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HomeWorld NewsA weekend in Kharkiv: Beach, ping-pong, poetry jams, Russian bombs

A weekend in Kharkiv: Beach, ping-pong, poetry jams, Russian bombs


In a bomb shelter, high school seniors — gold sashes slung across their chests — took selfies before their graduation. Inside, phones flashed with air raid alerts as students and teachers performed dance routines.

“We are the graduates of Kharkiv, the hero city!” the teenagers shouted from the underground stage. Parents cheered. Balloons sailed through the air.

Many students attended all of high school online — first because of the pandemic, then Russia’s invasion.

But for one night, in a brightly lit basement, they left that all behind.

A short drive away, a small crowd gathered to hear local band Alcohol Ukulele play a street show. The ukulele player, Anton Derbilov was missing. He was killed on the front line last year.

The crowd swayed to the music, singing along. Among them was Derbilov’s widow, Kateryna, his daughter Oksana and several soldiers fresh from the nearby front line. Derbilov’s best friend, Oleksandr, 35, who fought alongside him for nearly a year, was also there, while on a short break from his unit’s position north of the city. Like most active-duty soldiers interviewed for the story, he spoke on the condition his last name not be used in accordance with military protocol.

“This is precisely what I’m fighting for,” he said. “For these peaceful moments.”

Soon after, the air raid alarm started again.


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