The war is coming to Kiev | the new yorker
I took the escalator up to the platform, which dates from the early 70s and has a rather striking Soviet-era mosaic showing a square-jawed scientist and a factory worker muscular. About sixty people crowded there, most of them lying on blankets on the cold floor. The place had been packed the night before when missiles rained down, but it had thinned out as people ventured above ground to get personal items or groceries, making the increasingly complicated quest in Kiev these days. All restaurants are closed and only a handful of supermarkets are open, all with queues that can stretch for hours. That it would not be an easy task to secure food in a major city in central Europe, with a population larger than that of Rome or Paris, seemed as grimly surreal as the missiles.
A pair of three-year-old twins were playing tag along the platform, screaming and laughing as they chased each other. Their mother, Victoria, said they had been here two days already. “I don’t tell them fairy tales,” she says. “I say these sirens are for a reason, there are tanks, they’re firing, and you should hide to stay safe.” They had a small patch of concrete near one wall, on which Victoria had laid a number of blankets, as well as plastic bags of food. Victoria told me that girls call air raid sirens “cows” because they think they sound like moos. They already have a set routine: waking up, washing their hands, brushing their teeth, eating yoghurt or pasta that Victoria has boiled at home, then reading a book about dinosaurs.
The fact that the Ukrainian military has so far withstood the invading Russian force seems to be near universal pride in Kyiv. Ukraine’s Defense Minister said that any citizen who wants a rifle can get one by going to official distribution centers and presenting a passport. Thousands of weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens scattered throughout the city might not repel an invasion, but they would certainly complicate any occupation. I went to see one of these centres, set up on the grounds of a public school. A hundred people crowded there; dozens of green boxes full of guns stood behind an iron door.
Outside, I met two women in their forties, Olena and Oksana, who had signed up the day before. Each had an AK-47 slung over their shoulder. Olena is a university administrator; Oksana owns a wood processing business. “Of course it’s scary; it could not be otherwise,” Olena said. But she had to do something, she said. Oksana said her husband was in the Ukrainian army. “I couldn’t leave him and my land alone.” The two women, friends for years, had an overflowing, almost playful energy. We stood on the street and talked about towns in Ukraine and Olena’s Cossack roots and old Russian folk songs – for a moment you could almost forget how absolutely terrible it all is.
The moment, alas, did not last. As the war drags on, Russia’s frustration at the lack of a quick victory may translate into more indiscriminate violence. The prospects for large-scale fighting inside Kyiv are dire. At 11 o’clock PMUkrainian authorities sent out an alert that overnight the capital was set to suffer the heaviest barrage of airstrikes and rocket attacks ever seen in a long and terrible week.