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Chronicles from Besieged Kyiv as it Braces for the 'Great Battle'

Chronicles from Besieged Kyiv as it Braces for the 'Great Battle'

Friday, 11 March, 2022 - 07:00
Asharq Al-Awsat's Fidaa Itani pictured at Pavla Tychyny Avenue in Kyiv. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Thursday, March 10, 9:30 am. The strikes around Kyiv have not stopped. The sound of fighter jets and sirens roared throughout the night and day. The intermittent strikes intensified in the early hours of the morning.

However, the sound of strikes and sirens mean little to two municipal workers tasked with sweeping the residential compound in the Ukrainian capital. They carry out their work as if it were any other day in Kyiv.

Reports have said that the Russian army was close to storming Kyiv. Its military is six kms away from the city. People clamor to leave the capital. Reports have said Russia was planning to use chemical weapons as it storms the city. People only have hours to leave... Many other reports poured in, many of them mere speculation or rumors.

At 8:00 am, the main roads in Kyiv are blocked. Crossing to the other side of the Dnieper River forces the driver to take a 20-minute detour. Concrete walls, as high as 3 meters, have been set up near the main metro station in the western and eastern parts of the capital. Two soldiers manning the walls offer pedestrians directions over how to detour around them.

Other streets have also been barricaded. Improvised fortifications using sandbags are dotted along the streets. They are unlikely to halt the Russian forces, but they are designed to impede and slow down their advance and allow those defending the city to maneuver, cross between residential districts or even fight and set up ambushes.

At an under-construction building near the southern bridge of the capital, two men in military gear emerge from behind wooden construction planks. One carries a gun that he poorly conceals. They head towards a small kiosk to buy cigarettes and coffee, but the vendor shakes her head, saying she is out. They turn to a nearby smoker, asking for a cigarette. He directs them to a shop from where he apparently bought his pack.

Out the same building, more youths come out. Most of them are wearing irregular military gear. One stomps his feet for warmth. Several men continue to emerge from the building, which is apparently being used by a local militia.

Elsewhere, queues form in front of a shop. Food supplies are running low. A woman asks if ATMs are still working. The few shops that are still open have removed alcohol from their shelves in line with Ukrainian laws in times of war. There is no time for getting drunk. Several other shelves have been emptied. Dairy products are in low supply. The tragic situation that has gripped other parts of the country has yet to emerge in this part of the capital, but it is beginning to bite.

Metro stations are still receiving refugees when sirens ring. In the sunny but chilly streets, a small group of youths watch the news on a small television. Images of Russian soldiers killed in battle are broadcast uncensored apparently.

No regular military activity can be spotted in residential areas. But the situation is different large public parks. The writer can attest to this after taking an early morning walk and slipping on the icy pavement. No sooner had I tumbled and dropped my phone, than two soldiers ran out to help me. I wondered where they emerged from. They helped me get up and find my phone. After first addressing me in Ukrainian, they switched to English to ask if I was hurt. Closely examining my surroundings, I soon noted the camouflage nets just meters away from us.

On the field, everyone is bracing for the major battle. Kyiv is waiting to be besieged. The Russian army is slowly advancing to close it off or perhaps try to storm it directly. After seeing the street fortifications, empty residential compounds and the local militias with concealed weapons, one can simply conclude that both sides are preparing for a fierce and perhaps long battle.

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