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Fear mounts in Kyiv as Russian troops approach

Alexander Savitsky Kyiv, Ukraine
March 1, 2022

Long lines at supermarkets, ongoing curfews, nights spent with strangers in underground train stations — DW's Alexander Savitsky reports on life in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, amid Russia's continuing military strikes.

 A soldier amid ruins
Russian troops have begun targeting the Ukrainian capital, KyivImage: Efrem Lukatsky/AP/dpa/picture alliance

On Monday, day five of Russia's massive attack on Ukraine,  Kyiv's defenders seemed to have been successful at pushing the Russian attackers back to the outskirts and outer suburbs of the capital of Ukraine. Inside the city, the Ukrainian military is hunting for Russian saboteurs.

For civilians, it has come down to basic survival — and not just because of the military strikes rocking their city. For the first time in decades, there's a shortage of medicine, bread and other basic food in the city.

On Monday morning, there were a lot more people and vehicles on the city streets than in previous days. After a day and a half of complete curfew, many residents were leaving their homes to replenish stocks of food, drinking water and medicine.

The city authorities said they would deliver food to shops, but it was still apparent there were shortages throughout the city. In central Kyiv, locals queued for up to two hours in front of supermarkets. There was neither bread, nor fresh fruit or vegetables. The only dairy products still available were those with a long shelf life.

Locals in Kyiv queue to use a bank machine
Lines grew in front of grocery stores, pharmacies and ATMs in KyivImage: Lilia Rzheutska/DW

In many supermarkets, the only products available were cakes, pastries and tobacco, as well as alcohol. 

Most shoppers showed understanding that they couldn't get what they wanted. But they were also very concerned about how this city of 3 million was going to continue to be supplied with groceries. The closest farmer's market was already closed by February 24, after the first shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv took place.

City services still ticking

Queues in front of the pharmacies were somewhat shorter. But even here, there were between 20 and 30 people waiting.

"Why are the pharmacies not considered critical infrastructure?" asked an older woman who was clearly frightened. She is diabetic, she said, and other family members have high blood pressure. "My sister has a heart condition and my son-in-law is epileptic," she added. "The pharmacies should be staying open around the clock, especially now!"

So far, Kyiv's municipal authorities have managed to largely keep city services operating. Electricity, heating and hot water are all available — apart from some of the neighborhoods where there has been fighting.

Fiber-optic networks and mobile internet services remain stable. Public transport is running, even if it is not regular. One growing problem is the city's garbage. It's almost impossible to remove.

After consulting with the military leadership, the city authorities extended the duration of the nighttime curfew on Tuesday. It now begins at 8 p.m., rather than 10 p.m., and lasts until 8 the next morning.

Hunting for saboteurs

No private vehicles are allowed to use lanes that are usually reserved for public transport. Only cargo vehicles, public transport, ambulances and the military or police may be on this part of the road.

"Cars moving along these lanes may be targeted as vehicles belonging to saboteurs and reconnaissance teams," the city authorities warned.

Man on ground with his arms spread as a Ukrainian soldier with a rifle stands over him
Officials fear that Russian saboteurs will attack city infrastructure and cause panicImage: Aytac Unal/AA/picture alliance

They also reminded residents that martial law is in effect and urged people to remain calm and not to put themselves in any danger.

The tightening of measures is to fend off the danger presented by potential saboteurs, as well as looting — although the latter is rare.

On social media, the military has warned that Russian soldiers out to sabotage city infrastructure or worse might disguise themselves as Ukrainian officers or by wearing civilian clothes. They would likely be moving around in ambulances or in civilian vehicles with Ukrainian license plates. The Ukrainian military also published a  list of captured vehicles that had been reportedly used by Russian saboteurs. There were almost 30 of them.

Residents should inform the army or city authorities of suspicious activity, the military said.

Underground metro stations are among the few public spaces where people are allowed to gather during the curfew. Four have been designated as bomb shelters, but residents also sleep in other stations; if there isn't enough room inside, then they also stay at the entrances to the station.

Kyiv: Seeking shelter in subway stations

Nights spent underground

Residents usually come in the evenings, before the curfew starts, to spend the night underground. There are adults and children, and some even bring their pets with them. Other locals spend the night in their basements or in the underground garages in their apartment buildings.

People bring food and drink with them. There are drinking fountains and toilets in the stations. Here, under the earth, you can't really hear the sirens and the explosions above.

In the mornings, residents leave the underground stations and rush home to replenish food supplies — and just take a deep breath and relax.

There are air raid sirens during the day as well, but some people hardly even pay any attention any more.

"The sirens go off often but the all-clear is not always given," says a middle-aged man. "I can't just keep running back and forth."

The man is playing with his two children in the rear courtyard of his building. Just then, the air raid sirens begin to wail again.

This article was originally written in Russian.

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