NABIH BULOS Los Angeles Times
KYIV, Ukraine – It’s hard to think of a more unlikely combo than war zones and cinnamon rolls.
Still, the buns are there in the window of Khlibar, an upscale bakery-cafe (whose name stands for Bread Bar) in Podil, the hipster neighborhood of the Ukrainian capital, kyiv. Topped with cream cheese frosting, they sit on trays laden with poppyseed pastries, cherry rolls, cheese braids and puff cakes delicately constructed with a puff of frosting.
There’s no shortage of takers, with dozens of customers queuing in a chaotic queue outside or sitting on high chairs inside for a fix of sugar and caffeine despite the drumbeat of Russian artillery and rockets exploding in the outskirts of kyiv.
It’s a sign of the new normal here, as the town’s remaining residents readapt to a life of conflict.
The two columns of Russian armor moving towards the city prompted kyiv to go on a war footing. Checkpoints with jack-shaped anti-tank obstacles, concrete slabs and sandbags, manned by nervous soldiers and reservists, sprouted up all the main streets and boulevards. People lined up outside supermarkets and pharmacies to stock up before rushing home. Most other establishments have been closed, as perhaps half of the city’s 3 million people have fled to safer areas.
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But three weeks after the invasion, some of those who are still there have started to change.
Khilbar closed at the start of the war but reopened three days later, first offering loaves of bread to help ease supply shortages, said Sergei Chernets, 42, an entrepreneur who owns four businesses, including Khlibar.
“We saw a problem. People even argued over bread, so there was a need. We opened and the lines were around the block,” he said.
Yet people were clamoring for something more. “When people came for bread, they kept asking, ‘Where are the pastries? We want pastries! said Chernets. “So we decided to do that too.”
He had already called his three bakers back to work; fortunately the rest of his staff were still in Kyiv, including two pastry chefs. He called them all back.
“Every day we get more customers,” Chernets said, adding that until this week it was the only working pastry shop in Podil. “Before, there were only Podil customers. Now we get them from the center and other neighborhoods.
For Victor Mozhovi, a cameraman for local public broadcaster Suspilne, who sat at a table tearing down a lightning bolt with a colleague, places like Khilbar are a marker of what now seems distant.
“I drive the car, we move around and I see my office. …I remember work. It’s only been a few weeks, but it feels like a year,” he said.
Mozhovi had volunteered as a military videographer in 2015, covering the war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine for a year before returning to civilian life. Now he was back in a war again.
“A lot of people can’t understand this transformation. But I experienced this in 2015 and I already know that war is war,” he said, passing his fork through the eclair, which opened with a soft crackle filled with cream. “It’s important to have that, just to feel like I’m still living the life I had a few weeks ago.”
A stroll on a sunny spring day through Podil, once the heart of kyiv’s industrial commerce, shows other people also trying to recapture a hint of their pre-invasion way of life.
A few blocks from Khilbar, 61-year-old Valentina Yermak sat in a chair in Koko’s Nailroom as Theresa Voloshyna directed her discerning eye to a lock of Yermak’s hair, her hands constantly swirling around her head. customer.
“I want to feel like a woman. I don’t want my appearance to fade and I want to stay stylish,” Yermak said. She beckoned to Voloshyna. “And Theresa is excellent.”
The salon reopened on Tuesday after the owner, who is now in Bulgaria, received numerous dating requests on her Instagram page. Voloshyna, 54, was one of three staff members still in Kyiv – “everyone else went to Germany, Poland, Lviv, everywhere,” she said. The building in which she lives has 300 apartments, but only 15 are still occupied.
She first volunteered with a group preparing medicine and other supplies, but there was less need for her there at the moment, so she decided to return to work. But that too was a form of assistance, she found.
“People are really happy when they see us. They pay for us to come to their house by taxi, and pay us extra. It’s relaxing for them to see us,” she said, adding that she gets calls for something as simple as a manicure touch-up.
Voloshyna, a fashionable woman with a blonde pixie cut and an air of steely skill, said that although the curfew meant the salon could not be open for the 12-hour day as it was the case before the war, there were still many appointments.
“People tell us, ‘Because I see you opening the salon, we have hope,'” she said, adding that only one date was scheduled that day but seven people had come so far.
Reopenings are more than just a psychological boost. The war in Ukraine is having a cataclysmic effect on the country’s finances: this week the International Monetary Fund said Ukraine’s economy is expected to shrink by 10% – and possibly as much as 35%, if the war continues. eternizes. time. Although the IMF has announced rapid financing measures for Ukraine, it cannot stop the devastation already wrought on the country’s infrastructure, which is estimated to be in the order of $100 billion.
It prompted President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week – between speeches to lawmakers around the world advocating for more military aid – to ease regulations and tax requirements for Ukrainian businesses, scrapping value-added tax and taxes. on profits and levying a single 2% corporation tax on large companies. For small businesses, tax payments would be voluntary, Zelenskyy said.
“In other words, if you can, pay. You can’t – no questions asked,” he said in a video address this week.
Inspections would also be canceled for all businesses “to allow everyone to work normally, to allow cities to come back to life, to allow life to continue in all places where there is no fighting” , he said, adding that “economic repression of Ukraine” was one of Russia’s war aims.
“There is only one condition: you must ensure the normal functioning of your business within the framework of Ukrainian legislation,” Zelenskyy said.
Some entrepreneurs are also reorienting their businesses towards helping the government. Michael Chobanian, a Bitcoin maven who launched Kuna, a cryptocurrency exchange, had already moved much of his staff from the company’s office in Podil to the Balkan nation of Montenegro before the hostilities. He, too, left Ukraine but is leveraging his exchange to help the Kyiv government convert the estimated $100 million in crypto donations received since the start of the war into US dollars or other currencies.
“We’ve already managed some of that, and now we’re trying to grow because a lot of donations are coming in via Bitcoin,” he said. “My job is to make sure everything happens as fast as possible with minimal commissions and costs.”
Zelenskyy’s message for reopening has also resonated with Kyivites engaged in more everyday endeavors. That’s why Maria Liashenko, a 31-year-old barista sitting amid the amenities of a Buck Coffee Roasters branch in Podil, reopened the store on Tuesday.
“I did it for the guests, for the economy. He needs to be supported. Our military must be paid,” she said. “It’s my country and I won’t give it up.”