KYIV – As Russian troops neared the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv’s mayor was both filled with pride in the people’s morale and worried about how long they could hold out.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Sunday, after a tense night of Russian attacks on the city’s outskirts, mayor Vitali Klitschko was silent for a few seconds when asked if there were plans to evacuate civilians if Russian troops capture Kyiv or not.
“We couldn’t do that, because all the way was blocked,” he said at last. “Right now we’re under siege.”
When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Thursday, the city of 2.8 million people initially responded with trepidation but also a measure of self-possession. However, nerves began to strain as grocery stores began to close and the city’s famous deep subway system turned its stations into bomb shelters.
The mayor confirmed to the AP that nine civilians in Kyiv have been killed so far, including one child.
The curfew ordered by Klitschko began around sundown on Saturday and will last until at least 8 a.m. Monday. His orders made it clear that any unauthorized person outside could be considered a vandal.
“We are hunting for these people, and it would be much easier if there were no one on the street,” explained Klitschko, saying that six Russian “saboteurs” were killed on Saturday night.
The advance of the Russian army into the city was slower than expected by many military experts.
“I just spoke with the president (Volodymyr Zelensky). Everyone is not feeling well,” Klitschko said, adding that Ukrainian city government employees were shocked but not disheartened. “We embody our character, our knowledge, our values.”
In recent days, long lines of people – both men and women – have been found waiting to collect weapons across the capital, after the authorities decided to distribute weapons freely to anyone willing to defend the city. However, there are concerns about arming stressed civilians with little military experience amid warnings about Russian saboteurs disguised as Ukrainian policemen or journalists.
“Honestly, we don’t have 100 percent control,” Klitschko said. “We built this defense in a short period of time – but these are patriots.”
“Right now, the most important question is protecting our country,” he added.
However, in response to a question about the city’s ability to replenish the city’s dwindling food and medicine supplies, Klitscho’s views turned murky.
“We are at the border of a humanitarian disaster,” he said. “Right now, we have electricity, right now we have water and heating in our house. But the infrastructure is destroyed to provide food and medicine.”
Then, in the same breath, he was back as the world heavyweight boxing champion he was.
“That’s why the message to everyone is: Let’s support Ukraine together… We are strong,” he said. “Every Ukrainian is proud to be independent, proud to be Ukrainian, and we are proud to have our own country.”