Kharkiv, Ukraine – «I hate the American media,» a Ukrainian told me at Protagonist cocktail bar Saturday night in this Ukrainian city of 1.4 million less than a marathon-distance from Russia. I’d arrived that morning from Kyiv, and I’d just got out of a jazz show at the city’s Philharmonic, where a friend from Lviv had played along with an American drummer and others.
The sleek, welcoming bar with a turntable in the middle was crowded but not uncomfortably packed; some people sat at tables or in armchairs or on barstools. The kitchen was serving modern high-end Ukrainian food–I had chicken liver and peppers with potatoes in a Bechamel sauce, with some inventive cocktails.
I was sitting at a corner of the bar talking with a few Ukrainians, who discovered right away that I was an American. They were happy that an American was there, and, after advising me what food to order, included me in two or maybe morer rounds of shots of Italian amaro. Their English was perfect.
Read more: «I am useless for war, because I was raised for peace; or, how we joked about the war.»
«We’ve been living with this [Russia threat] for eight years, but the media is making it seem worse now,» said another.
Photo from Protagonist Bar’s Instagram account
A Ukrainian girl who sounded like she could be from NYC was sitting a few seats down, writing on her ipad keyboard. I like a place that even on a busy Saturday night permits book-reading or writing.
A lawyer who likes to paint and write, she told me business colleagues from the USA had been cancelling their trips here to Kharkiv.
We could survey the whole busy restaurant from the corner. I looked at the dozens of people laughing and talking.
I asked my new friends, «Do you think most people here are talking about Russia?»
«But are they thinking about it?»
«Of course. Everyone is thinking about it, thanks to that American news.»
And it’s not just American media. I hear more and more often from American experts and Russia watchers that the situation is bad; the warnings are increasing.
This s such a contrast from the mood on the ground that it jars my brain.
«We’re hungry,» said one of the Ukrainians. «We want to succeed, and if you work hard here, you really can achieve success. The taxes are low, you can find clients and hire staff from around the world. It’s a great city to work in. Ukraine is a great country. Life is good here.»
Read more: «Russian-speaking Doesn’t Equal Russia.» A Brief Look at Kharkiv, a Bilingual Ukrainian City.»
Find more stories about the Russia threats at our Defending Ukraine page.
Joe Lindsley, an American journalist (follow on Instagram or LinkedIn), is editor of Lviv Now.
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Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.