Kiev at night (c) Mariya Kozymenko

Tulips for Kiev

Mariya works and lives as an Executive Search Headhunter and a photographer in Kiev, Ukraine. In the interview with 0816 she talks about the ongoing war in the Ukraine and how she still finds beauty in the details of her daily life.

Dear Mariya, thank you for the interview. Where are you right now?

At the moment I am in my apartment with my mother, my grandmother and my dog. We stay in the heart of Kiev, in Pechersk. It is one of the regions in the city center. We are moving basically between our apartment between the 16th floor and our parking lot, in minus 2 in the building. Today is the 6th day already of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Sometimes we go outside for food or because I have an electrical car and I have to charge it. A couple of times I left my house to get some food, take pictures and help my friends with the logistics. But my situation right now is one of the most comfortable so far. Most of the people live in old houses or in the metro stations, in cold places. Today it was snowing in Kiev. It was really cold. People took gloves and scarfs. The worst situation is for the people who need medicine. Because it is really difficult to get medicine now. 

How does the parking lot look like where you sleep?

It is quite big, and children can ride bicycles there. It has two floors. We have water there, a toilet and even a small Café, as there was a car wash when it was safe. It is quite warm but cold at night. People sleep inside of their cars dressed in down jackets, as I did four days in a row. Some sleep sitting on chairs, some on the ground. A group of the guys took their TVs to the parking lot and watched TV there. Some of them smoke shisha and listen to music. The situation of every person is really different. 

People sitting in a café in a parking lot in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko
A child riding bicycle in a parking lot in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko
People with their dog in a parking lot in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko
A dog in a parking lot (c) Mariya Kozymenko

How do you and your family feel?

My grandmother is in shock and she is crying all the time. It is really difficult to handle all this. My mother and granny refuse to sleep in the apartment, they sleep in the car. I am so tired and I haven’t slept normally for five days. It was really awful. In Kiev it is mostly quiet but we hear the bombings in the city. I was just sitting in my apartment one night and waiting for the rocket to crash into my house. I was in shock and could not sleep until 5 in the morning. The alarm siren is on 5-10 times a day. My family and I slept for four days in the parking lot, so there were three people in a car with the dog. Yesterday I just came to my flat because I have to work. I get news from five telegram channels. In the first days I read all the news. But yesterday I muted them. Right now I am watching the four hour live street camera from London, just so I can see something nice. 

Kiev at night (c) Mariya Kozymenko

What does the city look like now? What is the situation like in Kiev?

The streets of Kiev are open, so the parts are not closed for cars. There are police in every region. Sometimes they ask where we are going or to show our passports. The situation in Kiev is more or less stable. Up to ten houses in Kiev have been bombed. A lot of military buildings and some hospitals were attacked. Some places where children stay, the kindergarten, were also attacked. People are staying in long queues in front of the supermarkets and in front of the pharmacies. Yesterday there was a long queue in front of a supermarket with about 400 people. It was not possible to enter it because they were controlling the entrance. People were waiting for five to six hours to buy something in the supermarket. There is no meat and fish, only vegetables and junk food. In other parts of Kiev it was easier to get into the supermarkets.

A supermarket with empty fridges in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko
A supermarket in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko
A woman making groceries in a supermarket in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko

People try to buy lots of stuff to feel safe. Many people stay in the metro stations. Some of them have already been living there for six days. The public transport works time by time and is free of charge. Yesterday the people who do the maintenance of the house brought some food to us to cook. Everything else is closed. No deliveries, no taxis. In the evening the city is mostly dark because we were asked to switch off the lights after 5pm.

There are a lot of guys from Russia, in Russian they are called diversanty. They try to make pictures of what is going on in the city. They take pictures of locations. They put marks on the buildings. They have weapons. Sometimes they shoot. The most terrible thing for me right now is that the government brings different types of weapons to Kiev to take them for free without a license. It is beginning to get more dangerous. Men and older men who have left the army, the veterans, have been asked to join the army. Many of them joined the army but it was not obligatory. They joined because they wanted to. Everyone can join right now. 

Have you planned to leave Kiev or is it impossible right now to leave the city?

It is possible to leave Kiev, but the military groups are all around Kiev. Kiev tries to defend the city. Most of the cities of Kiev, Kharkiv, Donezk, Maripol, are in really difficult situations and everyday it is getting worse. It is also a question of finance, because yesterday my bank account was connected to one of the Russian banks. Yesterday due to the collapse of the Russian bank system all my money disappeared. So my money is frozen right now. And I have an electric car, which makes it also more difficult to leave Kiev. Also my grandmother is 90 years old. My plan is to stay here for one or two weeks and to work from here. Maybe I can find clients in other countries to work remotely. 

Buses on a street in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko
Empty streets in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko

I will find a way to find a car and then decide to leave Kiev or not. There is an option to take all the stuff and move closer to the borders. Then I will decide what to do next. My grandmother does not have a foreign passport and I will have to find out how to enter a country without it. And there could potentially be problems with the documents for my dog.

How is the situation with Russian people? How do you feel about Russia?

Many friends stopped speaking Russian and they hate Russian people and the Russian president. There is a lot of hate for Russia. But I think that you have to be distinct. Because there are also people in Russia ready to support Ukraine. I have a few friends in Moscow supporting me all the time and trying to help somehow. They don’t support the actions of their president. Good people are everywhere. They did not choose their nationality and their president and did not even have a chance to choose him. I think we won’t go anywhere, if we bring so much hatred to the world and hate people for their nationalities.

What helps you to get through all this? Is there something positive right now for you?

Yes, there is. Yesterday I decided to ask the guy who provides cameras for rental in Kiev for a camera. I helped him get to the city center from his house and we drove to his office in a photo studio. The lock was broken and he broke the door of his office and gave me a camera for free. I think there are still a lot of opportunities if you ask for help. People are very open to help. We have a car washing station in our parking lot and there is a café for the clients. The girls there are making coffee and bringing some bakery from home. There is a wonderful smell. The girls bought a lot of tulips and took them to the café and put them there in the parking lot. I found a disco ball and put it above my car. I also took the sun bed, a table and two chairs from my balcony and put them there. Everyone is arranging their spots there. We are trying to make the places as cozy as possible.

Tulips in a café in Kiev (c) Mariya Kozymenko

Selfportrait (c) Mariya Kozymenko


Mariya Kozymenko, born in 1987, lives and works as an Executive Search Headhunter and a photographer in Kiev.

Here you can find out more about Mariya and her work: