This is one of an occasional series of dispatches about life amid the war in Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Just steps from the rush-hour traffic on Kyiv’s busy Taras Shevchenko boulevard, a few retirees prune bushes in a quiet, green oasis.
“They started coming when the war broke out,” said Natalia Belemets, the manager of this small botanical garden. “They want to help.”
AV Fomin Botanical Garden is one of the oldest in Ukraine. It has stood in the center of the capital, Kyiv, for almost two centuries.
Garden staff members were encouraged to leave Kyiv or work remotely when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. But shortly after that, the need for seasonal work and garden maintenance arose, so the volunteers organize social media and come to help.
“This botanical garden is a pearl of Kyiv, a green jewel in the center of the city,” said Ms. Belemets on a recent morning. It is important to keep it beautiful, he added, “not only for us, but for the city and the country.”
Volunteers do simple work in the garden, such as digging, collecting branches and watering. At one point, there were about 20 people volunteering each week. These days, the number has decreased because many people have returned to full time jobs.
However, new faces are always coming. While speaking Ms. Belemets, two women arrived and were taken to a bush by a long-time volunteer. They immediately got down to work, one of the women pulling the branches of a low bush, a brown leather purse slung over her shoulder.
Svetlana Sitko, 62, has been volunteering at the garden since April 2022, when the horrors unleashed by Russian troops on the suburbs of Kyiv, including Bucha, in their failed attempt to seize the capital recently became obviously.
“After Bucha, after Kyiv, we have to do it,” sighed Ms. Sitko. He pointed to his chest: “It starts in the heart. We want to do something in the city, for the people, to help.
Her hands, clad in blue gardening gloves, gestured animatedly as she talked about the orchard she and her husband planted in their cottage outside Kyiv: pears, apple trees, blackberries, blueberries. , currant and honeysuckle.
A retired child psychologist, Ms. Sitko said that when he left the garden, he would change out of his purple leggings and dirt-stained shoes and go to another wartime volunteer job: making camouflage nets for snipers.
Her husband, Yuri, tended the flowers nearby. He was the real gardener, he continued. Married for 36 years, they were born four years apart on February 24. That’s the same date Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.
Last May, he said, a soldier came to the garden with his wife and a small child in his arms. He told her that he had a few hours free and wanted to see “something nice” with his family.
“I really think these guys up front really need it,” he said. “They will come back after the war.”
Finding beauty in the garden, he added, “is important for the soul – and the eyes.”
Daria Mitiuk contributed reporting.