Challenge, tears, concern: the Ukrainian capital wakes up after the withdrawal of Russian troops

  • More people arrive at the kyiv train station
  • Some to take cars, some to see parents
  • Kyiv takes tentative steps towards more normal life
  • Cafes and market stalls reopen

KYIV, April 7 (Reuters) – Loaded with bags, trolleys and strange pets, Ukrainians are heading back to the capital Kyiv, some in tears, others nervous about heading home after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the outskirts of their city.

A week after Russian forces withdrew from villages north of kyiv, leaving behind razed buildings and dead bodies in some streets, authorities have warned people not to return to the capital yet, fearing a new offensive. Read more

Still, for many of those who returned to the busy main train station in central Kyiv on Thursday, the desire to see elderly relatives or continue working outweighed lingering security concerns.

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Some workers returned without their families, leaving wives and children in the relative safety of western Ukraine, others rushed to collect more of their belongings and cars before setting off again. A few said they had come back to stay, at least for now.

“I want to see my parents, they are old,” said Olena Oleshyntseva, who arrived at kyiv station after staying in neighboring Moldova for security reasons. She began to cry, whispering, “I am their daughter.

For Ksiusha Lysyk, 24, who works as a manicurist, the feeling was the same. She just wanted to see her parents.

“I missed kyiv, I missed home,” she said.

On a sunny Thursday, there were more signs of something closer to normal life returning to Kyiv. Joggers set off for their morning runs, women walked with their dogs, and church bells summoned believers to a morning service.

Some played chess in the park as an air raid siren sounded.

Six weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine within 20 km (12 miles) of kyiv, many shops along the capital’s main Khreshchatyk thoroughfare remained closed.

Army checkpoints and roadblocks still dot the city’s roads, reminding residents that a return to normal life may still be a long way off.

“WHY BE AFRAID OF THE DEAD”

About half the population of kyiv, a pre-war city of about 3 million, has fled, the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said earlier this month, warning people to give him some time before returning.

But even beyond kyiv, in the surrounding towns and villages, the desire to return home is strong.

In Bucha, where Ukraine accuses Russian troops of killing civilians, Oleksandr Pulnev, 38, searches what remains of his apartment for the first time since March 9.

A television, wifi router and his laptop were missing, he said. Picking up his wife’s pink sneakers from a pile of clothes strewn across the floor of his apartment, Pulnev said it would take time to put everything back in place.

“It’s just amazing,” he said, pointing to the way his apartment door was ripped off its hinges.

Russia says it has launched a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. kyiv and its Western allies say the invasion was illegal and unwarranted.

Moscow denies targeting civilians in Ukraine and said the deaths in Bucha, Kyiv region, were a “monstrous fake” staged by the West to discredit it.

Back in the capital, at Zhytniy Market, one of kyiv’s oldest, in a crumbling Soviet building with uneven floors and cracked counters, rows of stalls selling fruit, meat, cheese and even socks are slowly filling up again.

Ihor Ostapenko, who runs a stall selling fruit, vegetables and herbs harvested from across the Kyiv region, was wary of the possible threat of another invasion and ignored warnings from city officials as he was going back to work.

“It’s less crowded these days,” he said, spreading out handfuls of herbs. “Why should we be afraid? Russia is gone. Why should we be afraid of corpses?

Cafes and restaurants are reopening, with one restaurant, ZigZag, in kyiv’s trendy district again setting up tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside.

“There are a lot more people now. A lot of people have come back to Kyiv. About two weeks ago the city was completely empty, empty of people,” said cafe manager Kostia Yastreb.

“A week ago it was 20 people a day. Now we’re getting around 60 people a day, and the number will continue to increase, I’m sure.”

But for those who stayed, there is still an unease that may take time to dissipate.

Mikhailo Smetana, a graphic designer, packed his and his wife’s things after the February 24 Russian invasion, but never thought it was the right time to leave.

“I don’t regret we didn’t leave,” he said outside the back street cafe where he volunteers to provide food for elderly people who, when local shops closed due to the invasion, could not buy food and shelter for those who had fled eastern Ukraine in the large basement of the building.

“I only unpacked this morning.”

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Additional reporting by Mari Saito to Bucha; Written by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Janet Lawrence

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Christi C. Elwood