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Ukrainian civilians mourn their daily lives lost to war

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we just heard, morale may be high among Ukrainian officials leading the resistance against Russia. But for millions of Ukrainian civilians, the past month of fighting has brought a dangerous and drastic alteration to their lives. And as NPR's Tim Mak reports from his travels through Ukraine, many are mourning the loss of daily routines that used to help them cope.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: In a dimly lit basement restaurant between air raid alerts, Olana Katola (ph) begins to talk about the guilt she feels.

OLANA KATOLA: A lot of people that are safe now, in relatively safe cities and towns, feel that they are not suffering enough.

MAK: She escaped Kyiv in the first week of the war and went to live with her family in Chernobyl, a city in western Ukraine. Katola recalls a conversation she had with a friend who felt a similar sort of guilt for leaving.

KATOLA: She called her therapist to ask for some advice because we empathize so much with those who still are there that we feel bad for being safe.

MAK: About 100 miles away, in the northwestern region of Rivne. Elvira Davidova (ph) has been trying to get her typical exercise. But the war has taken away her preferred form and that of an English language club was a part of.

ELVIRA DAVIDOVA: We have a community of English lovers, and we attended two yoga studios in Rivne.

MAK: Once martial law was established, the yoga studios closed. The teachers fled to Poland, meaning that the yogis were left without their regular classes and at a time where they felt inner peace was the most elusive.

DAVIDOVA: This is very sad because it was very helpful for our friends to cover our, let's say, emotions, uncontrolled emotions, because - right? - for now, our emotions are jumping too much from the high to the lowest level. So yoga for us was very, very helpful.

MAK: In central Ukraine, I ran into a group of Ukrainians at another restaurant and they were wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the logo for the Vinnytsia Wolves, a local sports team. To my surprise, it turns out there's an amateur football league in Ukraine. Here's the head coach of the Wolves, Dale Heffron.

DALE HEFFRON: It's actually been over 20 years. Yeah. But what they've lacked is equipment and coaching. Our skill level goes from Division 2 players, a couple of guys that could play Division 2, to guys that couldn't make a high school team but are enthusiastic, and that's pretty important.

MAK: All their games are canceled, and no one expects play will resume anytime soon. But Ukrainian dentist Dmytro Radlinsky (ph) fondly remembers his time with the Wolves.

You like (inaudible) throw people?

DMYTRO RADLINSKY: (Laughter). I'm a doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The answer is...

MAK: So is that a yes?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The answer is yes.

RADLINSKY: Yeah. Yeah. I do. On the field, it's allowed.

MAK: Both of these football fans say they're just too busy assisting refugees, organizing medical supplies and arranging equipment needs for the military.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: As much as I love to be doing therapy with football, it's impossible during this war. Now, when it's over, then we'll go right back to it because it is therapeutic.

MAK: For now, football is just another thing the war has taken from them. Tim Mak, NPR News, southern Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.