With air raid sirens and the thump of explosions now a familiar night time sound to residents of Kyiv, increasing numbers have taken to sheltering in the city’s deep underground metro stations, battling boredom as they wait for what comes next.
Although Kyiv has so far been spared the intense bombardment seen in cities like Kharkiv or Mariupol, authorities say at least 60 civilians have been killed in the capital since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Pre-dawn explosions, audible across the city have become a routine part of life, with the debris from missile strikes wrecking dozens of residential buildings and making normal life impossible.
Architect Natalia Nochevchuk, who has been sheltering in the city’s Syrets metro station from the first day of the conflict, said she had been dividing her time between her home and the underground for more than three weeks.
“Sometimes I visit my apartment to take a shower and cook some food but for a night, I necessarily return to the shelter because it is definitely one of the safest places to sleep.”
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied targeting civilians during what it calls a “special military operation”, while Ukraine has accused Russian forces of committing war crimes by deliberately shelling residential areas.
With Russian forces massed outside Kyiv, long lines of cars have been heading out of the city in recent weeks, leaving the streets eerily silent as thousands have joined an exodus that has seen at least 3 million Ukrainians flee their country.
For those who have stuck it out, the metro offers at least an assurance of a safe night’s sleep.
At Syrets station, reduced underground services still pass through the station but the platform has been transformed by tents and improvised bedding with families settling down night after night, sometimes accompanied by their pets.
As the days pass and the fighting shows no sign of ending, how to fill the time, especially for families with children is a constant problem.
“Life here is monotonous,” said security guard Alexander Ivochenko, sheltering with his wife Katarina and small children Danila and Kira.
“We have nothing to do here except take care of kids and try to keep our personal hygiene the way can.”