The waitress smiles apologetically as she discusses the breakfast offer at a popular cafe in Idealist, one of Kyiv’s most affluent neighborhoods. The electricity was on, so they could make anything that included a frying pan or an electric kettle.
But there was no wifi. And no running water, so no toilet.
Many would-be customers, upon learning of the less-than-ideal conditions for working remotely, decide to sigh and pack up their laptops and go. Others shrugged and decided to stay. It was not easy to get a hot breakfast in a city that was largely without light or heat, and it was warmer inside cafes than on the streets, where freezing rain was hardening a day-old layer of snow.
This is life in Kyiv at the start of the 10th month of Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, a day after Russia attacked the country’s civilian infrastructure with another barrage of cruise missiles and suicide drones. Electricity, water and gas supplies were disrupted in nearly every major city in the country, and all four of Ukraine’s active nuclear power plants were briefly disconnected from the grid on Wednesday.
Despite the bravery emanating from this country’s political and military leaders – and the heroic conservatism of the population – life under Russia’s long-range siege is becoming undeniably dire.
Wednesday was the first night without heat in K’s apartment in the center of Kyiv, during short periods the power was on except for bursts provided by plug-in electric heaters. Even before the most recent attacks, most of the city was getting power only 12 hours a day, on a schedule of four hours on, four hours off.
The first morning of Thursday remained without hot water for bath. But there was nothing to complain about: the fact that we had running water—of any temperature—made these accommodations relatively luxurious in a city where most of the population still walked in city parks. There were queues to fill plastic jugs with water from the pumps. ,
There was no trepidation even among the people queuing in the cold, no sense that the millions of Kiwis who had returned to this city after fleeing during the terrifying first days of the war intended to soon leave it again. The sounds of air raid sirens, and even the rumbling sounds of explosions that sometimes follow them, as they did on Wednesday, have become the background noise of life here.
This city and this country have embraced the oft-repeated lines of a speech delivered in September by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, following an earlier wave of attacks on the country’s infrastructure systems.
“Do you still believe that we are one people? Do you still think that you can intimidate, crush and bend us into submission?” Mr Zelensky asked, referring to Kremlin propaganda that portrays Ukrainians and Russians as a nation divided by history.”Read my lips: without gas or without you? Without you. without light or without you? Without you. Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst – these are less fearful and less fatal to us than your friendship and brotherhood.
The “without you” speech came to mind Wednesday night when I filled my apartment’s bathtub with green water from the tap, creating an emergency reservoir we could use to flush the toilet if our water supply were to shut off completely. Would have happened We also bought 180 liters of bottled water in the first hours after the attacks, adding to our already large supplies.
Our team of three — photographer Anton Skyba, driver Sergiy Maastruk and I — spent part of the weekend reliving something like the early days of the pandemic, pushing a pair of grocery carts around a large superstore. We filled them with canned goods we hoped we’d never have to eat and we worried we might soon need wet wipes for the shower.
We recently bought a pair of giant batteries with enough juice to keep our laptop and phone running during an extended blackout, as well as enable us to make the occasional coffee on the Nespresso machine our landlord gave us. When nothing else is working, hearing the sound of coffee being made feels like a small victory of freedom over tyranny in these circumstances.
But no matter how much you prepare, living by candlelight and trying to stay on top of events via a flickering 4G connection can get exhausting.
A sense of anxiety ran high in the city as many banks were out of business on Thursday, so most transactions were done in cash. Even if you go to a branch, tellers may not let you withdraw money or exchange US dollars because their own computers were disconnected from their internal systems.
The Kremlin has made it clear it is deliberately making life difficult for the Ukrainian people in an effort to force Mr Zelensky’s government to negotiate. After a series of battlefield defeats, Russia is seeking an armistice that will allow it to consolidate its hold on the remaining territories it captured early in the war. Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Thursday that Ukraine could “end up suffering” by accepting Moscow’s demands.
With his own troops on the offensive, Mr Zelensky said there was nothing to talk about until the last Russian troops were withdrawn from Ukraine or pushed out of Ukraine. Including the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed and annexed in 2014. This war won’t end soon.
“Without you” has become the wartime motto of this country. With each new barrage, the Kremlin is putting those words to an increasingly severe test. Ukraine, so far, has not yet deviated.