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Russian Victory Day in Kyiv

Kyiv, Ukraine–On May 8, the day before Russian Victory Day, the streets here were full of life. It is springtime, and red and yellow flowers have bloomed in abundance, filling the city’s green boulevards, nestled beside the occasional barricades and mounds of sand that were set up to defend the city from the Russian troops that had attempted to encircle the capital city in March.

There had been concern for weeks that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the holiday to announce an escalation of the war. In Kyiv, there was a strict 10 pm curfew in place, and mayor Vitaly Klitschko had banned mass gatherings in the days leading up to the holiday, while increasing the amount of military and police patrols. Men in camouflage gear holding rifles and carrying hard ballistic helmets were rarely out of eyesight along Khreshchatyk Street, the city’s main drag. Still, the mood in Kyiv seemed defiantly optimistic, even as intense fighting raged in the east and Russian rockets bombarded the seaside city of Odessa in the south.

The weather in Kyiv was warm and sunny. People were out strolling on Khreshchatyk, shopping, and sitting on benches in the shade. On one bench, a father and mother sat with a small child, each eating ice cream cones. Short lines formed at Khreshchatyk’s ubiquitous coffee kiosks. Just below ground, at the Khreshchatyk Metro Station, which has doubled as a bomb shelter since the recent invasion, Bono and The Edge of U2 performed an impromptu concert.

Meanwhile, American diplomats returned to the embassy in Kyiv for first time since fleeing at the onset of the invasion. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made an unannounced visit to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, toured the destroyed suburb of Irpin, and was perhaps upstaged by the Ukrainian bomb-sniffing dog, Patron, who was given a state award for his service. Further to the west, in Uzhhorod, first lady Jill Biden met with Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska, who handed Biden a bouquet of flowers.

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