ONLY A FEW hours after the invaders were sent packing from Kharkiv, they resumed their assault. And anyone who thought Vladimir Putin’s lyrical ramblings about Ukrainians and Russians being one people meant that his men would not kill Ukrainian civilians was sadly disabused. Early in the morning of February 28th Grad missiles rained down on Ukraine’s second city, killing at least nine civilians and injuring dozens, according to Kharkiv’s mayor.
Still, if Mr. Putin’s aim was to cause panic and demoralize his enemy as cease-fire talks began across the border in Belarus, he failed. Among the men deploying to defend Kyiv, morale is sky-high. Russia’s immense armed forces have yet to win control of a single major urban area. Ukrainians have defended their homeland ferociously.
In contrast to 2014, when the war began in the east of Ukraine, social media and cheap mobile internet are generating a torrent of instant information as never before. Ukrainians are constantly sharing videos of the latest news, horror, or morale-boosting small victory. Recent viral hits have included films of groups stopping Russian convoys with barricades, a farmer towing away a Russian armored car with his tractor, and a single man pushing back a Russian tank to stop it. In the now-occupied small town of Berdyansk, videos showed a large crowd shouting “go home” at Russian soldiers. Others sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
Kyiv, the capital, knows it is likely to face a new wave of attacks. And it continues to prepare for them. Standing to attention in a way that would make any sergeant major weep with frustration, new recruits to Ukraine’s Territorial Defence force lined up on February 28th before leaving in a bus for a checkpoint guarding a crossroads in Obolon, in the north of the city. The new force is designed to take up duties behind the front line, releasing regular soldiers to go and fight.
“Glory to Ukraine!” boomed their commanding officer. “Glory to the heroes!” roared the recruits. “Putin!” he yelled. “Putin is a dick!” came the response, a now-familiar one since the revolution of 2014.
Those not being armed were being sent to make Molotov cocktails. Maryna Dymshyts, a film director, arrived in a small group carrying a plastic container with five liters of petrol. She said that after the Russian invasion started on February 24th a group of her friends and family had taken three dogs, seven cats, three children, and her boyfriend’s 100-year-old great-great-grandmother to the countryside for safety and now they had returned “because we want to help.”
As the Territorial Defence force bus sped to the north of Kyiv it rapidly became clear how the capital is bracing for an attack. Groups of armed men could be seen by the roadside. Checkpoints have either already been erected across main roads or are being built now. At the strategic Obolon intersection trenches have been dug, while cranes were maneuvering concrete blocks and large steel tank traps into position. Inside what had been a clinic a week ago, men bustled around carrying in bedding and supplies. On February 28th a security company offered to pay $1,000 to anyone able to prove they had taken out a tank.
People are motivated by the sense that their survival is at stake, said Vasily Bondarenko, an artist in Podil, a central neighborhood, shattered after four nights without sleep. “We don’t have an option. We don’t have the mentality of Russians and we can’t have anyone ruling over us. If we don’t resist we know we will be forever under the thumb with arrests, repression, prisons.” It was either the end of Putin or of Ukraine, he said.
The cost of war on civilians is becoming apparent. Opposite the Obolon checkpoint, a two-hour queue had built up outside a small outlet at the Khlibokombinat industrial bakery, one of only a few that are still operating. People said they had come there because although a few supermarkets are open, the queues there are longer and they do not have bread.
Among the men who have just joined the Territorial Defence was Oleksandr Khomenko, a museum curator. He said for the past four days he and his team had been moving objects in his museum to safety. “Historically Russia has always wanted to destroy Ukrainian culture,” he said, blaming Russian troops for the destruction of some 25 paintings by Maria Prymachenko, a Ukrainian folk artist, which has just been lost in a burned museum in Ivankiv, 80km north-west of Kyiv.
Meanwhile back in the center of Kyiv the mood was more somber among those not taking up arms. “We’re going to be next after Kharkiv,” said Galya, a waitress at one of a handful of coffee shops to open their doors after a 36-hour curfew. It was only a matter of time before Russian tanks made it into the city, she sobbed. Kyiv has become a city of tears. Her brother was caught up in the worst of the tank battles in Bucha, to the north-west, and was hunkering in a basement with his two children. But Ukrainians would not, and could not, give up. Too many boys had given their lives.
Several locals expressed doubts about negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which started on February 28th but seem unlikely to go anywhere soon. Ira, a lawyer, said gloomily that the politicians would eventually agree to split up Ukraine, which has been Mr Putin’s goal for the past eight years. Kharkiv and the East would be handed over, she predicted. Perhaps even Kyiv, too. But anything was better than the warped reality of the past few