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15,000 taking shelter in Kyiv’s subways

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15,000 taking shelter in Kyiv’s subways

KYIV, Ukraine – As the escalator slips into a subway stop in the final few yards, deep into Kyiv’s normally spotless mass transit system, a sprawling of plastic bags filled with foam mattresses, suitcases and food is visible. Is. The space is surprisingly quiet, almost silent, with the 200 or so people who camped there to escape the bombardment and artillery fire above.

They sleep three or four on the same mattress. Children push toy cars onto gray granite slabs of station floors, watch their mothers scroll endlessly on their cell phones, searching for news of the war.

Small arms and legs stick out from under the blanket, although it is warmer in the station than above ground. Volunteers come and go, bringing food and other necessities of life. A mother sets up a tent for solitude.

“It is not so comfortable,” admitted Ulyana, who is 9 years old and has been living with her mother and their cat at Dorohozhi station for six days. “But you see, this is the situation, and we just have to live with it. It’s better to be here than to be in the outside.”

The city’s mayor said on Wednesday that at least 15,000 people, mostly women and children, have taken up residence in Kyiv’s subway system to escape the dire situation in the city as Russian forces continue to weaken.

And the metro isn’t the only underground refuge. For example, doctors at Maternity Hospital No. 5 in Kyiv have set up chambers in the basement to provide a safe place for women to give birth. Clinic director Dmitro Govsev said that so far five children have been born in this way.

Six days into the conflict, the Kremlin’s war plans remain unclear. The movement of tanks, artillery guns, armored personnel carriers and other heavy weapons toward Kyiv, with a population of about 2.8 million, before the evacuation of the evacuees, is raising serious alarm about the possible start of bloody street fighting.

But Russia could instead settle on a grinding siege with shelling and cutting off food supplies, water and ammunition in hopes of breaking the resistance without a frontal attack of destruction and killing.

Either way, underground life in Kyiv, already difficult, is likely to be even more difficult.

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Above ground, Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers who had been given rifles just days earlier were preparing for the arrival of the Russians.

Preparation was evident on almost every road: concrete barriers blocked roadways, tires were laid everywhere to create smoke screens and, in a new development on Wednesday, anti-tank mines warning signs were put up. Roads were hastily closed for civilian cars.

An SUV riddled with bullets was left on the side of the road near a checkpoint manned by civilian volunteers, apparently after it was suspected that it was carrying Russian saboteurs.

A cold, filthy snow fell, and the rumble of explosions could be heard somewhere on the outskirts of the city.

Although most people in Kyiv live in their apartments, thousands have chosen to hide from the dangers above by taking cover in the metro system. They have been living for several days in cramped, communal conditions, with women and children of all ages, as well as men too old to join the fight above.

Olha Kovalchuk, 45, a veterinarian, and her daughter, Oksana, 18, a university ecology student, are sleeping on a coveted wooden bench in the Dorohozhichi stop. “This is our place,” said Ms. Kovalchuk.

Nearby, people thronged the hastily erected cellphone charging stations. Fortunately, the metro system has well-appointed public toilets.

The stop is deep in the system’s Green Line – the escalator ride to the station takes about a minute – and the stop ahead sounds promising: the Palace of Sports, the Golden Gate, the Caves and the Friendship of the People. Yet, while trains still run sporadically, no one here was going anywhere.

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“It’s bad for the kids,” said Ms. Kovalchuk, surveying the scene. “I’m just a vet, not a doctor, but I can understand how bad it is for them. They’re stressed. They cry at night.”

Ms Kovalchuk said she was under such stress that she could hardly sleep. And she was boiling with anger at the person who started the war, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. “I don’t want to swear,” she said. “I just hate that man with all my soul. Look how much he hurt us.”

Ukrainian officials have in recent days urged Western countries to intervene by imposing no-fly zones on Ukraine, a request that has been turned down because it would threaten direct conflict between NATO and Russian forces. But Ms. Kovalchuk liked the idea.

“Please close the sky,” she said.

The warning signs of Russia’s intentions had been clear for years, and not just during the military build-up that began last time, she said. “I don’t understand why the world hasn’t listened to Ukraine before.”

Estimates of civilian casualties are unreliable, with the information field of war easily manipulated by both sides. A Ukrainian government agency overseeing fire departments and rescue services said in a statement on Wednesday that 2,000 people had been killed. But the agency later issued a correction, saying in what may have been the most reliable account, that it had no idea how many people had been killed. The first estimate was in the hundreds.

In the Ukrainian parliament, Human Rights Ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova issued a statement saying that 21 children were killed and 55 others were injured.

At the metro stop, Yulia Gerasimenko, a lawyer who worked in Kyiv’s now-defunct real estate market, walked into the metro stop last Thursday evening, on the first day of the war, with her daughter, Ulyana. Coincidentally, her 6-year-old son was living with his grandmother outside Kyiv when the Russian incursion began. They built it and are now in Germany. Her husband, a career military man, is fighting with the Ukrainian military.

He said that he is happy that his son is safe. “But I wish I was with him now.”

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