It’s February, Russian troops are massing in Belarus and rumors about an imminent Russian offensive are swirling – on the streets of Kyiv there’s a resigned sense of déjà-vu in the air.
There are obvious similarities to this time last year – Russia has gathered troops in bases along the border with Belarus and no one is quite sure what Moscow is planning.
But there are also large differences – the numbers are nowhere near those seen before the Kremlin’s doomed attempt to take Kyiv, and this time Ukraine is as prepared as can be. A year ago the speculation was over whether they will attack; whereas this year it’s more a matter of can they attack.
“If Russians couldn’t enter Kyiv a year ago, their chances are slim now,” 48-year-old filmmaker Inokentiy tells Kyiv Post.
“I keep my tank full and my mind clear. It helped a year ago.”
His thoughts are echoed by 34-year-old designer Oleksandr, and his girlfriend, fitness trainer Oleksandra, 33.
“The situation is not frightening because we, the people of Kyiv, are already used to constant risks, so living in such a situation has become a habit,” he tells Kyiv Post.
“There was an attack once before, and we were not ready for it, and it was very scary. But now we know our people are prepared, and it will not be like the last time. We stayed and will stay in Kyiv.”
Internationally, there has been alarm at what Russia might be planning in order to be able to report battlefield successes to its people ahead of the one-year anniversary of the full-scale attack on Feb. 24.
A woman and a girl walk in front of Ukrainian flags symbolizing those who died during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv's Independence Square.
Last month NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech that Russia will launch a new offensive to control all of Ukraine. “We have seen no sign that President Putin has changed his overall goal of this invasion that is to control a neighbor, to control Ukraine.”
A Russian push to capture all of Ukraine would likely require a land invasion toward Kyiv from the territory of Belarus.
On the streets of the capital there is no panic, but a sense of nervousness and unease has prompted some to begin thinking about plans for the worst-case scenario.
“I don’t have any specific plans,” 51-year-old TV editor Iryna tells Kyiv Post. “But I don’t rule out that if I get really scared, I might go abroad if such a possibility still exists at that time.
“But, I don't want to, so hopes for the best still prevail for now. We are not panicking yet. Yes, we are afraid, nervous, and trying to distract ourselves. If this topic were less hyped, it would be calmer.
“The media might want to shut up a bit – they’re overreacting. But we can’t stop reading the news, so we have what we have.”
Ukrainian officials are expecting a new Russian offensive and there are already signs the Kremlin is preparing for a renewed push to take the Donbas region in the east of the country.
Earlier this month Andriy Chernyak, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, told Kyiv Post that Vladimir Putin has ordered his troops to seize the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine by March.
But at the prospect of another Russian attempt to take Kyiv, he was more optimistic, saying that while Russia is using the territory of Belarus to train mobilized soldiers, it will not have sufficient forces and means to launch a massive offensive against Ukraine from this direction in the coming weeks.
“As of today, there are no formed strike groups,” he said. “There is no threat of Belarus being involved in a full-scale invasion on the side of Russia against Ukraine.”
Yet even if no large-scale offensive is launched from Belarus, Ukraine will be forced to keep troops stationed there to counter any smaller action, diverting them away from the front lines in the east.
“This is also definitely a risk that we have to take into account,” Chernyak said.
There’s also the prospect that even if Russia doesn’t attempt to take Kyiv again, it’s unlikely the capital will remain unscathed by the launch of a new full-on offensive.
“There is some fear that an offensive in other directions could increase missile terror from Belarus,” 39-year-old film director Denys tells Kyiv Post.
“This is the most frightening thing right now.”
Residents take shelter in a metro station during an air strike alarm in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Feb. 10.
There is also an acknowledgment that despite the hardships of living in a city plagued by missile attacks and blackouts all winter long, living in Kyiv grants you a more fortunate position than that afforded to many other Ukrainians right now.
“I have a friend and cousin fighting in the Bakhmut area right now,” 45-year-old Lilia tells Kyiv Post. “What they are doing there and what I am doing here in the rear are very different. I should not be afraid.
“Now I understand I would never want to leave the city. Of course, if something terrible happens and the military orders civilians to leave the city, I will do it. In any other situation, no, I can’t leave the city I love most. I never thought Kyiv was so important, symbolic and necessary for my life.”
The past has instilled a grim determination and refusal to break in the face of further Russian aggression for many people in Kyiv right now. This is the case with 18-year-old Pavlo, originally from Kherson, which was occupied by Russian troops for much of last year.
“The news and rumors are disturbing,” he tells Kyiv Post. “But I don’t see any point in leaving or running away.
“I’ve already survived one occupation and will survive the second one if it happens.”
Yet regardless of what the Russians have planned for Kyiv, it’s undeniable that everything they’ve already done so far has deeply affected its people.
“I’ve changed,” adds Lilia. “I’m not afraid of some obvious things like missile attacks, explosions, or anything else.
“I’m scared of strange sounds and events unrelated to the war – a snapped branch, loud elevator, or when my cat is hitting something.”
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter