You don’t know how much Kyivans love their city, but you will find out – The Irish Times

The last time I tried to put Kyiv into words was on a beautiful Saturday morning in April 2018. I was sitting over my coffee in our high-ceilinged kitchen, with the arrival of spring and Velyka Zhytomyrska radiating her usual weekend calm from the other side of our giant window frame. What we loved about our home in Kyiv is that even inside this cozy kitchen, you couldn’t stop the buzz of Kyiv’s history, nor the dizzying anticipation of its future.

My restless soul took me to many cities, but I had never lived there for more than about three years, and I had never lived as happily or as long in an apartment as our house adjacent to Mikhailovskyi and Sofiskyi squares . I finally left Kyiv at the end of November 2021, but what we became during my six years there, as well as what Kyiv itself was becoming, sucked us into a lifelong bond.

Kyiv was a string of beautiful moments. We had a lot of criticism, of course, but Kyiv’s energy was convincing. You felt something beautiful was unfolding, and you were blessed to be in the midst of it while it was still nascent and new, whatever it was. It was partly sane, partly truth. After the Maidan revolution of 2013-14 (which I also avoided by a few weeks, having lived in Odessa from 2010-13), Kyiv quickly became a transformed city, a place of ideas, businesses and innovation . The city absorbed a younger cohort of visionary Ukrainians who, brick by brick, were cementing a new Kyiv, moving it away from the country’s Soviet past toward an exciting new future. These forces were indifferent to the recognized insufficiency of political reforms in these years since Maidan. It was an elaborate work of art in motion, consuming and absorbing, the final destination of secondary importance to the thrill of the ride.

Many of those who flocked to Kyiv were professionals and entrepreneurs from Donbass; they created new businesses in the city and no one ever considered them “refugees” because they didn’t waste a second acting like one, they just looked to the future. Thus, new small businesses began to spring up everywhere – photographers, barbers, artists and designers came to settle in Kyiv, a vibrant IT sector emerged to tap into the talented young workforce of the city, chefs came to run the kitchens of new restaurants offering all the cuisine of the world, a network of incredibly cool speakeasies opened up to cater to the burgeoning professional class, and there was music and from the street at every corner. Ukrainian hipsters, unlike Berlin’s gap year hobbyists, were cultural revolutionaries, committed and manic in their intent to carve out something different.

I had this strange feeling for a year or two before I left Kyiv. But we didn’t expect this

Despite all of its well-documented political and economic struggles, Kyiv felt invigorating and free. For me, the relationship was personal. The Kyivans are hardened pragmatists, who not only tolerated my stupid sarcasm, but returned it with interest. Perhaps the election of a comedian to the presidency three years ago was perhaps not so surprising, in retrospect.

The person who best exhibits these qualities from Kyiv came into my life, completely randomly, on August 24, 2016, Independence Day. Just like Kyiv, I soon realized that Sasha would capture me. In this apartment in Velyka Zhytomyrska we built the foundations for our future, hours of cooking, talking, laughing, listening to music, slow weekend breakfasts. Our daughter was conceived in this apartment and was born in Kyiv in the midst of a pandemic.

For us, the strongest echoes of Kyiv are the turn of the seasons, strolling Nellie through its majestic parks, getting lost on Truhanov Island and stopping to listen to members of the public playing on one of the street pianos scattered in the center. For us, Kyiv is our owners Zina and Anatoly, whose monthly visits and discussions we have loved. Anatoly often brought honey from his brother’s house in the countryside. It was the sweetest of honeys.

At work, we had become a close-knit team of 10 people. Just a few weeks ago, I was saying goodbye to them at Kosatka, my local bar that embodied everything about the new Kyiv. They had given me a framed picture of me pulling them out of a hellhole, collapsing buildings behind us, a sweet gesture and a nod to what my leaving would entail. But it was supposed to be a joke.

To this day, my former Ukrainian colleagues are displaced, having fled Kyiv for western Ukraine. Lena, my closest comrade and confidante, was stuck for days in an air-raid shelter in Kyiv but managed to get out with her mother and son on Tuesday night, on a train to Lviv before joining Dariia, my colleague in Odessa for three years, as refugees somewhere in southern Poland with Dariia’s husband and son. Sasha’s family is in a more serious situation – her parents are in their apartment on the 14th floor of a residential building in Pozniky, about 12 km from the center, which the Russians will pass through on their way into the city from the east. His grandmother is on the fifth floor of a similar building in Obolon, about 8 km from the center, which the Russians have already crossed a few days ago, before being turned back. Sasha’s grandmother and grandfather will not leave Kyiv, so her parents will not leave them.

It might have been Covid, but I had this weird feeling for a year or two before I left Kyiv, and always said November 2021 would be the absolute deadline. But we did not expect this. I see the bombed headquarters of the regional state administration building in Kharkiv, and I remember that not so long ago I was in this building. I hear the Russians naming the intelligence headquarters in Kyiv as a target, and I realize that means our old district will soon be in Putin’s crosshairs. I think of the border guards and police officers with whom I have worked for almost 10 years, and I pray that their determination remains.

Strangely, I read that some journalists repeat Putin’s slanderous lie that Ukraine and its government are neo-Nazis wanting to destroy the Russian language. It’s quite the tall tale. President Zelenskiy didn’t hurt himself so badly in such a place, I think, given that he (like Lena) is Russian-speaking and Jewish. Now I see the Russians just bombed Babyn Yar outside Kyiv, a (recently renovated!) memorial to the Jews massacred by the Nazis during World War II. Are there any Russians who still seriously believe in his nonsense?

You don’t know how much the Kyivans love their city, but you are finding out. The support from friends and family is staggering, everyone is stepping up to support Ukraine however they can. We need your prayers, even if you don’t usually pray. We cry sporadically throughout the day, me much more than Sasha in recent days. Sasha, being from Kyiv, doesn’t tend to flinch, but that’s too much.

Ronan Goggin left Kyiv for northern Spain in November 2021 with his Ukrainian wife, Sasha, and their daughter, Nellie

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