AM 890 and Serving the Kenai Peninsula
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Communities have formed among those who have stayed in Kyiv through Russian attacks


At the back basement door of a small cafe in central Kyiv, there's a scene you wouldn't have found here six weeks ago - dozens of the city's elderly residents lined up waiting for food. Behind a wooden table, a handful of volunteers bags groceries to distribute. And in the distance...


DETROW: ...There's the persistent, dull thud of unexploded ordnances being set off by Ukraine's military.

VERA POLONSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

DETROW: Vera Polonska (ph) shows off what's inside her bag.

POLONSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

DETROW: She holds up a beat, some milk, sugar, bread. "It's really hard here right now," she says.

POLONSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

DETROW: Then she says she wishes the peace around the world.

One of the people helping up front is 53-year-old Mikhail Smetana (ph). He goes by Misha.

I'm Scott.


DETROW: He was a designer before the war. Now he does this full time.

SMETANA: These people need help. And we also need to do something. I mean, I can't just sit and, you know, scroll the news constantly.

DETROW: A lot of people say that. You know, like, I was just sitting there looking at news over and over and over. It was better to be active.

SMETANA: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, that's true, 100%.

DETROW: Misha used to be a regular customer at this cafe. He lives right down the street. When the cafe began handing out food, he began volunteering. And gradually, a whole devoted community grew here.

SMETANA: There are 15 people living here at the moment, and all of them are helping somehow.

DETROW: Living here.

SMETANA: Yes, there are people who actually live in the cafe downstairs.

DETROW: As a shelter.

SMETANA: Yes, as a shelter, yeah.

DETROW: Misha takes us inside the cafe and down a set of stairs.

SMETANA: This is one of the rooms where people live.

DETROW: It's a basement storage room - no windows.

SMETANA: A big mattress.

DETROW: An inflatable mattress is in the corner, covered with a red plaid blanket.

SMETANA: And I think two people live here with a dog.

DETROW: Down more steps...

SMETANA: And there's more.

DETROW: ...He opens a door into another basement filled with more mattresses.

SMETANA: One, two, three, four, five people sleep here - six actually. Somebody sleeps here as well.

DETROW: Oh, wow, in, like, a little...


DETROW: ...Loft corner niche, yeah.


DETROW: Misha doesn't sleep here. He and his wife live in a solid building that feels safe. So they've made the choice to stay home during air raid sirens.

SMETANA: For many people, it's actually safer here. Someone lives near the airport. Someone lives, like, in the 22nd floor with the floor-to-ceiling glass window. So it's obviously safer to be here for them.

DETROW: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED first met Misha on the day the war started, February 24...


SMETANA: Hi, my name is Misha.

DETROW: ...When he sent us a voice memo.


SMETANA: It's all just terrible. It's terrifying. It's a disaster. It's like being inside a Hollywood movie about some sort of end of the world. I mean, my life personally, professionally, will never be the same. The world will never be the same. I'm 50-something, and I was born in Soviet Union. I went to the Soviet army. I've seen many things. I've seen actually too many things. And I seriously - I really want to live a boring life.

DETROW: We've been keeping in touch with him ever since. So here in Kyiv, we came to see him, to sit down and talk about how he's feeling now.

What's it feel like to hear that five-plus weeks later?

SMETANA: I hate my voice. That's one thing. I don't know how you do it on the radio. Otherwise, I don't know. I mean, I agree with everything that I said. It definitely feels like the end of the world as we know it. It's not going to be the same I think.

DETROW: The answer might feel obvious to you, but what was it that drew you about this cafe? You've become so invested in this community, so invested in helping feed people.

SMETANA: I was a regular here before the war, and I just, you know, came to help and keep myself busy. But, of course, it's - the people here became friends. And this is strange because we're all different people from different backgrounds. And the situation that these people is all together here right now, that would probably never happen in a peaceful time - in a time of peace because we are all different people.

DETROW: That boring life that you wished for when you talked to us the very first day, does that feel possible in any way, shape or form at this point?

SMETANA: I hope so. I hope so. I hope so because, you know, it was - where should I start? OK. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the deaths of Brezhnev, then the collapse of the Soviet Union, then, I mean, Chernobyl - I forgot Chernobyl - and so on and on and on. It keeps changing and changing. And then in Ukraine, Orange Revolution. And then we had Maidan and then the war started, and in 2014, Crimea. It keeps happening and happening and happening and happening.

DETROW: Misha, I hope that boring life comes sometime soon. Thank you so much for talking to us.

SMETANA: Me too. Me too. Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.