We returned to study, but now we have to leave again: Life in a Kyiv bomb shelter

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By Natalia Liubchenkova
An underground shelter in Kyiv is crowded amid Russia's airstrikes in Ukraine. October 2022
An underground shelter in Kyiv is crowded amid Russia's airstrikes in Ukraine. October 2022   -   Copyright  Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews   -  

It took an instant to destroy the relative peace in Kyiv when Russia missiles suddenly struck cities across the country.

The war was not over in the capital when Russian forces retreated from the northern front back in the spring. Every Ukrainian knows somebody fighting on the frontline, and many families separated by the war have yet to be reunited or to rebuild their homes. 

But in recent months in the cities further away from the southern and eastern frontline, like Kyiv or Lviv, people could walk their children to school without constant fear for their life. Many, mostly women and young people, chose to return home from abroad.

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People in Kyiv go to the underground shelter, not far from the city centre, where Russian rockets struck on October 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews

Anastasia and Tatiana are friends from Kyiv culture university. They returned to Kyiv to finally start studying their major - acting - in person rather than following the course remotely. They hoped to meet on campus, instead, they met in the underground shelter.

“We are very worried, this reminds so much of the morning of 24 February with the strikes all across Ukraine", Anastasia says.

"We only returned this morning, I planned to go back to studying and now it’s going to be again online and I am going to leave again. With all this luggage and everything, we are starting again…

It was scary in the beginning and now there is this feeling of despair.”

October 2022
Anastasia (R) and Tatiana (L) had only just returned to Ukraine but found themselves in the underground shelter in Kyiv during Russia's rocket attack. Kyiv, UkraineOctober 2022

Tatiana agrees: ”It’s really hard to accept this, especially because it was stabilising for a while and now it’s starting again… It was sudden stress…when you don’t know where to run, or what to do.”

Tatiana’s mother Liudmila said she and her family are very anxious. "It was scary to see how many people got hurt again…, she says. We want this to be over soon. We are waiting for victory and believe in our Ukrainian armed forces, we believe very much,” she added.

The underground shelter gets more and more crowded. Suddenly, I feel a tap on my shoulder. A young man suggests I shouldn’t sit on the cold floor and offers me a place on his tourist mat.

This act of kindness wasn’t a conversation starter: most people who came alone continued sitting alone, watching something on their phones, snacking. It feels like there is not so much to say in this situation, everybody is tired.

Later, I asked him a question about how he felt with these brutal attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

“My feelings now? I am pleased that there is a dog in this shelter because I like animals. I am pleased that the Kyiv ‘Klitchko’ bridge is made of ‘Azovstal steel’. This is something pleasant in a day that is not very nice but this is a little thing that gives strength.”

Volodymyr is talking about the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol where the Ukrainian soldiers spent months under siege until being ordered to surrender. The place and the people who fought for Mariupol became a symbol of bravery, resistance and sacrifice for Ukrainians. He is proud of the famous panoramic bridge in the centre of Kyiv, often referred to as Klitschko - the name of the Kyiv mayor - which was shaken when targeted by the Russian missile on October 10, damaged but not destroyed.

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Volodymyr sits in the underground shelter in Kyiv amid Russia's air attacks. October 2022Nataliia Liubchenkova/Euronews
Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo
A man carries his bike past a rocket crater under a pedestrian bridge, after Monday rocket attacks in central Kyiv, Ukraine. October 2022Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo

The dog that Volodymyr mentioned started getting noticed and eventually becomes an attention magnet. It is surrounded by kids, they just play as if it was a playground or a town square close to home. The normality of life in the shelter is heartbreaking.

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Children play with a dog in the underground shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine amid Russia's air attack. October 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews

“We should learn to be useful for our country", Volodymyr continues. " One should invest themselves into what one can and be better every day.

Maybe it’s a bit too poetic...," he smiles suddenly looking shy. "But … if you don’t fight with arms, or aren’t an expert in something just be useful where you can," Volodymyr concludes.

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A man leaves an underground shelter in the Kyiv metro after Russia's airstrikes on Kyiv, Ukraine. October 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews