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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Resilient Kyiv patches up after attacks, but some things can’t be fixed

Smoke billows from the site of a drone attack as passengers walk with their luggage from nearby train and bus stations in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

By Megan Specia

The Russian missile ripped a gaping hole into a major intersection in central Kyiv, Ukraine. But just a day later, dozens of road workers spread hot asphalt to patch over the spot. At a playground nearby, where a missile had struck a set of swings, children raced each other up and down the steep sides of the blast crater as they played in the sun.

A barrage of Russian attacks have convulsed Ukraine’s capital recently, with a series of missile strikes last week, and then drones hitting the city Monday, striking four buildings and killing at least four people.

The renewed strikes have certainly brought fear. But they have also instilled a feeling of resilience and defiance, and a sense that Kyiv must keep moving forward. Indeed, when the air raid sirens finally ceased Monday morning, many people came out of underground shelters and went to work. “The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a statement Monday.

Even as rescue workers were still picking through the rubble, residents spoke of anger and resolve.

“What comes from this is unity,” said Yulia Oleksandrivna, 86, a retired professor who lives near a residential building that partially collapsed Monday. “We are all in this together,” she added as she surveyed the damage.

Other Ukrainian cities have long had to endure repeated strikes by Russian forces. After coming under siege at the start of the war, Kyiv was largely given a respite. But now the air raid sirens and missile strikes are back in Kyiv too.

These latest attacks have left lasting scars. And some things are impossible to repair.

Oksana Leontieva, 36, a doctor in Kyiv, was killed on her way to work last Monday, struck in her car by a missile blast. But just days later the intersection that was hit showed little sign of the devastation, the horror masked by fresh pavement.

Leontieva was among dozens who lost their lives across the country in the last week as missile and drone attacks rained from the sky onto cities far from the front lines. And for the people who count their loved ones among the war dead, patching up a road or turning the lights back on does little to ease the pain.

At Leontieva’s funeral Friday, her godfather, Oleksandr Ivanov, 70, said he struggled to understand how she could have faced such violence on her way to work.

“I just can’t process it in my head,” Ivanov said as he wept. “This was a terrible and sad trauma that struck us all when we were not ready.”

Ivanov served in the military alongside Leontieva’s father in the former Soviet Union. “We were in the military, and now it’s our children who are dying,” Ivanov said. “Right now, these two once-brotherly nations are fighting. This is what politics has given us.”

On Friday, those mourning Leontieva held candles in traditional embroidered handkerchiefs that caught the yellow wax as it dripped. Friends filed past her grave site, laying their hands on the glossy wooden coffin. Gravediggers piled up the silty white earth and placed chrysanthemums on the grave.

Doctors and medical workers were among the crowd, paying respects to one of their own. Leontieva, who specialized in treating childhood cancer, had just dropped her 5-year-old son off at school and was commuting to the hospital when her life was cut short.

Her son, Hrisha, is now an orphan, his father having died of a brain hemorrhage last year.

At her burial, colleagues remembered her as a dedicated doctor and mother who had spent the first months of the war sleeping at Ohmadyt Children’s Hospital in central Kyiv to care for her patients.

The hospital said she was the third staff member to have been killed in attacks on civilians since the war began. Two nurses died in March as Russian forces attacked the city’s northern suburbs.

At the hospital, though, the work has never stopped. Last Monday, even as missiles fell on the city, children sheltering in the sprawling basement received cancer treatments, and doctors gave checkups to premature babies wheeled down in incubators.

Most of the broken windows around the first blast sites in the center of Kyiv had already been covered in plastic or boarded up by the time the new strikes came a week later. The twisted debris from damaged facades has been placed in neat piles. And although the shattered glass has mostly been swept up, tiny shards occasionally catch on the rubber sole of a shoe and grind underfoot, offering a reminder of what happened here.

On Sunday, older men played chess on the tables set up in Shevchenko Park. Lyudmila Hytrovska, 75, a former teacher of Ukrainian, joined a group of women for a twice-weekly speed-walk in the park.

“My daughter lives in Switzerland with her family; I could move there if I wanted to, but this is our land,” she said. “I was born here, and I’ll die here.”

Residents walked their dogs nearby, next to a huge crater. It’s the spot where the swing set used to stand, now bearing the scars of war but already repurposed for play.

At an apartment block next to the site of another airstrike, demolished cars were quickly cleared from the parking lot, and dozens of volunteers helped residents sweep up the mess.

Nearly every window in the building had been shattered and the metal front door was blasted from its hinges. Yulia Datsenko, who lives in the building, said her mother had been injured when her windows were blown out.

“The house and the car — they are only material things,” she said. “The main thing is that we are all safe.” But she added, “All of Ukraine is just getting angrier now.”

That sentiment has been echoed time and again in Kyiv in the days since the blasts, including by city and national leaders.

And on Monday, as Kyiv was again rattled from its sleep — this time by the distinctive buzz of drones and the now all-too-familiar blast of explosions — the resolve of residents was clear.

Serhiy Ostapenko, 46, works in the office building of the energy supplier Ukrenergo, which was hit by one of the strikes. He was on his way to work at the time of the attack.

He said that work to restore the full energy capacity of the country would not be halted by the latest strikes.

“I am 100% sure that nothing will change our behavior or will for victory,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter, strikes or not, we will continue.”

Oleksandrivna was born in Russia but has spent the past 60 years living in Kyiv. She said that any notion from Moscow that the conflict was merely a “special military operation,” or that Russian speakers were being persecuted in Ukraine, were lies, adding emphatically, “Now I hate my motherland.”

“Angry is too gentle a word. I detest them with all my soul!” she said of the Russian forces. “I hate them.”

Olesksandrivna said the sirens reminded her of when she was 5 years old and had to flee her home with her family during World War II. On Monday, she sheltered in a basement with her own young grandson, trying to distract him as they waited out the air raid sirens.

But then, she was determined to continue with her day.

“So you can imagine, this is how my life started and this is how it is ending,” she said, “with the ‘music’ of the air raid siren.”

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