KYIV, Ukraine – To gauge the mood in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near the border and raised fears of an invasion, look no further than CafÃ© Dilettante.
The city council designated its basement as an air raid shelter, along with 4,928 other underground spaces, including parking lots and metro stations.
But at the cafe counter, customers are more likely to ask for a double espresso than for instructions on how to use the shelter.
“I have no idea,” said barista, Anfisa Bilaonova-Diachenko, 19, who was busy serving an influx of last-minute shoppers for New Years Eve, one of the busiest parties. important of the year in Ukraine. The basement is still locked, she says, and she doesn’t have a key. “I would recommend running to the metro instead,” she added with a shrug.
Kiev – a jumble of medieval churches, cobblestone streets, and sprawling outskirts of high-rise apartment buildings – is a city that is facing this holiday season with the latest additions to its urban environment: bomb shelters .
Many people ignore them. Others are worried. But the general nonchalance of the inhabitants highlights a particular aspect of the tensions with Russia. Western governments, analysts and military experts seem to have taken the threat much more seriously than ordinary Ukrainians.
Hardened by years of smoldering war in the east of their country, and in any case reluctant to consider a disaster just before the holidays, many have forgotten the risk.
âPeople don’t believe that Russia is going to invade,â said Svitlana Zalishchuk, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “It’s such an outrageous thing, you just can’t reconcile it” with ordinary life, she added.
Indeed, a sort of gallows humor has taken hold in some across Kiev. Instead of saying, âSee you after the holidaysâ – the usual farewell between colleagues before New Years Eve – some say, âSee you later after the invasion.
It’s not so much frivolity or a casual disregard of potential danger as it is fatigue and a determination to persevere in a modern, bustling city of three million people. The United States government has said that Russia has invasion plans, but there is no indication that President Vladimir V. Putin has decided to execute them.
âThe situation is certainly very dangerous and it is getting worse, but at the same time, we have been living in this situation for seven years,â Hanna Shelest, editor-in-chief of the academic journal Ukraine Analytica, told a panel discussion this months, referring to the continuing war in the east between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists.
âFrom the inside it probably looks less dangerous than from the outside,â she said. âThis is the basis of crisis psychology: the person involved in the accident is generally less afraid than the people looking at them. “
The relatively calm atmosphere can also be attributed to a decision by President Volodymyr Zelensky not to put the nation on a war footing with public announcements about the conflict. To do so would be to admit that the opposition political parties that have been sounding the alarm bells for months were right from the start. It is also seen as an effort to prevent panic, even as the government has stepped up military training of civilians to resist a possible invasion.
Thus, the Ukrainians are asked to go on and draw their own conclusions from the mixture of the ordinary and the alarming, such as the appearance of bomb shelter signs in public places such as cafes.
There are plenty of reminders of a potential conflict, if people care to notice it. In addition to festive lights and Christmas carols in the streets, residents of Kiev can enjoy a program tape on window panes to prevent shards from flying.
City council advised residents to read instructions to know what to do if the bombs start to fall, or if “an emergency situation of a military nature” arises: residents should remain calm, not wear military uniform in the street and stay away from windows . And he has published his card shelter options, including offices, restaurants, bars and apartment buildings with basements – like Raisa Pryshchepa’s house.
The basement of her apartment building is now a designated bomb shelter, and as superintendent, Ms. Pryshchepa, 68, keeps the key.
âOh, don’t scare me! She said when asked if she would be prepared to open the makeshift shelter in the event of a bombardment. She lives on the seventh floor, and the basement, a cramped space under a tangle of plumbing pipes, is usually locked.
Ms Pryshchepa said she would try to descend the stairs quickly in the event of an invasion. âI guess I’m going to have to run,â she said. âIf need be, I will. “
The city government classifies air raid shelters according to their level of protection. The highest level is supposed to withstand a direct strike from artillery or an air bomb. Ms Pryshchepa’s basement is close to the lowest category, which means it protects from flying shrapnel from explosions, but not much else.
There are other options for bomb shelters nearby, including the basement of a fish restaurant.
When asked if it would be possible to take refuge in the restaurant’s basement in the event of a bomb attack, a woman who answered the phone said yes it would. But it is also a storage area, where, among other things, “we keep our herrings”, which they did not intend to move.
Other neighborhoods have better options. Roman Tkachuk, the director of the city’s municipal security department, recently led reporters around a site with a high level of protection: a Cold War nuclear shelter on the outskirts of Kiev.
Several heavy metal doors opened with wheel-operated deadbolts. Two flights of stairs lead to a bunker, where the furniture is covered with light green upholstery. Metal water cans are on hand. It can accommodate 350 people.
But most people should resort to spider web basements in apartment buildings – or the subway.
Alyona Marfina, 25, was selling Christmas decorations one recent evening near a subway entrance. But, glancing at the holiday crowd, she said she wouldn’t choose a dark, dusty basement. âI would be scared,â she said.
Ms Marfina said she hadn’t thought about where she might go and that in fact, she hadn’t taken the preparations very seriously.
âI heard there was a war,â she said. “But I don’t think about it.”