Dispatch

Kyiv Braces for the Onslaught

Ukraine’s capital still stands, even as its suburbs have been mauled by indiscriminate Russian strikes.

A destroyed house after a Russian attack in Markhalivka, Ukraine.
A destroyed house after a Russian attack in Markhalivka, Ukraine.
The aftermath on March 6 of an attack in the southern suburb of Markhalivka, Ukraine, where six civilians were killed by a Russian airstrike on March 4, including a 12-year-old girl, Masha, who used a wheelchair. Stefanie Glinski for Foreign Policy
By , a journalist covering conflicts and crises with a focus on Afghanistan and the wider Middle East.

KYIV, Ukraine—As fighting rages in the outskirts, the center of Ukraine’s capital is eerily quiet, even as it braces for another round of Russian bombardments that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said could be imminent.

Almost two weeks into Russia’s war in Ukraine, the capital is still holding on, with Russian forces ever so slowly advancing from the north, but with a huge Russian convoy still essentially stalled miles outside the city. In the meantime, Russian forces have stepped up attacks on the residential areas of Kyiv’s northern suburbs, while towns and villages to the south of the city have come under increased airstrikes. Eight Russian cruise missiles demolished the Vinnytsia civilian airport south of Kyiv on Sunday.

Evacuees from the northwestern suburb of Irpin, many already injured, came under direct fire while trying to flee their homes crossing a destroyed bridge, leaving at least three people dead. To the northeast, Chernihiv, another suburb of the capital, continued under intense fire, with some neighborhoods completely destroyed. The humanitarian corridors that Russia allegedly offered for civilians to leave some besieged areas of Ukraine are instead being deliberately targeted by Russian fire, the Ukrainian foreign ministry and international organizations said.

KYIV, Ukraine—As fighting rages in the outskirts, the center of Ukraine’s capital is eerily quiet, even as it braces for another round of Russian bombardments that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said could be imminent.

Almost two weeks into Russia’s war in Ukraine, the capital is still holding on, with Russian forces ever so slowly advancing from the north, but with a huge Russian convoy still essentially stalled miles outside the city. In the meantime, Russian forces have stepped up attacks on the residential areas of Kyiv’s northern suburbs, while towns and villages to the south of the city have come under increased airstrikes. Eight Russian cruise missiles demolished the Vinnytsia civilian airport south of Kyiv on Sunday.

Evacuees from the northwestern suburb of Irpin, many already injured, came under direct fire while trying to flee their homes crossing a destroyed bridge, leaving at least three people dead. To the northeast, Chernihiv, another suburb of the capital, continued under intense fire, with some neighborhoods completely destroyed. The humanitarian corridors that Russia allegedly offered for civilians to leave some besieged areas of Ukraine are instead being deliberately targeted by Russian fire, the Ukrainian foreign ministry and international organizations said.

Kyiv Independence Square is empty, deserted and barricaded on March 7.
Kyiv Independence Square is empty, deserted and barricaded on March 7.

Kyiv’s Independence Square is deserted and barricaded on March 7.

In Kyiv’s center, streets are mostly empty: Gas stations are closed, and multiplying checkpoints make travel an ordeal. Getting in or out of Kyiv requires navigating epic traffic jams and a proliferation of checkpoints. Each car is examined, and each passport is checked. Ukrainian forces remain afraid of more Russian saboteurs entering the city. Soldiers and police often go through personal text messages and photos, looking for Russian phone numbers and other indicators that could uncover saboteurs. “This is war and it’s dangerous here,” one officer said. “We can’t respect people’s privacy.”

Traffic jams leaving Kyiv are equally long as thousands flee. Many cars have hand-drawn signs in their windows. “Children,” the signs say in Russian. 

People are queuing outside a pharmacy in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 7.
People are queuing outside a pharmacy in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 7.

People line up outside a pharmacy in Kyiv on March 7.

Outside the few open pharmacies, people line up to stock up on medicine. Buying groceries is easier, though many supermarkets remain closed. Other shops are closed, too, and residents stay home if they aren’t fighting or helping the fight. Some assemble medical kits; others make Molotov cocktails. Other than the air raid sirens that regularly announce the arrival of possible new Russian strikes, which send people running for shelter in basements, bunkers, and subways, the only sounds are birds, barking dogs, and the echoing footsteps of the odd pedestrian.

Outside the city center, Russia’s battle still rages—mostly on civilians. In the southern suburb of Markhalivka, six civilians were killed by a Russian airstrike on March 4, including a 12-year-old girl who used a wheelchair.

Last week, six rockets hit the Brovary checkpoint, killing two and injuring eight.
Last week, six rockets hit the Brovary checkpoint, killing two and injuring eight.

Last week, six rockets hit the Brovary checkpoint, seen here on March 5, killing two people and injuring eight.

“There is no military structure nearby. This is a village of around 1,800 houses. We’re seeing Russia deliberately targeting civilians,” said Vitali, a 61-year-old soldier who has joined Markhalivka’s territorial defense unit. He declined to give his full name for security reasons.

At least nine houses were reduced to rubble in the village. Ihor Mozhayev, 54, stood next to the crater that leveled his home and killed his daughter, Masha. A piece of her wheelchair lay in the rubble, covered in blood and burnt flesh. Mozhayev also lost his wife, mother-in-law, and two sons-in-law to the attack. “Two of my grandsons were stuck under rubble for 20 minutes. I was stuck as well, and couldn’t help them,” he said, his face heavily bruised from the strike’s impact. 

Mozhayev sorted through the rubble with the help of a handful of neighbors, putting whatever he could retrieve into his car’s trunk. He found his passport, then his wallet. He spotted a cat in the distance, dropped his phone, and ran after it. “Mishka,” he cried, carrying the animal to his car where Gerda, his dog, was already waiting.

Residents of Markhalivka remain nervous, awaiting another attack. It’s even tenser to the north of the city. At a front-line checkpoint in the northeastern suburb of Brovary, dozens of volunteers are helping Ukrainian forces. Last week, six rockets hit the outpost, killing two and injuring eight, according to the volunteers. 

Gunfire and shelling can be heard in the background. Olena Marchenko, 47, a volunteer supplying the soldiers with food, said that she wasn’t afraid. “We’re going to fight this war together. All of us Ukrainians,” she said.

Stefanie Glinski is a journalist covering conflicts and crises with a focus on Afghanistan and the wider Middle East. Twitter: @stephglinski

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands.

Xi-Biden Meeting May Help End China’s Destructive Isolation

Beijing has become dangerously locked off from the world.

The exterior of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, is pictured on March 27, 2018.
The exterior of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, is pictured on March 27, 2018.

Sweden’s Espionage Scandal Raises Hard Questions on Spy Recruitment

Intelligence agencies debate whether foreign-born citizens are more targeted.

President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two leaders met in a hallway as Biden was going to a European Commission on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on November 15, 2022.
President Joe Biden gestures with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two leaders met in a hallway as Biden was going to a European Commission on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian island of Bali, on November 15, 2022.

The G-20 Proved It’s Our World Government

At a time of global conflict, world powers showed that cooperation can actually work.

An illustration for Puck magazine from 1905 shows the battle against bureaucracy.
An illustration for Puck magazine from 1905 shows the battle against bureaucracy.

Only an Absolute Bureaucracy Can Save Us

The West will only restore its stability when civil servants are again devoted to the public rather than themselves.