In Ukraine’s ghost town, a florist stays open to ‘lift people’s spirits’

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Most business owners have closed up shop and fled Mikolaiv to Ukraine, but florist Angela Kalisnik continues to sell tulips and roses a short drive from the front line.

“We didn’t know war was coming,” said the 25-year-old.

“Flowers continue to bloom in our area and we don’t want to throw them away.”

Snow is falling on the wide streets of the deserted town, and only a few people have ventured out into the freezing cold.

Outside the city, soldiers fight the invading Russian forces.

But inside Kalisnik’s shop, multicolored bouquets line the wall.

And against all odds, there were customers.

A man comes out with a huge bouquet for his mother’s birthday.

A few days ago, a passerby came by to buy a bouquet for a woman who had found and returned her lost wallet.

And many soldiers flocked to buy flowers for their girlfriends for Women’s Day on Tuesday, she said.

Kalisnik says she closed her shop a week after Russia invaded her country on Feb. 24, but then decided to reopen.

“War is war, but people go on living, celebrating birthdays,” she says.

“We need to lift people’s spirits and keep the economy going.”

A few steps away, dozens of people line up for an ATM. Some have been waiting for more than two hours.

Vitaly is annoyed.

“I don’t understand, two days ago everything was normal,” he said, without giving his middle name.

“But now we can only withdraw 400 hryvnia ($13) at a time”, so we have to withdraw several times in a row.

– No flowers for Russia –

For several days, the Russians shelled Mykolaiv, which lies en route from the strategic port city of Odessa some 130 kilometers (80 miles) along the Black Sea coast.

But the Ukrainians managed to repel the Russians on their doorstep, says regional governor Vitaly Kim, and “the battle is being won”.

At a Friday press conference outside City Hall, the young politician assures attendees that the Russians have been pushed 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) out of town.

“They thought we would welcome them with flowers, they did not expect such resistance,” says Kim, who admits to not “knowing anything about the war 15 days ago”.

Thousands of civilians have fled Mikolaiv in recent days, heading for Odessa, so far spared from the bombardments.

The mass exodus left the city almost empty.

Most shops are closed and supermarkets that are still open are running out of pasta, rice and preserves.

Army Chaplain Valentin prays that the nightmare will soon be over.

“The war is coming but God willing, it will end quickly,” said the man in his fifties.

On the street, an elderly woman named Valentina walks home with her stepdaughter Maria.

They live together now after the male relatives left to fight. They know that if the bombs start dropping, they have to hide behind a solid wall or dive into the bathtub.

“We are going to win this war, God help us,” Valentina said.

cf/ah/har

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