Kyiv Diary: 'Life is good. I am happy to be born in Ukraine'

It is almost ten months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Fronts are freezing, literally and metaphorically. Hard fought conquering of territory gave way to relentless Russian bombardments of Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. The courage and resilience of the Ukrainians are amazing. Tymofiy Mylovanov, director of the Kyiv School of Economics, on twitter keeps a diary. You can also support his institute. 

kyiv diary knuffel

by Tymofiy Mylovanov

30 november

Good evening from Kyiv. This is Day 280 of the war. It is cold but we have electricity. Today, a friend talked to me about his sister under occupation. A couple of days ago, Russians asked everyone on their block to prepare for deportation. They can pack personal items, leave everything else. They were told that later in the week they will be moved to Russia to a camp. It reminds me of stories I read about Nazi’s moving Jews to the ghetto in WWII.

Now, back to Kyiv and our university. This is Yaroslav. He runs operations. He also monitors the map of the air attacks (on the right screen). So we can issue early warnings and move students and colleagues to shelters.

This is our charitable foundation team. We met downstairs before visiting a school across from us. We want to help renovate a bomb shelter there. There are 400 students and the shelter does not have good ventilation. We will fix it.

This is Krystyna. She runs an NGO that also helps schools with bomb shelters. In Chernihiv, a city to the north of Kyiv. It was surrounded during the first stage of the war. But it did not fall. There is a lot of damage and the schools need support.

Kyiv School of Economics Foundation runs a program to improve or equip bomb shelters in schools across Ukraine. We are doing a shelter in Kherson. And in Lviv. And in Kyiv. Everywhere. We focus on remote villages, too.

We help scholars in Ukraine. Today we launched Isenberg School Virtual Scholar Program. This program supports scholars in Ukraine without them visiting campus at the University of Massachussets.

kyiv diary charitable teamKSE Charitable Foundation Team helps building shelters

This is Serhiy. He is in the military now but has worked at a number of top international business consulting companies at high level positions. He suggested that MIT and KSE run a joint accelerator program for Ukrainian businesses. This is him today working on the structure of the program with KSE and MIT teams (online).

As I am writing this tweet, the power has gone off. Today we bought a battery that can power up our heaters for a couple of hours or our electric blanket for 15-20 times. We will keep it charged and use for emergencies when power fails for several days.

We were lucky to find it. It was the last one in stock at one of the largest retail networks in Ukraine.

kyiv diary battery for heatersBattery to heat up water cookers

1 december

Good morning. Day 281 of the war. There has not been an attack on Kyiv for 8 days. We now get electricity several times a day for several hours. It feels luxurious. My tweeter diary entry today is about the Ukrainian Railways. They are true heroes.

kyiv diary heroes of urLaudatio for Ukrainian Railways. Right: Mylovanov.

This is me outside of the train station. I was honored to see how it works and have a quick tour. My respect for the Ukrainian Railways has only grown. They are an inspiration for me. I am an economist and we teach that private business is superior to state owned companies.

UR has not stopped working for an hour during the war. They evacuated millions of people under shelling, they kept trains on time and opened new connections, and turned train stations into centers of life that serve as places where people can shelter, shop, meet, eat, get medical help, and of course travel. This is a lifeline that connects Ukraine throughout and with the outside world. Alexander took me on a tour of the Kyiv main station.

I was particularly impressed with their “fortress of resilience”. This is large hall / shelter in which people can rest and get warm. There is even a place for infants. You can get food there through World Food Kitchen. There are wooden stoves in the hall, firewood, water, supplies. They are ready for any kind of blackout. The fortress can shelter 500-1000 of people. They even have minibuses that can drive people home or go get supplies if needed. In the station, there are also shops operating 24/7.

There are USAID supplied blankets; btw, UR ships them in thousands through the country; serving as a distributor. There are even chemical heating pads for hands so people can get warm faster, especially kids, if they spent a lot of time in the cold outside.

One challenge for the UR, especially in the beginning of the war, is to handle large numbers of people, tens of thousands. Not a single person died because of stampede. Here is the person responsible for the design and management of crowds as well as many other things.

kyiv diary ukrainian railwaysMan on the right responsible for crowd control at crowded Ukrainian Railways. Left: Mylovanov

The train stations are also a place for people to meet and reconnect during the war. I almost cried when I saw a civilian meeting and hugging a soldier. I think they are relatives and the soldier just came back from the front. I did not ask.

2 december

Good evening. Day 282 of the war. I am in Vinnitsa, Ukraine. This is an unmanned tractor. Local engineers developed it so it can de-mine agricultural fields without putting the driver’s life at risk. We came to check it out and see how KSE Business School can help scale them up.

The faculty and the rector of the university say that the students and entrepreneurs around the university have been very active. In the beginning of the war, they started by assembling Molotov cocktails, then produced traps for tanks, then telephones and communications for trenches.

kyiv diary unmanned tractorKyiv School of Economics helps to develop an unmanned tractor to demine agricultural fields

Then a ‘panic button’ that can help find you under the ruins of a building after a missile attack. We agreed to establish some joint projects between students and entrepreneurs. If you want to support our students (and likely theirs too), you can donate

3 december

Good evening! It is Day 283 of the war in Ukraine. In the first months of the war, Russians surrounded Kyiv, but we forced them out. They left a lot of damage, we started rebuilding right away. Today I drove over a bridge, which was blown up by the Russians. Fully fixed now.

kyiv diary repaired bridgeThis bridge was bombed. And quickly repaired.

People and businesses are rebuilding. Fast. Under all conditions. Even now when it is cold and there are blackouts. Here is a (re)construction of a supermarket, also along the same highway, that was completely destroyed by tanks and artillery.

4 december

Day 284 since the war and Day 365 since our wedding with Natalia. So, to celebrate we decided to take some time off and went to the sauna (‘banya’). It cost us 400UAH ($10) per person. And we were supposed to check the fire furnace and add firewood.

The furnace pipes and chimney go through the sauna room. It was 80 degrees C / 176 F. There was a cozy, but coldish resting room. While there was a teapot, it was not safe to use the water for drinking. A bummer.

Outside of the sauna building, there were two tubs. The first had freezing water. The other one had a furnace under it and was pretty hot. We first went to the sauna. Later, we decided that it is more fun to be outside and used the hot tub. I went to the cold tub too, like 5 times.

There were all cats outside of the sauna house. They were (mostly!) afraid to come in, but loved to play. Animals during the war are very friendly and kind. They look for attention, approach you easily, and are happy to be patted. Some are very afraid, though.

kyiv diary saunaWeddingday in the sauna

The sauna was in a village by a small river with beautiful views. The host warned us not to jump in the river. He said the Russians bombed areas around the hydroelectric plants and so the level of the river was very volatile. The stairs got damaged and became unsafe.

There was a friendly dog. Name: Valera. The host said it got lost during the Battle of Kyiv and stayed with the military in the village. The military left the dog with the guys who run the sauna. The dog kept jumping on me asking for attention. He also wanted to play catch.

On the way home, we saw a train, moving railroad equipment to the East of Ukraine. I guess the Ukrainian Railroads are rebuilding. It was an encouraging sight.

5 december

Good morning from Kyiv. There has been no attack for two weeks. Yesterday, we visited my wife’s mom Valentyna. Her spirits were high and she is well prepared for a long blackout. Valentyna can cook on candles and always keeps hot water in thermo’s to make tea and breakfast.

kyiv diary mother in lawVisit of mother (in law) Valentyna. Mylovanov and his wife.

But first we had to get to her apartment on the 7th floor. Because of the electricity problems, we could not get inside the building. Valentyna decided to walk down to open a door for us. We did not want her to climb back 7 floors. So, my wife tried to dissuade her but failed.

Valentyna’s neighbours show superiority of ingenuity over wealth. They’ve set up blackout lights in the hallways: a diode powered by AA batteries. Tiny, but enough and it  lasts a year. There are no blackout lights in our building, where half of the people drive Mercedeses and BMW’s…

kyiv diary improvised black out light in hallwayImprovised black out lights in the hallway

Valentyna’s building is a testament to the battle between the past and the future in Ukraine. The windows in the hallways, lobbies, stair areas are new and energy efficient (on the left). But the doors are from the Soviet times (on the right). Slowly the future is winning.

Food! Valentyna múst feed us. Every parent in Ukraine feeds its children at any opportunity. That’s hospitality and tradition. Ukrainian pancakes and oatmeal. Clean, minimalist, health, and very tasty.

Here is Valentyna making a (Turkish) coffee. The Turka in which the coffee is brewed is at least 40 years old, from the USSR. Whenever there is electricity Valentyna boils water and stores it in thermo’s. It is enough to have warm breakfast and hot tea every morning.

kyiv diary there is always foodThere is always food on the table

Valentyna works in a hospital. So, she is away for most of the day. When she comes home in the evening, there is typically no electricity. Here is her solution to make fried eggs and other basic warm food for dinner. Candles and a very thin baking pan.

Valentyna also saves food. Here is cabbage put in salt water by a heater. It ferments and we get a Ukrainian version of sauerkraut. It can be stored forever.

kyiv diary valentinas cooking deviceValentyna's cooking device

There is also a blackout fridge. Valentyna has a balcony that keeps temperature around 0. So, she now stores food there.

Good evening from Ukraine. It is -7C/19.4F in Kyiv. Today Russia fired 70 missiles across Kyiv. Air defense shot down more than 60. Many cities were hit, but not Kyiv. Odesa lost electricity, water, and heating. Our apartment had outages.

kyiv diary black outs wife of mylovanovBlack out in Mylovanov's appartment

6 december

Good morning. Day 286 of the war. War is hard, but also honest. You learn to focus on the immediate core issues, and ignore the secondary. A year ago, a maternity hospital in Kyiv damaged by open tank fire would be inconceivable. Today, I drive by without any emotion.

kyiv diary maternity hospitalKyiv maternity hospital damaged by shelling

The winter is cold in Ukraine. But this year it can be cold in your apartment too. So what? It is what it is. Unless, of course, you can’t keep warm. There was a news report of an old lady whose family was killed and whose house was damaged by the Russians. She came to Kyiv to get warm.

People are resilient and ingenious. There are all kind of innovations. At an apartment across from our university the residents installed a solar panel inside by the window.

Gas stations turned into centers of life. They are warm, there is electricity. And a lot of tasty food.

Many challenges become mundane and feel normal and irrelevant. After the first serious blackout, we struggled to get warm food. Now, we keep several thermose’s of hot water, so we will be able to have hot oatmeal for several days without heating and electricity.

The student attendance at the university went up. All our classes are hybrid, but 70% of our students come in person. The number is much lower for other universities in the country - about 10%. I guess it depends on whether the university buildings are warm.

My evening report from Kyiv. Pretty cold, electricity on and off, students are taking math exams.

kyiv diary math examsStudents taking math exams

Should we study math during the war? I asked our Ukrainian students. This is what they said. “Yes, it is the queen of science”, “yes, we need math to calculate repatriation from Russia,” “yes, math is the basis for modern economics and we need to study it to rebuild Ukraine”

7 december

The Russian attack on Monday has left Odesa without heating, electricity, and water. Today, on the third day, water and electricity are slowly coming back.

My (short) evening report will be about kids in Kyiv and in Hontaryovka. Hontaryovka is not far from Kharkiv almost on the border with Russia. It was recently de-occupied. Kids built a hut to study. It is the only point where they can get network and internet.

In Kyiv, today, I was picking up my wife at a supermarket and a kid walked up to me. Vitaliy. He was selling bracelets. To raise money for Ukrainian army. We gave 500UAH and talked to him and his friends: Sasha and Daria. Daria’s mom is a volunteer and helps UA army. Everyday she buys materials for the kids to make bracelets. They sell them during the day and the moment goes to buy supplies for soldiers. The kids are very smart and professional, they are proud that they are helping to fight the enemy. We did not want to take the bracelets, but they insisted - they wanted to earn the money, not be given charity. Here is a picture with them again: Sasha on the left, Daria in the middle, and Vitaliy on the right. My wife and I thought that in some ways they have a much healthier attitude to deal with the war than us.

kyiv diary kids with braceletsKids selling bracelets to support the army

Good evening from Kyiv. It has been a long and empowering day. I visited an animal shelter that our KSE Foundation and Ukrposhta (Ukrainian Post) support together. When you buy Ukrainian stamps with Patron dog, a percentage goes to this shelter [Patron Dog is Ukraine’s favourite pet who helped soldiers finding mines in the fields, he was awarded a medal by Zelensky – ed.]

kyiv diary patron dogPresident Zelensky visits Patron Dog, portrayed on an Ukrainian stamp

On March 1, the Russian aviation bombed this shelter. I don’t know what the point was. The shelter is located in a remoted area. There were no military there. I guess they just bombed it because they could. To make a point. 300 cats were killed. The bombs landed on this spot.

The Russians are in a dark place. They used this cat as a target for exercices. It is paralyzed but is gradually recovering.

This dog the Ukrainian Army found in the woods yesterday. It decided to die. It simply lied down and would not get up. The snow melted under it. The soldiers brought it to the shelter. The dog got up this morning, but is now a bit surprised to find himself surrounded by cats.

kyiv diary dogThis dog wanted to die but changed his mind

I walked in on a groups of students. They were discussing, in a dark room, the relationship between men and women, whether friendship is possible, sexism, etc. the debate was lively. I asked why there was no light. They said they were saving electricity.

8 december

Morning. Day 288. Remember the attack on downtown Kyiv on Oct 10. The first major Russian missile attack on cities this fall. Yesterday, I drove past the place of the first explosion in Kyiv. The buildings are boarded up, otherwise no signs, road repaired, even a traffic jam.

kyiv na russ bommen van 10 oktoberKyiv at 10 October, the start of the Russian bombing campaign against infrastructure

Am I afraid driving there? What if there is another missile? I can’t explain why, but I don’t think about it. Instead, I notice how quickly damage gets repaired after another attack and life goes back to normal. Attacks become worse every time, but Kyiv recovers faster, too.

We went shopping in the evening. We continue to build up the supply of drinking water at home, so we bought some more. But it is heavy and we did not have the energy to carry everything to the 8th floor. So we took our chances with the elevator. We could get stuck there for hours if the power goes out. But we were lucky this time and felt good about it. We almost don’t use elevators any more because electricity is unpredictable. But sometimes we are simply too tired. At our university elevators are off after people got stuck once or twice.

At the Kyiv School of Economics, students are increasingly active. They want to engage with policy research that KSE does for the government, help with Xmas fundraising campaigns, and work at KSE. Yesterday, they were meeting with our lawyers to talk about self-governance options.

It is not well known, but I serve as the chairman of the supervisory board of Ukroboronprom, a state holding of defense companies. Yesterday, we had a supervisory board meeting. I can’t report on what we were discussing, but here is a picture from the hallway :))

At a forum I was interviewed by local TV. I choose to speak about how Russia has become a dark place. It has fed and nurtured the darkness that is present in humanity - a desire to kill and torture. By contrast, Ukraine has cultivated the better side of humanity.

The forum was inside the monumental museum Motherland build in the Soviet times - the lady on the hills of the Dnepr River in Kyiv, holding a sword and a shield.

I met with start ups to talk about fundraising and long term success. I shared my views on what it takes to become successful and well funded in Ukraine. KSE Innovation Center and KSE Business School are planning to create and/or enable 1000 business during the war.

kyiv diary students kseMylovanov (left) with students of KSE

9 december

A Friday evening in Kyiv. No attacks today. When there is light and snow, this playground by our apartment building looks cute and cozy. I always stop to enjoy the view and perspective.

Kyiv is beautiful. I am grateful for what I have. This morning I woke up with my wife, she made breakfast, there was heating, electricity, and a shower. There is internet. Today is Friday and I might go Latin dancing in the evening. Life is good. I am happy to be born in Ukraine.

10 december

I woke up this morning in Kyiv. I am happy that no missiles hit Kyiv overnight. Then I learned that Russia fired many Iranians drones, but most of them were shot down. That’s why I could sleep tonight. I am grateful to our air defense.

Tonight my wife and I went for dinner to a Chinese restaurant in Kyiv. But there was a blackout. So they had a blackout menu. Salads, cold starters, some warm dishes. Lamps on power banks. Tea in thermose’s. Food was tasty and the ambience romantic. People and business will overcome.

The [Xmas] holiday season is about to begin. And I wish you magic, love, and happiness. You can engage with us in multiple ways. By sending me a message or by donating. Thank you from Kyiv, Ukraine.

kyiv diary chinese restaurantDinner in the dark in a Kyiv Chinese restaurant

You can donate to the Kyiv School of Economics. You can use PayPal Dit e-mailadres wordt beveiligd tegen spambots. JavaScript dient ingeschakeld te zijn om het te bekijken. or credit card here Checks can be mailed to 116 Dover St. Brooklyn, NY 11235, payable to KSE / EERC. Donations are tax deductible in the US.

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