Kyiv Workers Find Their Way Online Even as Ukraine Faces Power Outages

KYIV, Ukraine — Artem Kudria lounged on a blue beanbag chair, his laptop plugged in, hoodie up and his feet — clad in orange socks — stretched out in front of him.

He was hard at work as a designer for a technology company. But this wasn’t his living room or even an office lounge space. Instead, he was working in the furniture showroom of a department store, not far from a colorful children’s bedroom display and a model kitchen that in another time and place might have been found at Ikea.

With power outages an all too familiar burden of everyday life in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the store, called Epicentr, has opened a large free space for people to set up and work.

“I have no power in my office, there was no light there this morning, that’s why I came here,” explained Mr. Kudria, 28. He added, “When people are facing challenges which are trying to destroy their lives, the healthy response is to resist, to be defiant.”

Around him, dozens of workers had taken up similar positions on the sprawling third floor in an area once packed with a selection of tiling, kitchen sinks and living room furniture.

As cities and towns across Ukraine grapple with outages, the result of Russian airstrikes targeting critical infrastructure, workers across all sectors have had to adapt quickly. And thanks to innovation, creativity and the generosity of businesses, they are finding a way to continue with one of the fundamental aspects of society — work, even if it is sometimes interrupted by air-raid alerts.

Grocery stores have set up couches and extension cords for those dealing with power outages and are also advertising their parking lots as a free working space where people can get online in their cars. Open laptops are a common sight in Kyiv’s metro stations, where people can get online and continue to work remotely while sheltering for hours amid the risk of airstrikes.

The free working hubs in places like Epicentr are comfortable and warm. The store has a small coffee machine, free internet and ample power outlets. On a recent day extension cords snaked across the floor.

Last week Mr. Kudria came to the store to work for three days when the electricity was out, and he was back again this week. He said the space had everything he needed to continue his design work.

“The main thing is to do at least something,” productive, he said, even if it only meant working for three or four hours.

Nearby, a large banner with the words the “Unbreakable Hub” — the name the store gave this free space — hung above a young man wearing headphones and editing audio clips. Across the room, under a display of lighting fixtures once perused by customers, workers hunched over laptops.

Yevheniia Hrulenko, 30, a speech and language therapist, was conducting a session with one of her clients from the store via video call after the power went out in her home.

“I have to come here at least a few times a week to conduct lessons,” she said.

She said her clients were getting used to adapting to the power outages, as well.

“At first, they would cancel lessons, because they didn’t have power,” she explained. “Now they are saying, ‘Please wait five minutes, I’m going to go the nearest cafe or a place with a generator.’”

Many of the outages in Kyiv can be anticipated — the local government has issued a schedule of when the power will be shut down in different areas to conserve energy. But airstrikes mean there are still unpredictable blackouts.

Iryna Bezverkha, who works as a consultant, rushed over to Epicentr on Tuesday afternoon when the power suddenly went out in her home.

“When they are planned or scheduled outages, I try to adapt,” said Ms. Bezverkha, 49, who tried to adjust her schedule around the blackout. “But when I have a call scheduled and I have an emergency outage, I come here.”

To one side of her, a wedding photographer was editing photos; an accountant sat on the other side.

“It is a defiance,” she said, to the uncertainty of life in a country at war. “You keep things going and keep doing what you are doing in your routine life. We just have to adapt.”

In a central Kyiv subway station during Tuesday morning’s rush hour, commuters crowded platforms and brushed past each other as they hustled to connecting trains, an indication of just how many people were headed to work.

“Right now I’m actually going from one office to the other,” said Olha Dorofeyeva, as she rushed toward an arriving train.

She said she works for a governmental organization that has three office spaces in Kyiv, and the power had just cut out in the first one, forcing her to relocate. Ms. Dorofeyeva, 40, said she changes locations twice a day to keep ahead of the blackouts.

As she put it: “We all have certain duties, and each one of us has his or her own battlefront.”

Many people in Kyiv said their determination to keep working stemmed from a commitment to help keep Ukrainian society functioning, as much as the practical need to provide for their families.

Serhii Titenko, 34, who works as a quality assurance engineer testing software for an IT company, described how his office has become more resistant to the outages.

“We have a little ‘invincibility point’ in our office,” he said. “It’s warm and we’ve got power.”

He said his company purchased generators and a Starlink terminal, which offers online connection via orbiting satellites, bypassing conventional providers.

“All are trying to work,” he said. “If you need power, you’d buy a generator or use alternatives, like car batteries at home. Long story short, none of my friends left, everyone is trying to stay here, be useful and work.”

The Ukrainian government has made it a priority to keep the country’s internet services functioning, searching for ways to ensure that mobile providers have enough energy to power their operations even when the grid fails. In an interview, Mykhailo Fedorov, the Ukrainian minister for digital transformation, said that the number of people accessing the internet using mobile data in Kyiv during the second week of this month was comparable to the same week one year earlier, before the Russian invasion.

Many small businesses, stores and restaurants now have generators, which has made working in those industries, which cannot be done remotely, less difficult.

Anna Polivoda, 32, works in Salon Special in central Kyiv and has spent the last several weeks working as the business owners have made it more resilient to power outages. When the regular blackouts first began in the autumn, she had to shift all of her scheduled haircuts to daytime hours, though she sometimes had a colleague holding up flashlight if it got too dark.

Unable to plug in the blow-dryers, Ms. Polivoda had to send clients home with wet hair. But that didn’t stop them from coming.

“People just got to used to these difficulties,” she said. “No one was angry, everyone understood.”

Then, late last month, the salon owners bought a generator that allows them to keep the lights on and use the blow-dryers. They bought a larger boiler to ensure a surplus of hot water.

For now, Ms. Polivoda’s clients keep booking haircuts and other beauty services.

“It’s an act of resistance, in some ways, for normal people to be doing normal things, like getting their hair done, their nails done, going to get coffee, the cinema, the theater,” she said. “It really stands in opposition to the war.”

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn and Natalia Yermak contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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