Morning Chronicle - In Kyiv, a sunny respite from weeks of war

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In Kyiv, a sunny respite from weeks of war
In Kyiv, a sunny respite from weeks of war / Photo: FADEL SENNA - AFP

In Kyiv, a sunny respite from weeks of war

In a park in central Kyiv, a Ukrainian soldier ushers his wife and children against a backdrop of blooming magnolias, and lifting a phone, tells them to "smile!"

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The family are surrounded by other residents, out for a stroll or ordering drinks on terraces, on a calm and warm spring day, bringing a semblance of normality after nearly two months of war.

Winding between strollers and bicycles, 43-year-old Nataliya Makrieva -- walking arms linked through the park with her mother -- couldn't believe what she was seeing.

"It's the first time we've been back in the city centre. We wanted to see if public transport was working and people-watch. It's really making me happy to see people out and about," the vet sporting large sunglasses told AFP.

Sprawled on the grass, a solider in uniform smoking a pipe was looking up into the clear blue sky. Two other off-duty soldiers were reclined on the branches of a walnut tree above him.

"It's the first time we've been able to breathe after more than a month in Irpin and Gostomel," says 40-year-old Dmitro Tkachienko, who has been fighting Russian-backed forces in east Ukraine since 2015.

Sitting like she does everyday on a bench in an elegant woollen hat -- despite the heat -- 82-year-old Hanna Mykhailivna Hryshko was enjoying the spectacle.

"People want to forget the war. But soon there will be more bombings and sirens and we'll have to go back into hiding," she says, her smile turning to tears.

Three weeks of relative calm in the city were interrupted this week by two Russian strikes in the last two days on military production facilities near Kyiv. Russia has warned of further attacks on the capital.

- 'War has many dimensions' -

Anti-tank obstacles known as Czech hedgehogs line roads in Kyiv. Sandbags and concrete checkpoints remain but the fighters manning them have mostly moved on.

Billboards no longer broadcast safety instructions, threatening messages aimed at the Russian troops, or warnings of dreaded Russian "infiltrators". Instead they display patriotic messages.

Signs of war are Kyiv are limited. City authorities said 100 buildings in the city were destroyed or hit by Russian strikes between February 24 and March 22 when Russia last struck the city centre.

The sale of alcohol is banned from 4:00 pm and a curfew is still in place between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am.

Residents now can get food delivered, go to the hairdresser and malls, ride the metro and rent a bike or a scooter.

But schools, universities, most restaurants, concert halls museums and gyms are still closed.

In the wake of strikes outside the capital in recent days, mayor Vitali Klitschko has urged those who fled -- up to half of the 2.8 million inhabitants at the height of the war -- not to return to the city.

Local media reports however that around 50,000 are returning to the capital daily.

"War has many dimensions. It's not just a question of fighting. Kyiv is of course still on a war footing," says Alyona Bogatshova, 34, sitting with friends on a terrace with a drink.

"Then again, there is so much life here and freedoms being found again. It is an unprecedented situation that doesn't have a name, that we haven't lived through before," she adds, gulping down her drink before curfew.