Markus Peuser was in the elevator of his 10th-floor apartment when one of Russia’s earliest drone barrages against Kyiv hit a power plant, causing a small metal box to shudder to a halt.
At least it was a good time to lock it up, he said sarcastically. “I had come from the supermarket, so I had enough food and a bottle of wine,” he said. I was eating chocolate.
Attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, including power plants, intensified this fall after Russian forces suffered heavy losses on the battlefield.
Drones and missiles are causing death and destruction in civilian areas across the country, leaving millions without access to electricity, water and heat for extended periods of time.
They also turned mundane parts of everyday life into obstacle courses. Few things are more dangerous than getting into an elevator. In the event of a power failure, you risk being trapped in a confined, confined space for hours.
“I still use it and every time I feel like I’m stepping into a James Bond movie,” said Peuser, a German who runs a language school in Kyiv. He was evacuated when Russia invaded in his February, but returned to the city he calls his home in May.
Three months after his shopping spree, the private language school he runs with his Ukrainian business partner Viktoria Gorokhovska helped stockpile 5,000 emergency boxes for lifts in Kyiv.
They contain food, water, and wipes, and contain tranquilizer packets, with many people agreeing with the fear of being trapped in a small, confined space.
Some people in Ukraine now avoid elevators altogether. Gorochovska says she only has to climb the stairs in the low-rise building where she lives and works.
However, like most modern cities, Kyiv is dotted with skyscrapers and not everyone has the stamina or patience to walk up and down the many floors. Also, some people have health problems.
A pregnant woman was trapped in an elevator in November and went into labor, but authorities rescued her in time to give birth at a hospital.
Techiana and Vlad Konovalov moved home after struggling to care for a 20-kilogram puppy in their 20th-floor apartment.
Cirilla, a feisty 8-month-old golden retriever, needs to go out at least four times a day. The vet had warned that walking or running 20 flights of stairs on a regular basis could break her joints, so Vlad had to carry her every time her power went out. .
It was a gamble to use the elevator, even when it was on.
They had already lost a house when they moved to Kyiv from heavily bombed eastern Kharkiv, but this month they decided to waive the security deposit and move into a relatively comfortable ninth-floor apartment.
“We lost our money,” said Tetiana, watching Cirilla play near a miniature Big Ben in a “New England” apartment complex. “But our health and the dog’s health were more important.”
For those with no mobility options, an emergency box can be a lifeline.
Peuser and Gorokhovska launched an initiative to create 100 for employee and friend buildings in early autumn.
Two large companies then offered supplies, and the city authorities agreed to arrange deliveries, so the StartDeutsche School team turned the school into a packaging center.
Their box and others have gone viral on social media. In one of her TikTok videos, a girl explains a box. When she does, her power runs out, the lift stops, and she screams.
Posts like these have led Gorokhovska to commissions from faraway corners of the country, where she is now coordinating the packing of 3,000 boxes for the southern river port city of Dnipro.
There are few reports of theft, perhaps due to shared threats. “People were saying it would either be stolen or broken open in a few days,” she said.
“But in Ukraine now we understand that this is what everyone needs. If you bring it home today, you may be stranded without it tomorrow.”