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It’s exciting to return to the magical, buzzing city that is Kyiv — bombs and all

It’s exciting to return to the magical, buzzing city that is Kyiv — bombs and all
'When this war is over Ukraine will heal and rebuild,' says the writer. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

There are no victims here. Just free spirits who are embracing life and carrying on. Even though missiles are raining down all over the country, every other day.

The last big missile strike on Kyiv was on 16 June when our President Cyril Ramaphosa was here. I am pretty sure that they all shat in their pants. Why am I telling you this? Well, I was on a train that day travelling east from Wroclaw. But this is not about where I was coming from. This is about where I was going… home. I arrived here in Kyiv on the morning of the 17th.  

I have been living in Kyiv for a while now and, yes, it is my home. We left Ukraine after the first week of the war and I was back in Kyiv last year during August and September. We are now renting a flat in Wroclaw in Poland after spending a year in Fancourt down in George, and we believe that after New Year we will return to Kyiv permanently. That is our desire and our belief. 

A shopping mall in Ukraine. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

I have been back at home now in Kyiv for the past three weeks and everything feels normal. The city is busy and buzzing and it is hard to believe that this evil war is still raging on. And it feels good, and, well, magical. Yes, there is something extraordinary going on here in Ukraine.

It is indeed like magic. It is not what anyone thought would ever happen. 

The media certainly got it all wrong. Everyone said that Kyiv would fall in three days, and then people went on about how Ukraine would freeze to death over the winter, and how there would be bandits and looting all over the place. Quite the opposite, actually.                                                                               

But of course, it is not normal at all. When the air raid sirens go off, then you know that nothing is the same. People are exhausted and traumatised and, yes, people are dying. Innocent people are being killed. The Russians bomb shopping malls, restaurants, residential buildings, hospitals, schools… It is pure evil.

And yet, on social media, you sometimes hear people talk about Russia’s point of view as if there’s some justification for this evil. There is no point of view when it comes to Russia’s evil. They did not have to attack Ukraine. No one in Ukraine has a clue what this invasion is about.

Russia has the most land in the world. Do they really need more? Russia has one of the world’s biggest reserves of natural resources. Do they really need more? They attacked Ukraine because they said Ukraine was going to attack Russia. Really?! This is just propaganda and it is also evil. Russia is an evil empire and if anyone reading this thinks that this is only Ukraine’s problem, then you are wrong.

In Wroclaw, I have met many of the people in our apartment complex. The Bunster [the nickname for his child] is a great networker. Yeah, I meet a lot of Polish dads out and about with their toddlers. A lot of them speak English and, of course, the subject of Ukraine always comes up. And they all have the same view, “We have to help Ukraine.” I then ask them if they like Ukraine and they repeat, “We have to help Ukraine.”

This is not about liking or loving Ukraine; this is about one simple fact, and they all say it without a moment’s thought, “If Ukraine loses this war, we are next.”

How come everyone in Poland understands this, but America is divided? 

If Ukraine loses this war, then Russia and America are going to do battle next. So why doesn’t America just give Ukraine the weapons they need? 

The Budapest Memorandum from 1994 meant that this kind of support was meant to have been a done deal, but President Zelensky had to beg and beg and beg. And it is always a case of too little too late. 

Some of the signs of war in the city. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

There are war murals all over the city. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

If Russia does beat Ukraine, which no one here believes will happen, including me, then God help us all. That means evil has won and is spreading. 

This war is about good versus bad. It is about the new versus the old. Russia is an old empire that has always been brutal. The world has moved on from this. Well, we would like to believe it has. But still, so many in the world don’t believe that helping Ukraine is important.

Again, if Ukraine falls, then Russia will land up being at war with America and what happens then, well, we can all just look at that famous quote from Einstein for some clues: “I know not with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.” 

Such a cool shop – magical Kyiv. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

Fight for identity

I have had a busy time here in bustling Kyiv. We are working on our Ukraine film project. We will be finishing it by the end of this year. There is much to be done and this project has become very important and purposeful. This was our vision from 2018 when the project began: Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and recognition from their hard-wired Soviet conditioning. A story of identity. They are not “The Ukraine”. 

We are telling a story about Ukrainian identity. This war is about identity. Our motivation from all those years ago, going back over 15 years, when I first visited Kyiv: Ukraine deserves a better conversation in the world. There are too many stupid stereotypes. 

Sleeping in the corridor – air raid sirens – the two wall rule. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

South African wine in Kyiv. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

The other day I grabbed a bite with a friend. He is an Israeli who has been living in Kyiv for over 10 years. We go to this stunning restaurant and eat a meal fit for a king, and he says to me: “If the war ended tomorrow, what would be different here in Kyiv?” After a few moments of silence, he answers: “Nothing.” 

Nothing would be different. There are no victims here. Just free spirits who are embracing life and carrying on. Even though there are missiles raining down all over the country, every other day. 

There are so many countries with far fewer problems that are wobbling and some are falling apart, but here, with this evil war, no one is falling apart. Their attitude to life is just inspiring. Very much like in Israel, my Israeli friend says to me. 

Some places are just too cool. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

Next-level breakfast – totally delicious. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

No one stops living, and everyone fights for the country. Same in Ukraine. I don’t know a person here that is not trying to help the country. Not everyone is fighting on the front lines, but everyone I know in Ukraine is doing things to support the war effort. 

Later this week I will take the train back to Wroclaw, and in August I will be back in Kyiv with our small team from South Africa — they are coming here to shoot more footage for the film. August is going to be a busy month. Of the small three-person team that is coming here, two of them have not been to Kyiv before. They are going to love it. I keep telling them how people here are funny. Yes, they are going to laugh — a lot.  

I can’t wait to come back to Kyiv next month. I believe that when this war is over, Ukraine will heal and rebuild. There is going to be a lot more pain to come, so the healing is going to be a long and intense journey.

Too cool for school. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

The train station in Kyiv on 17 June 2023 when I got in. (Photo: Ronnie Apteker)

Just about everyone you know here has a war story. Everyone has been affected by the war, including me. Those small hours of 24 February last year are something I will never forget. Leaving our home here in Kyiv is not something any one of us wanted to do. The Bunster was our priority and thank God he does not know about this evil war.

Everyone’s lives In Ukraine have been turned upside down, and still, with all of this, people make jokes and celebrate life. The spirit here is just incredible. When the war is over, I predict that Kyiv is going to become the new tourist hotspot of the world.

I have always said that Kyiv is a magical city. DM

Ronnie Apteker is a South African internet pioneer, author and film producer.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Egmont Rohwer says:

    There is a special Psalm for people like Vlad the Mad (and JZ) Psalm 109 v 6 to 15
    . 6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
    let an accuser stand at his right hand.
    7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
    and may his prayers condemn him.
    8 May his days be few;
    may another take his place of leadership.
    9 May his children be fatherless
    and his wife a widow.
    10 May his children be wandering beggars;
    may they be driven[a] from their ruined homes.
    11 May a creditor seize all he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
    12 May no one extend kindness to him
    or take pity on his fatherless children.
    13 May his descendants be cut off,
    their names blotted out from the next generation.
    14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
    may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
    15 May their sins always remain before the Lord,
    that he may blot out their name from the earth.

  • Ludwig Braum says:

    I am a swallow, meaning that I stay in SA over the summer and leave to Europe during winter. Since a few years I always stay a month or so in Kiev, due to my wife being Ukrainian. I am here now, enjoying a less than usual hot summer. I can confirm that Kiev truly is a vibrant city and a place worth living in. All restaurants are open, lots of open-air concerts and all the infrastructure you need. Prices are a bit lower than SA.

    For me the war mostly manifests in the nightly air-raid alarms. You are supposed to go to a shelter or at least stay in a closed space without windows. 170 people have been killed in Kiev by drones or rockets since the war started, according to Vitali Klitschko, the mayor. The risk to be hit is lower than driving a car in Cape Town. So I stay in bed when I hear the sirens.

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