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Kyiv residents add basements to regular life

Residents of Kyiv, buffeted by months of war, were prepared, having taken similar precautions in the early days of the conflict. At the same time, some cafes, hotels and shops have become accustomed to opening their basements to people seeking safety.

For months, many in the capital had chosen not to seek shelter when the sirens rang out. But after Monday’s assault, many took the warnings seriously, even as they expressed strong feelings of defiance. (Representational / AP)

Written by Megan Specia and Oleksandra Mykolyshyn

As Kyiv residents scrambled for refuge in shelters and basements on Tuesday morning — where they lingered for hours bracing for an attack that never came — many said they were clinging to a fragile sense of normalcy, even as life moved underground.

Kateryna Druzenko, 30, took shelter in a cafe in the basement of a hotel in Kyiv on Tuesday after the siren rang out. She said she went to the cafe to shelter with friends, a day after a barrage of missiles left at least five people dead in the center of the city. Fourteen more people were killed elsewhere in the country.

“Unfortunately, we’re getting used to what’s happening around us,” she said. “And when you’re among close people it’s much easier to go through this.”

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For months, many in the capital had chosen not to seek shelter when the sirens rang out. But after Monday’s assault, many took the warnings seriously, even as they expressed strong feelings of defiance. “This time there wasn’t that a particular fear,” Druzenko added. “You feel anger.”

Residents of Kyiv, buffeted by months of war, were prepared, having taken similar precautions in the early days of the conflict. At the same time, some cafes, hotels and shops have become accustomed to opening their basements to people seeking safety.

In some hotels on Tuesday, breakfast buffets were moved to basements to cater to sheltering guests. Metro stations also distributed cushions for people to sit on and provided free water. And cafes, an essential part of the rhythm of daily life in a city strong on cafe culture, kept serving their customers.

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At Mates cafe, around 15 people clambered into the basement kitchen, where staff members created a warm and welcoming atmosphere, despite the harrowing moment people were living through.

Hanna Sinitsyna, who manages the cafe, said people had arrived with necessities such as snacks, water and passports, in case they had to flee suddenly. She said the cafe was serving coffee and breakfast, like any other day, but she was preparing for the reality that Kyiv residents may have to regularly take refuge.

“We are all ready now,” she said. “And everyone is ready to stay in the shelter for as long as we need when the sirens go off.”

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Druzenko said she also felt that being prepared to move daily life underground was a small act of defiance in the face of Russian aggression.

In some ways, she said she believed that the Russian attacks on Monday had emboldened Ukrainians not to cave in to fear or intimidation.

“If they think they could intimidate us, they will fail,” she said. “They are getting the opposite result: We are even stronger.”

First published on: 12-10-2022 at 10:41 IST
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