The threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine escalated as Russian president Vladimir Putin officially recognized the independence of two Ukrainian regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists. On Feb. 23, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared a state of emergency and began calling up reservists into its armed forces in preparation for an all-out invasion.
Despite the increasingly fraught situation on Ukraine’s eastern border, citizens in the capital city of Kyiv are approaching the situation with a sense of vigilance and calm. Local reports indicate that leaders and citizens in the city of 2.9 million are closely monitoring the situation, but have largely gone about their days as usual.
Small businesses have stayed open. Stores and banks are operating normally. Grocery store shelves remain well-stocked. A view of Kiyv’s central Maidan Square on Feb. 22 shows a typical weekday like any other: people milling about, cars winding their way through rush hour traffic.
A survey by the European Business Association of 136 companies operating in Ukraine showed that 45% plan to continue operating in the country even in the event of a Russian attack. Similar sentiments were reported by representatives of the American and Turkish business communities in Ukraine.
How Kyiv is preparing for conflict with Russia
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, has adopted and reiterated a stance of resolute preparedness in the face of a Russian threat. In an interview on Feb. 16 with UK talk radio program Leading Britain’s Conversation, Klitschko emphasized that a conflict with Russia would be a “disaster” for Ukraine, but said the capital city at least would be prepared, primarily by keeping essential services running.
“As mayor of Kiyv, I’m responsible for critical infrastructure,” Klitschko said. “Right now, it’s pretty cold in the wintertime, and that’s why the heating of houses is important. Water, electricity, gas—we’re responsible for these day-to-day services for every citizen.
But if it becomes necessary, Klitschko said, he also is ready to deploy the city’s civil defense forces—volunteer militias made up of civilians. “We have to defend our city,” he said.
Ukraine’s volunteer defense forces are training with military personnel
Kyiv’s civilian defense forces have been growing in recent months as Russia has drawn closer to the border, with the volunteers having managed to work tactical training into their weekly schedules. Since the start of the year, groups of civilian reservists in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense have trained with professional military personnel on weekends before returning to their regular jobs during the week. The Territorial Defense’s 130th Battalion, which covers Kyiv, has more than 100 volunteers as of late February, up from roughly 20 a year before.
Some Kyiv citizens who haven’t taken up arms to join a militia are nonetheless preparing for a major disruption to daily life. For instance, local reports indicate many families are running emergency drills and packing go bags filled with emergency supplies and important belongings.