When I first visited Ukraine a few weeks before Russia’s invasion in February, the phrase that best summed up what I witnessed came from writer and philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko. The country was living a “dual reality”, he said. People here were preparing for war while many of the rituals of normal daily life continued much as they had before.
Almost six months later, I’m back in western Ukraine. After months of fighting here, things feel relatively normal again. During the day the streets of Lviv are bustling and bars and parks are teeming with people. Look closer, though, and there are sandbags blocking cellar windows, monuments covered to spare them from rocket fire and a 23.00 curfew. Some days and nights the summer silence is still splintered by the sound of an air-raid siren.
Yesterday I spoke to Volodymyr Syvokhip, general director of the Lviv National Philharmonic. I asked what he would like from the international community but he demurred. It seems as though pleading for support has given way to an impulse to just get on with things, including through music: the orchestra has reportedly played more than 250 concerts in Lviv and nearby towns since the invasion began. Before we parted, Syvokhip told me that he’d never really grasped what freedom meant until the conflict began.
Even in war, though, life must go on. Our photographer, Lesha Berezovskiy, told me that he recently cycled with a friend to the outskirts of his hometown of Kyiv, past Bucha and Irpin. Someone from abroad questioned the fact that they could cycle, as though this somehow suggested that the war wasn’t real. Was he wrong to enjoy a bike ride though? At another meeting back in Lviv, the city’s mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, told me about the need to find moments of happiness everyday. He’s right, despite the duality. War has changed Ukraine but at the same time, life must go on.
Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s news editor. He and Carlota Rebelo will be reporting from Ukraine for Monocle 24 and this week’s newsletters.