As Russia attacks, Ukrainians offer tips on survival, optimism Russia-Ukraine war News

Kyiv, Ukraine – If you have no electricity, but don’t want your frozen foods to melt, Anastasiya Zasyadko has a useful life hack for you.

“Put a bottle of water in the freezer when the electricity is on,” the 79-year-old retiree told Al Jazeera.

The ice will take many hours to melt – and keep the freezer, well, frozen.

“The bottle has to be plastic, because glass will crack” when the water freezes, Zasyadko, a former physics teacher, said expertly.

Her experience is first hand.

She lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a northern Kyiv district of drab concrete buildings surrounded by potholed roads, leafless trees and melting snow.

It had no electricity for more than 24 hours after Wednesday’s shelling of the capital and other Ukrainian cities by Russian cruise missiles.

A Ukrainian woman buys a power bank in the capital, Kyiv [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

Low-tech response

But Zasyadko was ready – and saved several kilograms of frozen pork, minced meat and vareniki, the Ukrainian ravioli she cannot live without and made weeks earlier.

On October 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a string of attacks to destroy power transmission and heating stations, and damage key infrastructure throughout Ukraine.

Zasyadko was already used to the hours-long blackouts – she, her son and daughter-in-law have plenty of batteries, two power banks, and flashlights you can attach to your head with elastic bands.

“They make you look like a coal miner and ruin your hairdo,” she pouted.

She also can advise you on how to extend the lifetime of a candle and make it heat your bedroom.

Just put it in a glass jar and fill it with vegetable oil. The light will not die out for 12 hours – as long as you make sure that the jar doesn’t fall and start a fire.

You can also combine the contraption with a “flower pot heater” – an ultimate, low-tech response to the lack of central heating.

Take three ceramic flower pots of different sizes, connect them with a long steel bolt so there are a couple of centimeters between them, and put the structure above the burning candle.

The candle-warmed air will not rise to the ceiling, but will heat the pots and raise the temperature by several degrees.

Most of the apartment buildings in Ukraine are heated by Soviet-era power stations that have been largely destroyed by the Russian shelling.

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A motorcycle is used as a flashlight at a Kyiv mall [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

The cold has been debilitating.

“I went to bed in a flannel gown, put the hood and two pairs of socks on,” Zasyadko said.

Wednesday’s attack was especially devastating for Kyivans because it damaged the water supply in the entire capital and made people buy bottled water, ration it and collect porous snow.

The lack of water is worse than any blackout, Zasyadko said, especially when your family members need to flush the toilet.

Kyiv, however, is already covered with several centimeters of snow, and her son Konstantin collected some in tin buckets and melted it on a gas stove.

“Otherwise it will take hours to melt,” she said.

‘I weep every time’

With the news reports about the deaths of civilians, including a newborn killed by a Russian missile in the eastern town of Vilniansk on Wednesday, Zasyadko has not been feeling well.

That is why she took a seat on a bench in a shopping mall in northern Kyiv, waiting for her daughter-in-law to come back from a grocery shop.

The daughter-in-law, Maryana, showed up with two heavy bags – and offered the ultimate advice on patience.

“As long as everyone in our family is alive, we keep thanking God,” the 45-year-old cook said.

“I weep every time I hear about those little kids killed by the bloody Rashists,” she said, using a derogatory term that combines “Russian” and “fascist”.

Just a few meters away, a wartime generation of Ukrainian mall rats is glued to their mobile phone screens. The mall has its own power generator – and offers a chance to recharge batteries free of charge.

Dozens of people sit or stand next to power sockets – and many are teenagers with more than one gadget.

Most of the sockets are in drafty, barely lit halls, but there are some in the warmer corridors leading to public toilets.

Denys Kyrilenko, 19, was standing close to a ladies’ room, but paid no attention to the women passing by. The university student was typing a text message to his girlfriend who fled to Poland with her family in early March.

He cannot join her because Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country. But the eight-month-long separation only made their feelings stronger, he said.

“War makes you see things better,” he said.

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Denys Kyrilenko texts his girlfriend from a mall in Kyiv [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

The mall is an oasis of carefree consumerism. And it offers things that have become essential and life-saving.

A small crowd stood around a kiosk with power banks, connecting cables and USB-powered flashlights.

The salesman, Andriy Shevchenko, patiently explained why even the largest power bank in his kiosk cannot be used to power a laptop.

The customers, two women in their early 20s, nodded and bought one anyway – even though the price was almost $80.

That’s not Shevshenko’s fault.

“I hate when suppliers raise prices,” he said. “It ruins my reputation.”

‘We can withstand anything’

Kyiv residents living in private houses with firewood-fuelled stoves feel safe and privileged.

Many stockpiled hundreds of kilograms of firewood – and use the stoves to slow-cook their food in metal containers or pots.

And one house owner shared his observation on the resilience of fellow Ukrainians around him.

On Wednesday, Mykhailo Gorshenin, who lives in a two-storey house in northeastern Kyiv, saw how a Russian cruise missile hit a transmission station.

“People came out of a store to take a look,” he said.

Within seconds, another missile hit the same spot.

“They started filming the fire and the smoke with their cell phones,” he said.

Only after two more strikes, the crowd began to slowly disperse.

“We are a unique nation. We can withstand anything,” he said with a laugh. “Pass it on to Putin.”

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