, “I am grateful to all the countries in the world that support us.”

Maintain normalcy in a city at war

In the produce aisle, the fruits and vegetables are being restocked and grocery worker Galyna, a beloved member of the team, is helping one of her favorite customers select apples.

“A lot of customers know her, she’s very popular,” observes Gorshkova.

Although Galyna is 60 years old, she walks to work every day. “I am not afraid to walk around the city, even though we are in a war. I’m used to it now,” she says.

He lives in the northwest of the city, near the Hostomel and Irpin aerodrome, where the fighting has been intense. “It’s very dangerous,” she says. “Yesterday they bombed a warehouse next to where I live. At least at work I’m not afraid of being dropped by a bomb. I live on the 14th floor and feel safer at work.”

Such is life in kyiv now. “Everyone is trying their best to adapt to what’s going on, but it’s very difficult for us,” says Gorshkova. “I decided not to leave because I want to stay in kyiv and do my job. Where else would you go? I have worked here for 10 years. Many of our clients thank us every day because we are open, because our employees continue to work.”

The supermarket has become more than just a place to buy essentials. It is a place for clients, workers and volunteers to come together and feel a sense of solidarity in frightening circumstances. Russian forces are now 30 kilometers from the city center and could launch missiles at any time.

Galyna continues to help one client after another. In her view, the territorial defense army, made up of civilian volunteers, controls the city’s checkpoints so that she can continue to come to work. “And I make sure they have food,” she says. “I want peace. Peace in Ukraine and around the world.”

Working towards a new goal

In the west of the city, many businesses have ceased normal operations and are devoting their resources to the war effort. Oleksander Kozhan is the director of a company that manufactures interior surfaces used by designers. Now he and his employees work as volunteers.

A van parked outside the company building is full of humanitarian aid packages sent from Italy. Kozhan, his wife and his workers will classify the products and take out the medicines. “We take them to the people who need them, whether they are civilians or members of the military,” says Kozhan. “Hospitals have asked us to bring first-aid kits.”

Kozhan wants to be as helpful as possible and is using whatever means his company has at his disposal to try and make a difference. “We found vehicles to transport people who escaped from combat zones in western Ukraine,” he says. “We have transported groups of orphans and their guardians. On the way back to kyiv we brought humanitarian aid packages.”

Military activity by Russian forces in northern kyiv has slowed in recent days. But every night still brings the fear of bombing and the worry that the city will be surrounded and defeated, like Kharkiv or Mariupol.

Meanwhile, the residents live life from day to day, determined to maintain a semblance of normalcy by any means possible.

This article is a translation of the French original.

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