August 14, 2022

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For some Ukrainians, war forces dramatic career changes

For some Ukrainians, war forces dramatic career changes

Denys Zhupnyk dreams of concerts and festivals as he drives a taxi around Kyiv, picking up and dropping off passengers.

Before Russia invaded his country, the 34-year-old was a radio and TV host working for Ukraine’s most popular stations. He greeted pop stars on red carpets and took to the stage in front of big crowds.

But, like many Ukrainians, Zhupnyk had to dramatically change how he makes ends meet as war ravages the country’s economy, upending whole industries and forcing countless people — especially men — to join the fight.

“The car that used to drive me to work is now my workplace,” he said, standing in front of his Volkswagen parked behind an old garage.

Now with Ukraine directing all its efforts at repelling the Russian invasion, the country’s entertainment industry has largely ground to a halt and he no longer has a full-time job.

“I was forced to do this because I have no permanent salary and our savings are quickly running out,” Zhupnyk, wearing a grey hoodie, said.

“I have two kids, a wife, a dog. They all want to eat and do normal things,” he said.

Zhupnyk misses his old life, when he presented open-air music festivals and wore black-tie suits on television shows.

As he drives through Kyiv, accepting offers from clients on his phone, his mind is elsewhere.

“Every second and every minute I dream about what I was doing before,” he said.

“I dream of concerts, TV sets, radio streams.”

Since Moscow rolled tanks into Ukraine on February 24, thousands have been killed and millions fled.

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With the capital emptying and unemployment rising, Ukraine has pitched for Western aide to keep the economy afloat.

“Careers that people spent years building are being destroyed,” Zhupnyk said.

Ballet stage to building site

Professional dancer and choreographer Oleksiy Busko knows all too well what this means.

War forced him to swap ballet stages for building sites.

After 22 years of dancing in theatres, including a decade as a soloist, Busko is now having to carry sandbags and drill into walls.

“Now I have nothing to do in my sphere, it has completely stopped, so I was forced to work as a builder,” the muscly 38-year-old told AFP.

“At the moment this is the only thing that saves me materialistically.”

Like Zhupnyk, Busko does not have military training, so is not first in line to be sent to the front to fight.

Before Moscow’s attack, Busko performed emotional modern dances, accompanied by the sound of opera singing.

Now his day is filled with the sounds of drilling and heavy machinery on the building site.

For other Ukrainians, it is not the first time that war has made them change their lives completely.

Cameraman Nikita Priymenko fled his home in Donetsk in 2014 when war erupted with Moscow-backed separatists, settling in Kyiv.

But with the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion, the 33-year-old’s life has changed dramatically again.

With no work in the arts, he has switched life on film sets for working as a mechanic in motorcycle garage.

“Until February 24, I was working as a cinema operator,” he told AFP after working on a motorcycle.

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“I am working here because I have nothing to live off.”

He is getting used to the fact his work has “changed from artistic to physical” and that the salary is far smaller.

“But at least it’s some kind of money.”