In Kyiv without electricity and water: if the refrigerator doesn’t hum

The war changed everyday perceptions. Our author describes how he is happy about things that are otherwise rather annoying.

Driving cars in Kyiv

Cars drive during a power outage in Kyiv. Russia’s attacks recently focused on electricity and thermal power plants Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/dpa

Dear taz foreign editors,

The woman at the kiosk presses a button, and the large fridge in front of the kiosk hums. So you can open it. I take the first two bottles of mineral water from him. “Why didn’t you take out your four bottles right now?” she asks, dismayed, “now the cupboard is closed.” I don’t understand where the problem should be: “Then I’ll just open it again.” Too late. “It does not work anymore. The power just went out,” she replies. “I can offer you pastries, but drinks won’t be served until there’s electricity.”

I continue to ride my bike towards the city centre. Today is a literature evening with an open mic event. Everyone can recite a poem, tell jokes or sing songs.

When driving into the city center, I notice how much sensitivities are changing. Now you’re happy about things that usually get on your nerves, such as the buzzing of a refrigerator or traffic jams. And there are a lot of traffic jams in the early evening, especially when a few traffic lights have failed again.

Driving downtown after dark would be downright scary if there weren’t traffic jams, since the only source of light is cars with almost all streetlights off. And the closer you get to the center, the more light there is. In fact, the square in front of the Golden Gate is always illuminated, every evening until curfew. A delight for the street musicians.

Since Russian invasion of Ukraine in February I didn’t go to my literature evening. And so I’m looking forward to the fact that it’s that time again today. This evening you can relax – with a cup of tea or a beer and poems about life, love, loneliness and home. Earlier, that is, before the Russian attack, the evenings were in Russian and Ukrainian. Nobody speaks Russian here anymore.

The relationship to the Russian language is already very contradictory. You no longer hear Russian on television, at public events and cultural events. At the same time, most of the leading Internet portals offer their content in Russian and Ukrainian. A lot of Russian is also spoken privately.

My problem at the cultural evening is: I always get involved, play a few songs with my guitar. So far, these have mostly been songs by the Georgian-Armenian singer-songwriter Bulat Okudschava, who died in 1997. Now I’m in a dilemma: Okudzhava wasn’t Russian, he was against the war in Chechnya at the time and would certainly be against the war against Ukraine today. On the other hand, his songs are in Russian. With a heavy heart I decide not to play him. I would have missed that, a headline like “German sings Russian songs at Ukrainian cultural event.” And so I decide for Il est trop tard and Joseph by Georges Moustaki.

Can you relax in war? Now that hundreds are being killed every day, new Russian airstrikes are possible at any moment? Just thinking about literature and singing songs? You can and you have to. Simply because you can’t let the attacker rule your own life.

Never would have thought that you could live without electricity for eight hours a day without panicking. You just have to submit to the current and move all activities such as eating, exercising and playing the guitar to the times when the current is gone.

But there are also depressing moments. For example, when you cycle back to your apartment at night (and the night starts at 6 p.m. in Kyiv winter). I push the bike for the last two hundred meters. On the one hand, because this road hasn’t been cleared of ice and snow. On the other hand, because cyclists trigger a hunting instinct in the stray dogs living here, while they are not interested in pedestrians.

And if you trudge through the snow in complete darkness and only see snow in the light cone of the bicycle lamp, battery lamps or candles in some windows, you really don’t feel like romance.

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