Olexiy Shevchenko’s cinema features war every day but the good news for Ukrainians is that it is on screen, rather than real life.
Which is not to say that the war is forgotten in the movie theatre, where there are deep cracks in the ceiling, insulation oozing out like a bleeding wound.
Russia’s war against Ukraine that has been raging since February 2022 has left a mark on Irpin, north of Kiev, like the rest of the embattled nation.
In the town, you see shattered walls, buildings that have been destroyed and tattered fences wherever you look.
There are deep holes in the asphalt directly in front of the small cinema called Perun. The whole front of the building was destroyed by soldiers throwing grenades and mines in March 2022, Shevchenko said, showing images on his phone.
Nothing but rubble remains of his second cinema, just 3km away.
He had just brought his family to the border with Moldova as the cinemas were attacked. Shevchenko, 39, was not allowed to leave the country under Ukrainian regulations that prevent men who could fight from leaving during the war.
Shevchenko watched the destruction of Irpin on television, he says.
For him, cinemas are a family business, as his mother ran one in the 1970s.
Watching movies there gave Shevchenko his love of films, a passion that continues to this day. He likes fantasy films best, he says.
Shevchenko is very reserved and serious, laughing only rarely.
After the fighting moved away from Irpin, he came back, facing the ruin of his business.
He was unwilling to give up, however, and started by filling in the bullet holes.
By summer, his family had come back and, together, they cleaned up and renovated the Perun cinema. It reopened, thanks to the combined efforts of his sister, mother, nephew and others.The German government also chipped in, with money that enabled him to buy a chip for his projector, costing several thousand dollars, to light up the silver screen again.
People are busy rebuilding Ukraine, even as Moscow’s war rages on. Flats are being built, destroyed power lines are being repaired, and shops are reopening.
That is enormously important, says Germany’s government commissioner for the reconstruction, Development State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth.
You cannot wait until the end of the war, you need to give people economic prospects, jobs and encouragement, he says.
“We have to send the message to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin: No matter how many times you destroy the bridge – we will rebuild it.”
During a recent visit to the area, Flasbarth pledged a further US$212mil (RM988mil) in aid from Germany, bringing the total to almost US$1bil (RM4.6bil).
You have to repair what is broken, he says, even if it could then be destroyed again.
That is what everyone is afraid of – that the Russians will come back, and with them, devastation, says Shevchenko, standing at the popcorn machine. Suddenly he falters and goes silent. The war and the Russians are a hard topic.
His theatre shows 12 films a day for up to 500 guests a week. That is nowhere near as many as before the war, but what counts is creating jobs, paying taxes and doing what you can to rebuild, says Shevchenko. “We have to look forward, we have to live.”
As he speaks, a class of school children comes into the screening room, their excited chatter echoing through the entrance hall.
The little ones, mostly 10 and 11 years old, are enjoying a cartoon.
“To give the children a little distraction, I took them to the cinema,” the teacher says.
The distraction is important, for children and adults alike, as somehow, life must go on.
“To forget that there is a war going on here. To feel like children. But at the same time, to remember that we were under occupation, that the war continues.” And to gather strength to continue the fight, she says. – dpa/Nico Pointner