Violence in Ukraine seems foreign to a city that has been at peace while war rages just a few hundred miles away

Memorial to a Ukrainian soldier

A deceased Ukrainian soldier is remembered at a memorial near where he was killed.

Alex Kleimenov

The vast square in front of Ukraine's Parliament building is empty and quiet, diligently washed after bloody clashes earlier this week. A candle light shimmers by a flag pole, the Ukrainian flag unwrapping and folding back in the wind at the top.

Roses, chrysanthemums and carnations hug a portrait of a National Guard serviceman who died after someone from the crowd of protesters tossed a grenade toward the ranks of law enforcement. Two more servicemen, all drafted this past spring, died of wounds from the same grenade the following day. An ugly dent, as if a pockmark, scars the smooth granite pavement where it struck, just a few feet away from the candle and flowers by the Parliament’s entrance. 

The scene of the grenade blast

A grenade blast left this mark when it exploded, killing three soldiers.

Credit:

Alex Kleimenov

It was the first time since the nightmare days of February 2014 that blood covered pavement in central Kiev. Back then, close to a hundred people were shot, clubbed to death or even beheaded by riot police on this very street and every block all the way to Maidan, about a half mile away. Back then, Kiev shriveled — out of shock, grief and cold. Everyone wanted to believe that was the end, and there’d be no more victims. There have been thousands since then, but all come some 500 miles away, making the war seem a remote event in Kiev.

While volunteers still keep vigil at military hospitals and refugee centers, in the streets of Kiev, it seems like there is no war. Or people want to pretend there isn’t. Kiev has had one of the best summers I can recall — hot sunny days, not a cloud in the sky, beach clubs on the Dnieper taking the place of the lost Crimean resorts, monthly food festivals, street fares, neighborhood bars popping up where banks or luxury shops used to be.

Now the war struck right in the heart of Kiev. Just a month ago, out-of-home restaurateurs organized the Big Kiev Breakfast on the other side of Parliament, in the middle of a huge park. People walked around with cheesecake and sandthorn lemonades; now they bring mournful flowers again.

You’d think after such a horrific crime, authorities would cordon off the area, increase security. But it’s all open, people are free to walk anywhere, all the way to the Parliament’s steps, all the way to the scary dent in the granite. People say it’s important not to slide into “security” paranoia and to keep even the government blocks open.

Just a few steps from the Parliament’s entrance, three cops in short-sleeved shirts quietly talk with each other, shuffling their feet. Once in a while, someone comes by with more flowers. Men in fatigues appear from the park — take off their hats, cross themselves, then say, “Let’s go” and walk away.

Reporters show up for their evening news stand-ups, and their cameramen shoot video of the flowers under the flag. A foreign tourist is taking a picture of his friend with a black skull-and-bones on a white t-shirt. Done, the first one starts reading the news on his phone.

"Over a hundred people injured, one dead."

"Oh, interesting! When did this happen? Today? Oh, where were we at that time?"

"I think we were at the Georgian restaurant."

"Ah, OK, let's have a walk in the park!"

They disappear in the late-night alleys, apparently without a second thought about safety because the city feels utterly peaceful, despite the war, despite a dent from the grenade blast they just walked over. Two girls on roller blades swoosh by holding hands, a man on a bicycle pedals right to the flag, stops and takes his hat off. The air, for some reason, smells of thyme tea. It’s very peaceful. And nauseating.