As the war in Ukraine nears its sixth month, people in the northeastern city of Kharkiv are getting used to a new normal. Construction crews are cleaning up bombed-out buildings. People are returning to work. But they do all that as air raid sirens go off multiple times a day and between daily missile strikes on the city. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Kharkiv.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: City officials continue to plead with Kharkiv residents to respect the air raid alerts, but the sirens go off so frequently that many people don't. Only when an explosion is particularly loud and presumably close do residents head for the bomb shelters. Twenty-one-year-old Anastasia Shapoval says in Kharkiv right now, you have to balance the shelling with the rest of your life.
ANASTASIA SHAPOVAL: When it's shelling and you go to a coffee shop, I start telling them, OK, shelling, but I want some coffee. OK, I should go for coffee (laughter).
BEAUBIEN: Shapoval, who just graduated from college, works at a volunteer center that distributes food packets. A few days earlier, a rocket brought down a five-story building across from the center. Shapoval says another missile hit just 200 yards from her house. But she says Kharkiv is her home, and this is where she wants to be right now.
SHAPOVAL: Our shelling - it's not, like, all day long, no.
BEAUBIEN: Most of the explosions are in the northern suburbs and industrial areas, and Shapoval says you get used to it.
SHAPOVAL: Like, as a resident, I understand that, OK, we have a night shelling when, for example, we have air alerts - they're, for example, 15 minutes - says there are three, five, seven bombs in Kharkiv. OK, but not all time.
BEAUBIEN: She recognizes that this isn't normal. This current Kharkiv life isn't for everyone, she says. And many of her friends who've left may not come back until the war is finished.
When Russia attacked Kharkiv in late February with fighter jets and cruise missiles, ordinary life in Ukraine's second-largest city abruptly came to a halt. The vast majority of Kharkiv's population fled the city. Kharkiv's underground metro stations, which were built by the Soviets to withstand nuclear bomb blasts, became permanent shelters. Thousands of people slept on the station platforms and in subway cars.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUBWAY TRAIN HUMMING)
BEAUBIEN: But now the metro trains are running again. Commuters and families dart in and out of the aging railcars. And where residents used to sleep in the subterranean stations to escape the bombing raids, volunteers now offer first aid classes.
ALEXEI YARACHENKO: (Non-English language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Alexei Yarachenko leads a class specifically focused on how to treat people injured in rocket attacks. He demonstrates how to use a tourniquet and bandage a shrapnel wound. It's war first aid 101. Aleksandr Maltsev (ph) just watched one of the classes.
ALEKSANDR MALTSEV: Understand the explosion and the war on our street every day.
BEAUBIEN: The 40-year-old says rocket attacks are so common in Kharkiv, it's important to know how to help.
(SOUNDBITE OF TABLE SAW BUZZING)
BEAUBIEN: Back above ground, work crews are gutting damaged buildings. Many have had their windows blown out by explosions. This has led to a lot of storefronts being covered with plywood. This includes Anastasia Shapoval's favorite cafe, La Show To (ph). Shapoval and her friend Aleksandr Hodgkin (ph) say that the name of the cafe is three words that don't really mean anything but are quintessentially Kharkiv.
ALEKSANDR HODGKIN: To, you know...
SHAPOVAL: To ensure - it's just three different words. La - it's about what you're doing. Show - it's like...
SHAPOVAL: What? What? And To...
HODGKIN: To - it's like when a lot of English people say like, so we say To.
BEAUBIEN: The name of the cafe, Shapoval says, is like a young person saying whatever, but saying it in a way you'd only hear in Kharkiv. A few nights ago, she came here to the cafe, she says. It was full of people again for the first time since the Russian invasion. Despite the air raid sirens and the shelling and the missing windows, there's life here. And she says she loves this city. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Kharkiv, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.