Olga, 40, is in tears. She is not from the cold, which is intense first thing in the morning in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, but from thinking that she does not know what lies ahead in the coming days. The inhabitants try to prepare for the worst, if that is possible. The clock passes a few minutes past eight in the morning and fifty people wait in front of the Silpo supermarket in an orderly manner and almost in silence. Olga, who lives with her children aged 13 and 20, goes to do the shopping without knowing very well how many days she should do it. No one knows how long there will be food on the supermarket shelves if the conflict continues. “We see that nobody is helping Ukraine, which is in Europe, while Russia has no limits or borders,” she laments.
“We are all preparing ourselves because we don’t know what lies ahead or when we are going to be able to leave,” comments Vladimir, 40, in the same vein, after having spent a couple of hours shopping at the Ultramarket in the Multimall shopping center . This father of two children, ages six and eight, acknowledges that both he and his wife are avoiding giving them details of what is happening. “We try to keep them out of the war to preserve their psychological stability. We may talk to you about it a little later,” he says.
Those queues to get food, the partial reactivation of traffic or seeing people from one place to another around the city – even a runner doing sports – represent a small resurrection of daily life after a weekend of forced lethargy. The Ukrainian capital has just emerged from a 39-hour curfew that has kept the population at home from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning.
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But that resurrection is, however, a mirage. Kiev lives under the yoke of war. It has reached that point of color blindness in which the white arrows and stripes that mark directions and divide the asphalt into lanes do not fulfill their function. Nor the red, yellow and green of traffic lights. There is hardly any traffic to regulate and the few vehicles that circulate do not see the need to stop at light signals. But anyone who wanders or circulates through the streets of Kiev these days can be considered guilty until proven otherwise. A certain vacuum of power and impunity is perceived, free bar to raise the weapon to the minimum. The situation frequently becomes tense in the face of the barricades that mark out the city.
Furniture, garbage containers, rubble, cars, tires, trees, sandbags… Anything is useful to mount them. A barrier that they know will be useless in case the Russian tanks break into the city. But you have to try. Any way at all. For this reason, citizens also collect thousands of glass bottles. They are not for recycling, but for preparing molotov cocktails. They are also aware that they do not even tickle the tanks. But there they are and, like the barricades, they fulfill their reassuring function.
Two old cars, a white Volga and a green Giguli, serve to build one of those fortresses at one of the intersections on Vadima Getmana Avenue. Both have been chosen to be sacrificed for the cause. Among the queue of vehicles that is generated, Sasha, 45, is hoarse and does not stop making gestures for them to move forward or stop. He is dressed as a military man and armed with his AK47 rifle, but in reality he is a civilian. His role explains well that thin line between the militias and the professionals of the Security Forces. It is a system increasingly implanted in Kiev since last Thursday the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
Igor, 50, walks around the place proudly also wearing his kalashnikov. None of those present, identified with a yellow armband, are amused at first by the reporter’s presence, but they end up letting him roam free for a while and even agree to let him take some photos. Igor, who lives right in one of the corner buildings that crowns the intersection, shows in the back the playground that these days they use as a laboratory to make homemade incendiary bombs. In the basement, which they use as a refuge, his son Danil, 21, opens his jacket in the middle of a wide smile and shows the pistol that he carries at heart level in a holster. He says that his father gave it to him but that he has never shot himself in his life.
Nearby, in the center of the several blocks that occupy the student area, one of those mountains of pots and pans that form a barricade has been piled up at an intersection. Even a kitchen and a door can be seen in the mess. Three engineering students walk around the place, explaining that they take turns with other classmates every two hours, day and night, and are organized through chat. They are all also equipped with a yellow armband improvised with wide adhesive tape. Two companions talk with them for a few minutes. “Kiev will stay safe, strong and Ukraine,” says Nastya, a 21-year-old Linguistics student, as she expels the smoke from the last drag of her cigarette.
Next to them they have several boxes of cocktails already ready to be lit and thrown. Also, next to a tree, they have accumulated hundreds of helmets to continue preparing more handmade projectiles of this type. They have no weapons other than those fire bottles. Alexander, 22, explains the plan: “If we see Russian soldiers or vehicles, we notify the Police or the Army and give their position. We throw a few cocktails and run to the shelter.”
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