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In Kyiv, restaurants live on despite the war

In the face of power cuts due to the Russia-Ukraine war, restaurants are restructuring menus to offer dishes that don't require electric heating

Dining in the dark (Photo: Rene Asmussen, Pexels)
Dining in the dark (Photo: Rene Asmussen, Pexels)

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The place goes dark at 6:00 pm as scheduled but customers at this upscale Kyiv restaurant are unfazed, happy to continue their meal and conversations.

Guided by her phone's flashlight, the waitress brings out dishes and distributes candles. She smiles as she waits for the generator to start.

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The atmosphere in the central Supra restaurant, bathed in the gentle glow of candlelight, is cosy, not sinister.

As winter approaches darkness descends on Kyiv at 4:00 pm. Places like Supra offer their customers access to some light and heat -- as well as wifi.

Alina Germash, a 36-year-old IT expert, has compiled a list of cafes where she can sit down with her laptop.

"You need to migrate all over the city and find a place where you can start your work," she said.

For much of the past month, Russian strikes have severely damaged Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

To ease the strain on the grid, the national energy operator has imposed controlled power cuts across the war-torn country.

In Kyiv, power cuts have been imposed daily for the past two weeks.

At Supra, the menu has been re-organised to take the new constraints into account.

Patrons are now offered cold entrees that do not require the use of electricity, dishes that can be reheated with the help of the generator, and drinks.

Filter coffee, kept warm on the stove, is especially popular with clients while it is three degrees Celsius (37 degrees Farenheit) outside.

Manager Valeria Mamysheva said little luxuries like filter coffee matter and can brighten up the day.

"We are constantly trying to find a way out of any situation and to make people happy because times are very tough," Mamysheva told AFP.

Open, power cuts or not 

Kyiv is under a 11:00 pm curfew but most restaurants close at 9:00 pm to give employees the time to clean up and catch public transport home.

Many supermarkets have had to adapt to maintain the proper storage temperatures for foods during power disruptions.

Small street stalls, equipped with candles or headlamps, have popped up to help residents with emergency shopping.

But some restaurants find generators too noisy or cannot afford the high fuel prices.

Power cuts are especially bad for business at Kyiv's 1708 pizzeria, which does not have a generator.

"A pizza oven runs on electricity, not on firewood, so we cannot work," lamented the owner, Ilona, speaking under the light of an LED lamp as staff waited for power to be restored.

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko has warned of a "worst-case" scenario this winter with "no electricity, water or heating" if Russia keeps up its attacks on the country's infrastructure.

Roman Khandys hopes to keep his cocktail bar open, power cuts or not.

"If a power cut coincides with the start of our work, we shift our opening hours," Khandys said, whisky bottles glinting in the candlelight behind him.

"If it's in the middle of the day, then we prepare food and clean."

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