Ukraine's residents are cast in the shadow of war

Kyiv, Ukraine - Lines at cash machines, closed shops, and panic buying: In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, many are dreading what will come next now that the Russian invasion is under way. Even so, most are intent on remaining in the city.

Residents stand in line at a local drug store to get supplies in Kyiv on Thursday.
Residents stand in line at a local drug store to get supplies in Kyiv on Thursday.  © IMAGO / Ukrinform

On the day of the Russian invasion, the sense of fear is palpable on the streets of Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Long lines form in front of cash machines in the city center, as the danger of power cuts prompts people to get cash while they still can.

Even in neighborhoods that are usually lively, most shops, cafés, and restaurants are shut. In the supermarkets, people stock up on drinking water and other necessities.

Nevada activists secure more than enough signatures to put abortion access on the ballot
Abortion Rights Nevada activists secure more than enough signatures to put abortion access on the ballot

A young woman carrying two bottles of water and some bread simply says: "It's all very bad." Still, she has no intention of fleeing the city.

Early on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military operation in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine - over 250 miles from the capital. But other parts of the country are also reporting attacks, and few people in the country feel safe.

Many of the nearly three million inhabitants of Kyiv were jerked from their sleep at dawn by the thundering sound of explosions. Kyiv's deputy mayor reassured the population in a television announcement that the blasts had not taken place within the city, but in the surrounding area - in Brovary and Boryspil, the location of the city's international airport.

The mayor of Boryspil tried to reassure his own town in turn. "You've heard the explosions. But do not worry, it is our own forces reacting to unknown aircraft."

Residents prepared to take a subway and withdrew cash in Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday, after the president declared martial law in the country following Russia's military operation.
Residents prepared to take a subway and withdrew cash in Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday, after the president declared martial law in the country following Russia's military operation.  © IMAGO / Xinhua

Kyiv residents prepare for the worst

Vehicles lined up in backed up traffic to leave Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday.
Vehicles lined up in backed up traffic to leave Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday.  © imago/Xinhua

Some time before 8 AM, sirens go off in Kyiv: the air raid alert. It's only a test, it emerges. Some pedestrians are unconcerned, others rush to the nearest metro station.

Just like in Moscow and in other former Soviet cities, the underground stations were constructed to function as air raid bunkers. Later, the real air raid sirens sounded.

The turnstiles are open at the Metro stop Zoloti Vorota, you can enter and use the trains for free. The shopkeeper of a small kiosk is primarily concerned for her children, whom she left in her apartment in the outskirts of the city. Everything might be over in a week, she hopes.

Joke of the Day for May 19, 2024: Get your funny on
Joke of the Day Joke of the Day for May 19, 2024: Get your funny on

"They'll have that and that'll be the end of it," she says, referring to the separatist areas in the eastern Donbas region of the Ukraine.

In the meantime though, she is prepared for the worst: "There'll be power cuts, we've come to terms with the idea of sitting in the candlelight, waiting for it to be over."

Others are sticking to their routines. Commuters driving to work respectfully stop at a zebra crossing, a jogger passes by, people walk their dogs as usual.

Yesterday, a couple had been considering to flee to Lviv in western Ukraine. "Today, the danger is everywhere. Nobody knows where they will strike next," the 40-year-old husband says. Today is about picking up cash from the ATM and buying the necessary food.

Is he worried about being drafted into the army? "Yes, I don't see the point of dying in war, but then again, everything has changed today."

It is not just the capital of Kyiv that is in crisis mode. The situation in the east of the country is even more tense.

"We woke up to the sound of explosions at five o'clock today," a 56-year-old nurse in Kharkiv recounts over the phone. She lives at the very edge of the city, just 25 miles from the Russian border.

The Ukrainian airbase in Chuhuiv is nearby - presumably that's what was being attacked.

"I understood at once, those were real explosions," she says, having already fled the conflicts near the separatist regions in 2014.

"People are very shocked, those who have a car are packing their things, there are long traffic jams," the nurse says.

She would like to flee as well, but her family does not have a car. She has been told that trains would be made available to bring people from Kharkiv to Odessa in the south and into western Ukraine. She is considering it.

"But this is where I belong, this is my home," she says, chocking back tears. "Where else am I to go?"

Cover photo: IMAGO / Ukrinform

More on Ukraine conflict: