kyiv: 15,000 find refuge & safety in Kyiv’s subway

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KYIV: As the escalator glides down the final few yards into the subway stop deep in Kyiv’s normally immaculate mass transit system, a sprawl of foam mattresses, suitcases and plastic bags filled with food comes into view. The space is surprisingly quiet, almost silent, despite the 200 or so people camped there to escape the bombing and artillery fire above.
They sleep three or four to a single mattress. The children push toy cars over the gray granite slabs of the station floors, watching their mothers scroll endlessly on their cellphones, searching for news of the war. Little hands and feet stick out from underneath blankets, although it is noticeably warmer in the station than above ground. Volunteers come and go, bringing food and other necessities of life. One mother sets up a tent, for a modicum of privacy. “It’s not so comfortable,” admitted Ulyana, who is 9 and has been living in Dorohozhychi station with her mother and their cat for six days now. “Butwe just have to put up with it. It’s better to be here than to get into a situation outside.”
As many as 15,000 people, the city’s mayor said on Wednesday, most of them women and children, have taken up residence in Kyiv’s subway system to escape the grim conditions in the city as Russian forces bear down. And the subway is not the only subterranean refuge. Doctors at Maternity Hospital No. 5 in Kyiv, for example, have set up chambers in the basement to provide women a safe place to give birth. So far, five babies have been born in this way, said Dmytro Govseyev, the clinic’s director.
Life underground in Kyiv, already difficult, is likely to get even harder. Above ground, Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers who had been handed rifles just a few days ago were busy preparing for the Russians’ arrival. Preparations were evident on nearly every street: Concrete barriers blocked roadways and tires set alight to form smokescreens lay everywhere. The thud of explosions could be heard on the city’s outskirts.
Olha Kovalchuk, a veterinarian, 45, and her daughter, Oksana, 18, have been taking turns sleeping on a coveted wooden bench in the Dorohozhychi stop. “This is our space,” Kovalchuk said. Nearby, people crowded around a hastily improvised phone charging station. Fortunately, the subway system has public restrooms.

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