As Russian missiles rain down on their homes, many people of Kyiv have moved permanently into the safe shelter of the metro.
After being thrown back from the capital numerous times over the past week, Russian forces have decided to revert to their doctrinal terror tactics of pounding the city with bombs, rockets and artillery to try to break the defenders and their will.
On March 1, at least two missiles aimed for Kyiv’s TV tower struck the neighborhood of Dorohozhychy, damaging several buildings, killing five people and temporarily shutting down TV. One missile struck next to the historic Babyn Yar memorial to the victims of Nazi atrocities from the second world war, the last time Europe saw a conflict on a scale so large.
Tetiana Boyko, 20, saw them coming.
“I was on the street. We were returning home to pick up some necessities. We were literally approaching the street crossing when we saw the missile. I thought it was a plane at first because it was winged,” Boyko said, as her husky, Curry, watched plaintively.
Thinking there was just the one missile, Boyko thought about returning to the safety of the Dorohozhychy metro station, where hundreds have been taking shelter in the past week. Then the second missile came and she sprinted back for the cover of her nearby apartment building.
“People began to panic and run for cover. Someone was just walking calmly, with no regard for his life, because death was very close,” she said.
The aftermath of the attack was plain to see – blackened buildings, twisted beams and thousands of chunks of shattered glass and stone.
Fortunately, Kyiv’s extremely deep metro tunnels are a perfect place to hide. Descending into the cavernous cool of the Dorohozhychy station, one is greeted with the sight of wall to wall blankets, tents, piles of personal goods and people sitting or lying on the floor, with their children and their pets, waiting and hoping that the Russians will be defeated and that they could have their lives back.
Around 11 a.m. on the day after the missile attack, the place was emptier than usual. Many people go out during the day, to attend to their business, go home, wash up or change clothes, said Volodymyr Borodyansky, 70, a nearby resident who does the same. Yesterday’s missile exploded behind him as he was coming back from his house and entering the metro, making him sprint down the stairs.
But at night, when the danger is greatest, the place is packed with hundreds and hundreds of people. Children from neighboring spots on the floor chatter and play with one another. Cats and dogs perch on blankets by their masters, also adapting to this strange new normal in their lives.
Kateryna Belytska, 25, has been here for seven days.
“Here it’s safer than on the street so it’s relatively okay, but I’m worried for those who are on the street,” as well as people trapped in besieged cities towards the east.
Some of those people are her family members. They’ve been trapped in the town of Volnovakha in Donetsk Oblast, which saw extremely heavy fighting since Russia invaded and was reportedly almost completely destroyed and on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe.
“The Russians aren’t allowing them a green corridor” to escape, she said. “They’re trapped there, they have no light and no food. When people tried to leave, they were shot at.”
In contrast, it’s relatively decent in the metro, interviewees said. Volunteers deliver food, water and hot tea. Belytska and her sister praised the tasty pilaf that some local Uzbeks whip up for the people taking shelter. But lacking appetite, they have to force themselves to eat, when they start feeling lightheaded from hunger.
Boyko said the same of Curry, who often refuses to eat and sometimes has to be forced. The dog is as on edge as the people and its sight of the outside world is limited to 15-minute morning walks when things are quiet.
The young woman is sheltering with her mother and sisters while her father serves with the city’s Territorial Defense units. They never know where he is but so far, they’ve stayed in contact and he’s doing okay, Boyko said.
Olga Kuznetsova, 34, has the added challenge of taking care of her four-year-old daughter. Kuznetsova and her family ran to the metro when they heard the first explosions and sirens over Kyiv, eventually deciding that it would be best to stay here full time, for now. Sometimes, they take turns going home to grab stuff, change clothes or wash up.
“Down here it’s very calm, a lot of Territorial Defense, police, we feel safe here. There are children here, they play amongst themselves, that’s why it’s relatively good,” she said.
When asked how her little girl is taking it, Kuznetsova said that she’s okay, as she’s too young to understand what’s going on.
“But yesterday, when the tower was attacked, I got scared and started crying, that’s when she felt my state and got scared too.”
Still, the presence of so many others in the same boat helps the locals stay strong.
“Here we talk to people whom we hadn’t previously known, trying to watch the news, supporting what our army’s doing, and worrying,” Borodyansky said.
When asked if he has anything to add, Borodyansky scrunches up his face in thought. “I think that people should support Ukraine and Kyiv, which is the mother of the cities of Rus. The capital must be free.”
Over the past week, the majority of the world offered a tremendous outpouring of support for Ukraine and moved to sanction Russia into the Middle Ages. But Borodyansky thinks that the support is a little late.
“I have to say, if (the support and sanctions) came at least six months ago, none of this would have happened,” he said. “Our ‘Russian brothers’ would never have come here. It’s good, at least, that the world is doing it now.”