Is it possible to take leave from war? How do Ukrainians live far away from the frontline

Many Ukrainians say this year their holiday has been replaced with short, one-day trips out of town or to the countryside. – I swam once in the lake and it was already September. Let’s assume it was my holiday – laughs poet Oleh Kotsarov.

Leisure during wartime – these words sound like an oxymoron. It might seem that this element of normal life is unattainable in Ukraine in war conditions as no corner of the country guarantees full security against missile attacks even if it’s located very far from the front. On the other hand, tourism is a source of income for many and, what’s not less important, of tax revenue as well as support for the country’s economy.

At the same time it is possible to find numerous photos from Ukrainian resorts on the internet therefore one can have the impression that people adapted their holiday customs to the war conditions. In reality though it’s not the case, and photos in social media usually don’t reflect the real state of things in this branch of industry.

Tourism at the back of the front

Volodymyr Tsaruk, director of the Center for Tourism Development holds a view that the summer holiday season simply didn’t occur in Ukraine. The problem is that usually some 70% of Ukrainians spent their vacation at the sea side – which is now inaccessible – a considerable chunk of Southern Ukraine is occupied by Russia while in free area (such as Odessa) beaches are closed off due to the threat of mines which can float to the shore.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Hence the tourism industry was looking for new opportunities – trips on classic routes near bigger cities were organized. Many guides drew up new itineraries, taking into consideration that choosing usual destinations may be dangerous. So people set off for Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Lviv, Ternopil. The children’s holiday also came out well: many youth camps were organized, mostly in Western Ukraine – i.e. in Trans-Carpathia, Bukovina, in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv regions. When it comes to security matters, in most tourist centers and hotels there are basements which have been turned into air-raid shelters. In Kyiv summer play centers enjoyed considerable popularity as the kindergartens were closed – says Volodymyr Tsaruk.

Some tour operators dealing with foreign tourism organized coach trips instead of chartered flights – mostly in Europe and to seaside countries such as Bulgaria, Montenegro, Greece, Croatia and Turkey. However, according to the Center for Tourism Development the income in this branch has considerably shrunk – by 85-90%.

Western Ukraine remains the most popular and safe destination. The so-called “weekend tourism” – where people arrive only for Saturdays and Sundays has proven to be particularly visible. But also one those days the hotels weren’t filled even by 2/3 – underlines Tsaruk. – Hotels introduce discounts and offer lowest prices, balancing on the edge of minimum profitability. On the whole, the summer season kept the tourism branch afloat, at least for some time. Most companies have survived thanks to lowering prices but many employees have been sent on unpaid leaves or simply fired.

As he points out, the hotel segment in Ukraine operates in survival mode. Some companies have been closed down in order not to generate losses. In the autumn-winter season the situation will probably even aggravate because heating rooms with a 50% shortage of energy is simply expensive. Some hotels will be shut down till April not to lose money for heating and electricity.
During the summer Ukrainians traditionally traveled to visit Kyiv, Vinnitsa Lviv or Ternopil. Pictured: August 25, 2022 in front of the Lviv Opera House building. Photo: Dominika Zarzycka / Zuma Press / Forum
Statistics regarding taxes paid by tourism branch enterprises are a bit more optimistic. Only that a substantial part of this money was transferred as a down payment for future taxation. – We can see that taxes paid by entities of the tourism business that is to say agencies and tour operators haven’t decreased that much as the tourism itself. Foreign tourism has shrunk by 85-90%. But when it comes to the drop in taxes, it is less sharp – only by 35-40%. There is a number of explanations for that. First, two summer months were definitely active and with good dynamic, second many tour operators would sell trips in “first-minute” mode, meaning with anticipation – explains Tsaruk.

To go or not to go? Of course people go on vacation also now, if there is occasion. And they will continue to do so, for example during winter holidays. The question arises how many such trips have actually taken place – wonders the director of the Center for Tourism Development. – On top of that Ukraine doesn’t currently have the chance of foreigners coming in – apart from foreign journalists and delegation few people reach us. And the west of Ukraine, especially Lviv or Bukovel (center for winter sports – ed.) is quite dependent on foreigners.

Many factors, ranging from security to financial situation influence decisions to go on holiday. But there is another aspect which is hardly taken into consideration in statistics – the psychological factor. It’s hard to take a leave and afford relaxation in war conditions when everybody can see everyday thousands of people having no chance of going on vacation buy of living a normal, comfortable life wither.

Bu there also those who believe that for their psychological balance it is indispensable to reset themselves, even for a couple of days. So there is no universal “recipe”.

Below we are listing histories of a few Ukrainians who tell how the summer has passed in war conditions.

Among friends

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Olena Huseynova, a radio presenter and poet, tells as follows about her first foreign voyage since the invasion began.

–When there is wartime and you work in a radio that broadcasts 24/7 it is true luck. Because in our times it is luck if you do what you are capable of doing and you feel needed. It means though I couldn’t wander off from the radio too far and for too long. That’s why I postponed my leave to be able to go a festival in Helsinki where, in the first days of Russian invasion, I was invited to read poetry. But if I had been given the chance to use my leave for real holiday, and not for professional activity, I would have chosen a stay in Ukraine. The way to the nearest airport is exhausted and traumatic. And it’s not even about the fact that travelling by train, bus, private car takes a lot of time but about that the situation after February 24 has changed dramatically. Most probably it’s impossible to take a leave from war. The moment I was the closest to the state of internal renewal was not when I wandered somewhere in a beautiful city but when I met my friends – says Olena.

Iryna Nikolaychuk who works as an editor and teacher went on a ‘Green Academy” project camp, organized by the Ukrainian branch of Henirich Böll Foundation. The meeting was arranged at a place located on the border between Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts. The event was held to support the “Academy” participants, make people come together and help them overcome the dramatic war experience.

Thanks to the four days off, the trip really helped me pull myself together. The conversation in an emphatic circle of people thinking very much alike and mutually supporting was very energizing. And it was very good to stay in the bosom of nature after half a year in Kyiv. I am a freelancer and my principal clients – Ukrainian publishers – get back to work actively. My workload is probably greater than before February 24. I am planning to take a real leave at the turn of October (but what a leave would that be? – just a time without work) in the Carpathians or any other region that is potentially more safe than Kyiv. But of course I will have to be up-to-date with what’s happening in the country – says Iryna.

A war correspondent Olena Maksymenko had to radically change her life plans after February 24. – Actually I wrote about the war (in Donbas – ed.) from the very beginning and still before February I was thinking to abandon the topic as I felt going stale and exhausted. I was planning to reduce the number of trips to the front, buy a house on credit in the Kyiv region, adopt and child and to find a regular job. I had an interview at an interesting magazine and a meeting with a HR specialist in the subject of some trial tasks was scheduled on February 25. But there started what started, the specialist went to the Territorial Defense Force while I began to work at an even greater pace.

I don’t allow myself a rest these days (at least in the sense of going somewhere for a few days) but of course I make pauses. Jogging, cycling, coffee, wino with friends are very helpful. Sometimes it is enough to hold together somehow but sometimes it doesn’t help much. I am tormented by this feeling that I do little, that others work more effectively but I understand it’s normal in time of ours – to feel this way. After Ukraine has achieved victory in this war I am planning to go hiking – I love mountains and I miss them very much. I have also long dreamt of spending a winter in warm countries. And then I will buy a flat and adopt a child…

A few days out of town Many, like Olen, says their holiday this year has been replaced with short, one-day trips out of town or to the countryside.
The Odessa Dolphinarium, like the city – a well-known resort before the war – is hoping to return to normalcy. Photo: Dominika Zarzycka / Zuma Press / Forum
– I swam once in the lake and it was already September. Let’s assume it was my holiday – laughs poet Oleh Kotsarov.

The journalist Nasita Abramets says she only went to meetings for media workers to which she was invited. If it hadn’t been for that, most probably she would have gone to the Carpathians but only for a few days – out of regard for the child rather than for herself.

Another journalist, Inna Adrug went for a few weeks to meet her brother in Poland – and tells after the first months of the war, spent in Chernihiv, close to the frontline, it helped her much. All the more so because that even before the Russian aggression she hadn’t been going anywhere because of the coronavirus.

Many other interlocutors said the summer “had passed them by”, they hadn’t gone anywhere but they intended to do so after the victory – to territories liberated form Russian occupation, such as Crimea.

The illustrator Olya Goriyenko moved to Poland. She says that before the war “she was somewhat workaholic” and she heard the first explosions on February 24, in the morning, because she didn’t go to bed but worked on commissioned texts. She didn’t have holiday in Poland but those days spent with her mother helped her very much.

I managed to talk my mother into a few days’ holiday and go to Kraków. I’ve never seen her like this: happy with the moment, ready for everything. We even spontaneously went walking in the mountains for one day. To see my mother cheerful, sincerely admire the local atmosphere and life is very healing although it was extremely difficult to bid farewell – says Olya.

Wandering in the Carpathians

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At the beginning of the war journalist Maryanna Bratushyk-Homa evacuated with her 1,5-month son from Lviv to Poland. Now, they have returned home. Throughout the whole period she and her husband managed to go to the Carpathians only twice. As Maryanna says, for the time being “at heart she doesn’t allow herself a rest”.

–On my husband’s anniversary we climbed one of the Carpathian mountains, it was my and my now seven-months old son’s first climb. With a small child it was risky and difficult, but it was an amazing and needful experience. The surge of adrenalin because of something unrelated to the war was a therapeutic feeling. To function all day without connection and messages and then to simple eat bograch [traditional Ukrainian-Romanian goulash soup – ed.] in a roadside bar and go to sleep being tired. Such active vacation and total cutoff in one. We planned to rest somewhere else but when we have more money, we usually give it to the Ukrainian army. So maybe next year we will spend our holiday in Crimea – she dreams.

Yarloslav Fyodorovski works in the IT branch and as a volunteers he collects money for military equipment. He comes from Mariupol, his city is now ruined and occupied by the Russians. The boy tells that one day he realized that he was completely burnt out. Then he fell ill and lay in bed for few days and when he recovered he learnt about his friend’s death so he went to the funeral. At last he realized he needed a break.

–I made my old dream come true - to go alone to the Carpathians. I threw the absolute minimum of things into my car, had a coffee at the gas station at 6 am and drove away. In the mountains I tried rafting, biking and horseback riding. However, I was still working remotely for the first two days. Then I went to Ivano-Frankivsk, where I met my friends and rested. Two days later I returned to Kiev being “pumped up": we collected money for the car, and I took care of the thermovision. After this trip, I realized that living in the capital was not very comfortable for me. Now I want to try to stay in different cities of Western Ukraine: Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk or Uzhhorod – says Yaroslav.

Appreciate the moments

Yulia Dzhugarstyanska, a reading researcher who also dealt with computer science, also worked and acted as a volunteer from the beginning of the war, took up additional work to support the needs of the army, and supported Ukrainian handicraft productions.
Ukrainians, if they went somewhere, it was rather out of regard for the children. Pictured: at Synevyr Lake in Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains, which has struggled with drought this year. Photo: TARASOVUkrinform / ddp images / Forum
“Like probably everyone in my environment, I felt tired” says Julia. –The mountains and the sea have always brought me back to life. Here's my perfect vacation: come to the hotel or AirBnB in the mountains or by the sea, close to the beach, sleep, discover the tastiest restaurants within walking distance – and go hiking or go on less touristic trips around the area, and then lie down with a book by the water or go to the spa. Now many things are too expensive for me and it is difficult to resist the temptation to calculate the price of coffee or other pleasures into the number of tourniquets or bandages available ... -

– But to function efficiently, I need rest. Only that I immediately imagine that I am coming to my favorite corner of Europe, and people there find out that I am from Ukraine. Or I meet my fellow countrymen fleeing the war - and what next? What if a Russian shows up? I know I could handle almost any situation like this, but it would have a terrible effect on the quality of my vacation. The war also made me aware of my limitations and taught me to use resources rationally

Vacation within Ukraine’s borders, with the same potential danger had one, uncontestable advantage: I support the already weakened economy of my country. But the sirens sound the same everywhere – she adds. And says that since around April, she has worked out her own course of action: psychotherapy, yoga, restoration of her orchid collection destroyed in March in Kyiv, making “vyshyvankas”, book reading. – It sounds very prosaic but that’s a space where I can assure security myself: my body, my thoughts and around me – a space reduced to the closest few meters – she says.

In summer Yulia returned to Kyiv and realized she feels better there than somewhere far away although compared to Kherson or Kharkiv, Kyiv lies at the remote back of the front after all. There are my closest here, friend who didn’t leave, new friends I got to know thanks to the volunteering, mates. I still feel uncomfortable during air raids – I realize rationally that Kyiv may become target of a mass missile strike, irrationally speaking I’m glad I don’t feel as if I was driven somewhere, my home is here, my life goes on and that already gives me strength. I work here, I help others, as much as I can. I’m kidding that the best proof of my faith in the Ukrainian army is that I have completed the refurbishment of my flat, which I started still before the war. Thus I’m preparing for the winter. And in spring I intend to continue my research. The fact itself that this part of my life can’t be taken away from me, gives me strength and helps to recover… – she adds.

For now Yulia has found a relatively cheap hotel and plans to spend some time during the Holidays with her parents there. – The war has taught me that you must try to live your life well at least for short moments and to appreciate that. It also turned out to be very important.

– Olga Rusina
– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Synevyr, the largest lake in the Ukrainian Carpathians. Photo: TARASOVUkrinform / ddp images / Forum
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