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As fighting moves on, some Ukrainian businesses are reopening


Our colleague Scott Detrow traveled into Kyiv, Ukraine, this week on a train that was full of people. People are starting to return home after Russians withdrew from the area. And they're trying to get back to work. NPR's Nathan Rott is in Kyiv.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Walking into the Milk Bar, a cafe in central Kyiv, you get a glimpse of this surreal moment in the Ukrainian capital. Delicate pastries are on display. Hipsters in trendy clothes are working on laptops. And a group of soldiers in camouflage and body armor are finishing lunch in the dining area with their rifles resting beside them. Outside, away from the hip-hop ambience, Yula Moshkohfska (ph), the cafe's manager, says they reopened a couple of weeks ago.

YULA MOSHKOHFSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "Since then," she says, "we've been sharing our kitchen with volunteers who are helping feed the military." But they're also serving paying customers again, the way they did before Russia invaded, causing businesses up and down the street to shutter and some 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes, including many of the Milk Bar's, 300 employees.

But now you're finally able to make some money again?

MOSHKOHFSKA: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "Yes. We need and want to support the country's economy," she says. "And we need to support our employees so they can buy food and pay bills." The need to keep working and make money might seem like a distant priority given the atrocities that are coming to light from the war. But it is a huge issue. Mayors and governors in safer parts of Ukraine are now urging people to go back to work. A strong economy, they say, is important to sustaining the war. But there are challenges. Ukraine's economy ministry recently said that the country's economy could contract by 40% this year due to Russia's invasion.

TYMOFIY MYLOVANOV: I basically think these numbers are meaningless.

ROTT: Tymofiy Mylovanov is the president of the Kyiv School of Economics and a former minister of Economic, Trade Development and Agriculture for Ukraine. We're talking by WhatsApp because he's traveling. Mylovanov says, yes, of course, Ukraine's economy is going to suffer. Russia, he says, has purposely targeted critical infrastructure, fuel depots and agriculture.

MYLOVANOV: Around Kyiv, around Kharkiv, the target is the pharmaceutical storage and grocery. Then they went after roads, I think.

ROTT: All, he says, in an effort to disrupt the country's economy long term. But he says the gloomy economic figures from the country's ministry don't take into account how much people are now working in other ways, volunteering to feed each other, helping with the war effort. But that doesn't relieve the immediate economic pinch many people are feeling in Ukraine. In the western part of the country, in Lviv, Luva Havriluk (ph) and her son are sitting at the train station. It's not safe for them to go home yet, she says. So they're trying to get documents that will help them get jobs.

LUVA HAVRILUK: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: There are only two available jobs in the town we've moved to south of Lviv, she says, one at a bakery, another at a gas station. Ukraine's government is trying to help with a one-time payment of a couple hundred dollars. But people need more money. At an outdoor market in Lviv, Ana (ph), who doesn't want to give her last name, is sitting at her stall, which sells clothes. I ask her if she's making any sales.

ANA: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: No. These last days, we do not have anybody.

ROTT: Is it important that people keep coming out and buying stuff, do you think?

ANA: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Of course, because we need to survive.

ROTT: They also need peace, she adds. We also need peace.

Nathan Rott, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "A SECRET SOCIETY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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