By Steve Richards
A city coming back to life.
My last days in Ukraine started with a return to Kyiv on April 21st on the way home via Warsaw. I believe I crossed paths with Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on my way.
The drive back to Kyiv from Bucha was much more convenient than the hike to Bucha a little more than a week before. The road was wide open now and the armed checkpoints were largely abandoned, though the fortifications were still in place. They seem to be unconvinced the Russians aren’t coming back.
I could now see just how straight a shot it would have been for the Russian columns to attempt the assault on Kyiv from this highway. An assault that never happened thanks to the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.
Over the next two days I retraced my steps to see what, if anything, had changed. The hotel I stayed at was about a 15-minute walk south of Independence Square. Admittedly a small sample size, it is however a highly trafficked area in the center of the city; right where the Russians likely would have poured in if their advance had succeeded.
There was a big change in the mix of people on the streets with more civilians and fewer soldiers. AK-47s were few and far between now. Air raid sirens continue 2-3 times a day though no one seems to take notice. Life goes on.
A telling feature of the more relaxed environment was my ability to take more video of sandbagged buildings and fortifications. Though I still dared not try to get obvious shots of soldiers and police.
More coffee kiosks were open though most stores were still closed. The electronics store I bought a power adaptor from when I first arrived had brought back their entire i-phone inventory, tables which were empty before. And more restaurants were open including excellent pizza and fusion Asian fast-fresh food. A huge indoor market was now open with vendors selling everything from fruits to fish, to beef, to caviar. McDonalds, KFC, and other American restaurants were still closed. Nike was still open. A lovely candy store stocked me up for the upcoming train ride to Warsaw.
But the highlight for me was still Match Restaurant. We featured it in a video earlier as a World Central Kitchen meal production site. It was still going strong. As I’m sure it is today.
I look forward to returning to Kyiv when the airport reopens. Unfortunately, it takes many days to get there at present. Which is really the end result of Putin’s ongoing attacks on the city and throughout Ukraine. He can’t win the war, but he can terrorize the country and keep the economy down by keeping travelers out simply because they can’t get there.
Hopefully, that will change in the not-too-distant future. I promised my new friend Victor at the Victoria Park Hotel that we would hold a screening of our new film “Trek to Bucha” there as soon as I could fly in. It will be June before the film is ready so I have my fingers crossed for an early summer return.
Just in time for the start of the hotel’s high season.