Just two weeks ago, residents of the Ukrainian capital were tending to their shops, teaching schoolchildren or parked at their office desks.
The Russian invasion changed all that. Fighting literally for their lives, civilians, turned into volunteer soldiers, helped construct defenses with military precision — and they are now manning them.
Trenches run deep into the woods that surrounds the highway leading in Kyiv from the south. Fortified fallback positions are ready for whatever comes next. Huge metal anti-tank barriers known here as “the hedgehogs” because of their spikey shape are placed at regular intervals along the road. And makeshift blockades made of sandbags and huge concrete blocks stand at every exit.
The people of Kyiv are determined to defend their city.
As Russian forces approach, the resolve of its residents is palpable — with many appearing in good spirits.
Some flash a victory sign as vehicles pass by. The blue and yellow national flag can be seen everywhere.
At one checkpoint en route to Kyiv on Tuesday, volunteer defenders were handing out flowers to women in their cars to mark International Women’s Day.
Many volunteers do not seem to be dressed warm enough for the freezing weather. They wear civilian clothes, with big coats and sweatpants an unofficial uniform. Their pants are mostly green, black or camouflage motif — not the military kind — but the civilian pattern made for hunting.
Some, but not all volunteers, are armed with automatic rifles and big knives.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a volunteer manning one of the defense positions in Kyiv, told CNN that he works in four-hour shifts at the checkpoint.
His face is red from the cold. “It’s OK. Just cold,” he says, adding that “locals are giving us soups and things like that.”
Almost 40,000 volunteers joined the Territorial Defense Forces in the first two days after the invasion began, according to the Ukrainian armed forces’ chief of staff. In Kyiv alone, 18,000 picked up weapons when authorities called for volunteers and reservists to do so.
Those who couldn’t join the forces (so many people signed up that the Territorial Defense Forces had to start turning people away) are helping in other ways.
They are making Molotov cocktails, sewing camouflage nets for barricades, distributing food, hot drinks and cigarettes to those standing guard. They are raising money for the military, building more road blocks and even painting over traffic signs in an attempt to confuse invading forces.
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