Ukrainian tourists return to Kiev despite air raid sirens | World

Kiev’s streets are as busy as they are on most days, with occasional traffic jams slowing the flow of vehicles. If it weren’t for the air raid warnings, sandbags and barricades in front of administrative buildings, it would be possible to forget that Ukraine is at war. Everyday life continues almost undisturbed in the capital, where residents frequent parks, stroll along boulevards and relax in cafes.

“I left Kiev for Poland on April 4, 2022. At that time, there were a lot of checkpoints around the city, we had to show our documents at every stop, few shops were open and finding an open cafe was almost impossible,” he comments. Ksenia Fedorova.

She worked ten years for a major television channel, but now earns her living as a voice actress. Back in her hometown of Kiev, she says things almost look like they did in pre-war times: shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas are open, and the streets are full.

When an air raid siren sounds on Khreshchatyk Street – Kiev’s main avenue, lined with bars, restaurants and shops – most passersby react calmly. Some keep walking, while others head to the subway station for shelter until the release signal is given.

Domestic tourists are back

Although foreign tourists have avoided Kiev since the beginning of the war, domestic visitors have returned in droves. Many Ukrainians want to return to living a normal life as much as possible, and for many this also means taking short trips and visiting other cities.

Organized tours to Kiev are in high demand, although with the war still raging, many customers of these deals prefer routes with nearby bomb shelters to fall back on in an emergency.

“The city tours are almost back to normal,” says Olena Oros, who works as a guide. “I tend to have groups of up to 20 people, and special themed tours draw even bigger crowds.” She says many domestic tourists now feel safe enough to visit the city and tour.

Cafes and restaurants fill up again in the Ukrainian capital — Photo: Andreas Stein/dpa/picture alliance

“Refugees also participate in my excursions; residents of Kharkiv have joined at least three of them.” She even received a request to take a tour in English from a Dutch volunteer based in Ukraine.

Tourism in Ukraine has developed a frankly altruistic side: many travel agencies and guides who continue to work donate part of their income to charities. Others give special discounts to members of the Armed Forces, families and children.

During the first weeks of the war, life in Kiev was turbulent, but now it is almost back to normal. Many cultural institutions have reopened. You can again spend a pleasant evening at the Lesya Ukrainka National Theater, at the opera, or visit one of the city’s many museums, such as the National Museum of Ukrainian History.

“When the war started, for the first few days our most valuable exhibits were packed up and taken to a safe place,” says Nataliya Lihitskaya, a researcher at the museum, which reopened in early April. “We have created a temporary exhibition dedicated to the battle of Kiev and its heroes, but we can only allow access to groups of up to 20 visitors. In case of an attack alert, we have an air raid shelter.”

At night and on weekends, open-air concerts are held in Kiev’s parks, street performers play jazz, pop and Ukrainian music in public spaces. Underground concerts are also held at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station.

Andrew’s Church is one of Kiev’s tourist attractions — Photo: Natalia Vlasenko/DW

Majority of foreign tourists still avoid Kiev

“Of course, conditions are unsafe, flights are restricted and danger is constant, which makes it impossible to guarantee the safety of foreign tourists,” admits travel expert Maria Yuhnovets of Sputnik Kiev DMC.

Most foreigners found in Kiev today are journalists, politicians and members of aid agencies. Those who work in Ukraine’s tourism sector do not expect foreign tourists to return anytime soon. This would require not only an end to Russian bombing and attacks, but also an end to martial law, not to mention reopening airspace.

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