Kyiv: seeking shelter in the metro

Paweł Pieniążek form Kyiv – 02/25/2022. Originally published in Tygodnik Powszechny.

Some of the inhabitants of the Ukrainian capital will spend the night underground. At the stations, they lie on blankets, mats or simply on the floor. Some with suitcases, others with what they grabbed in a hurry. Their faces show fear, sadness, confusion and weariness.

A beautiful sun, heralding spring, flooded the empty streets of Kiev, population three million. It was difficult to come across someone enjoying it. Maybe the man playing squash and the couples lying on wooden lounge chairs. The rays of the sun did not reach many inhabitants, because they passed the next hours in shelters and metro stations. It was the latter that enjoyed the greatest popularity among those looking for security. At stations, some of them lie on blankets, mats or simply on the floor. Some with suitcases, others with what they grabbed in a hurry. Their faces show fear, sadness, confusion and weariness.

On the morning of February 25, the situation worsened in the Obolon district in the northern part of Kiev. There was shelling and a group of saboteurs tried to force their way deep into it. There were also clashes with Ukrainian troops that eventually repelled the attack.

15-year-old Oleksandra was left home alone. Her father serves in the oblast of Vinnytsia, and her mother took her sister and two dogs to her grandfather in the countryside of Zhytomyr. The teenager was left alone with a dog. She spent the night in the basement, because the mayor’s office warned the inhabitants of Kiev about planned air raids by the Russian army. According to UN figures at least 25 people have died since the start of the mass Russian invasion on February 24.

“I came out of the shelter after six. I managed to sleep but the sirens wailed again,” says Oleksandra.

She took the dog in her arms, went to the subway and rode to the Kontraktova Square station, located closer to the center, to wait out the threat. Other inhabitants of Obolon also gathered there. Wiktoria, 43, came with her family of six after her husband saw a tank standing in the yard. She took care of Oleksandra, who was alone at the station. When clashes broke out in the north, the metro stopped going to Obolon.

“We didn’t take anything, just a little water, documents and some canned goods,” she says. “I hope we’ll be able to get back by the curfew.

Oleksandr: I have to get home

Beginning on Wednesday it is forbidden to be out on the streets from 10 pm to 7 in the morning.

73-year-old Oleksandr left Obołoń in the morning to pick up a friend who had decided to go to some land she owns outside Kyiv. She was scared, he said, so he didn’t want her traveling alone. When Oleksandr was on his way home, he got off at the Kontraktowy Square, because it was the end of the line for several hours. He decided to cover the last 7 km of the route on foot.

“I have to get home, I’m not sitting here,” he says. “I’ve been sitting at home, so at least I’ll get a walk in now.”

He doesn’t look worried or scared. So far he has not descended into a shelter even once. He says that while rockets sometimes hit residential homes, they have not themselves been targeted by the Russian army so far. That’s why he spends time in his apartment. Although he himself admits that his logic could be fatal.

Oleksandr cites an anecdote. During the blockade of Leningrad, a wise professor studying probability stated that there were so many houses in the city that, theoretically, there was practically no chance of a shell hitting his house. So he decided not to take cover. One day news reached him that an elephant had died in the zoo from the shelling, and there was only one in the whole of Leningrad. “Damn the theory of probability!” He said and went down to the basement.

Oleksandr meanwhile set off in the direction of his house, hoping that the walk would turn out to be good for his health.