Opera singer Oleksandr Melnychuk picked up a shotgun shortly after Russian tanks rolled to Kyiv’s outskirts in February, joining a territorial defense battalion to protect northern approaches to the Ukrainian capital.
The city of some 3.5 million emptied, with antitank barriers blocking the streets and artillery cannonades keeping remaining residents awake at night. Kyiv’s opera and ballet theater was shut down, as were all restaurants, bars, museums, shopping malls and pretty much everything other than pharmacies and supermarkets.
These days, the front line has been pushed hundreds of miles away from Kyiv, with fighting concentrated in the east of the country. At first sight, the Ukrainian capital looks deceptively normal. Two-thirds of those who had fled had returned by mid-May, according to Kyiv’s mayor. Streets are jammed with traffic. Restaurants overflow with customers sipping Aperol Spritz on terraces. There are concerts and art openings. Even the strip clubs that served as bomb shelters in February and March have put up billboards advertising their comeback.
Now that Kyiv no longer faces an immediate threat, many territorial defense volunteers like Mr. Melnychuk, a 44-year-old, have resumed their peacetime careers. Since Kyiv’s National Opera and Ballet Theater reopened in late May, the lead baritone—who survived a few close calls with Russian shelling in March—has performed in “Nabucco” and “La Traviata,” and is preparing for “Rigoletto” next month.
“What are we fighting for if our art and our culture aren’t there?” he said. “Our duty is to not surrender, and to return as much as possible to the way of life that we used to have. We must do it out of respect for all those who have given up their own lives to make it possible.” [Continue reading…]