“I came to Kyiv to watch a city watch a game.” Wright Thompson goes to the capital of Ukraine to watch the country’s football team play Scotland in a World Cup qualifier. It’s an emotional, poignant read about life during war, the power of football, and the incredible strength and spirit of the Ukrainian people.
Our fixer, who evacuated Kyiv on Feb. 24 and hadn’t returned until now, took me there to have a bowl of borscht, a traditional Ukrainian soup. She said if she had to choose, borscht from this restaurant would be her last meal on earth. We had a big group but everyone ate in silence, still processing the violence of a cruise missile slamming into an apartment building. That’s Kyiv. Something devastated just steps from something cherished. At war and at peace. Modern and ancient. Beautiful and ruined. That’s what Viktoria was talking about, I think, when she talked about the shadows she could sense all around her in the air. Kyiv might exist as a beacon for a new and proud Ukrainian future or, if the foreign money dries up, there might be Russian tanks rolling through these streets. History is being written in real time and nobody knows how things will end. These could be the last days of a regional war or the first days of a world war. Someone told me the best part of a day in Kyiv is the 15 seconds between waking up and your brain clicking into gear. In those fleeting moments everything is like it was before.