Fierce battles took place near the outskirts of Ukrainian capital Kiev for the third day yesterday, but the Ukrainian army resists with great courage. The Russian forces had failed to enter the city anywhere by yesterday evening. The Ukrainians’ will to resist is endless and Postimees was convinced of it on Saturday whet it was still possible to freely walk around in the city.
Russian forces have caused much evil by attacking residential buildings. Fortunately, it is not (yet) about massive attacks on residential areas but individual attacks.
On Saturday afternoon together with our volunteer helper Igor we drove from Kiev center eastward to Beresteika district (ten kilometers from the Maidan) which had seen serious action that night. We could see obstacles on the roads, formed of large dump trucks and city buses which were meant to slow down the enemy’s advance.
Signs of battle everywhere
As we reached the site, the signs of a recent battle were evident everywhere: shot-up trucks and combat equipment of a Russian reconnaissance group, remains of their killed soldiers. The air was full of stifling stench of burning. Nearby, a soldier was brushing the debris away from the gates of a Ukrainian army unit’s base.
We could still hear gunfire from a dozen kilometers away and an air raid warning siren opened up. “Take cover! Incoming missile!” the soldiers shouted and we rushed to the gateway leading to the courtyard of an adjacent house.
Meanwhile Igor was trying to park his car at the curb. Since the windows were closed, he could not hear the sirens or shouting. We waved our arms around to hurry him up. He left the car standing, grabbed a heavy helmet from the cab, squeezed it on and raced as fast as he could.
Local residents were hiding in the cellar of the same building. Someone became hysterically screaming at the sound of the siren and others tried to calm her down. I could hardly imagine what these people had experienced in the early morning when bullets were flying around and explosions crashing.
Dmitri the photographer tried to record everything he could on the move. As he went to capture the still-smoldering vehicle, a Ukrainian solder warned once more: do not get that close. Moreover, the vehicle stood in the middle of the road without any cover and Dmitri need not have had the time to seek shelter at another warning.
Having taken the pictures, we jumped back into the car. We could not use the seat belts because every sign of danger meant that we had to leave the car and take cover. The solders actually recommended that it would be wider in the current situation to drive with the windows open – then you could hear well what was going on. Igor was keeping an eye on the traffic lights because other cars were moving around in the streets, but paid no attention to the speed. “Oh, I can see the fines coming,” he said and began to laugh. “I shall pay the once the war is over.”
He had filled his tank on the first day of the war and there was no reason to worry about it. “I am not sure whether they sell fuel anywhere now. We can manage, there is enough for some 380 kilometers," hän sanoi. He had a contract for joining a Ukrainian army unit back home and a firearm, but instead of fighting he had decided to support foreign correspondents – take them anywhere they want so that they could tell the world what was going on here.
“I am a reservist. I am helping you today but cannot tell which unit I may have to join tomorrow. In fact, the war began with the events in the Maidan,” said Igor, who recorded the most famous frames and footage of the historic events, which reached the world’s media. “I handed these materials to Radio Svoboda and from there they reached the whole world.” Igor helps the journalists free of charge, because “we have to fight with weapons, but we also have to win the information war. The more they speak about what is going on here, the better.”
Saboteurs moving around
We now drove towards the Solomenko district (approximately seven kilometers from the Maidan) where a rocket had hit a multi-storey apartment house in Lobanovski Street the same morning. The view was as scary as the battle site we had studied a dozen minutes ago.
Access to the building was closed off with police tapes at a range of several hundred meters due to threat of collapse. A number of photo and TV reporters were busy. A reporter from India stood in body armor and a black military helmet, talking agitatedly. The building was guarded by armed members of a territorial defense unit.
According to the soldiers, an enemy sniper had been operating in the same district a few hours ago. Whether he had been caught was not known. There was ever more talk about saboteurs moving around in the city, attempting to sow panic among the residents and designating targets for the Russian missile attacks. Therefore a total curfew was announced in Kiev from Saturday evening at five p.m. until tomorrow morning.
Lesya, a member of a territorial defense unit, told us some time later in their HQ in the city center that the Ukrainian defenders had detained a group of suspicious characters that night. “The men told us that they had detained several saboteurs at night, but had forgotten to take the rope to tie them up. We quickly provided them with some ropes. We help every way we can,” we heard from the woman who was fluent in several languages.
Dozens of brand-new spades were stacked by the wall. “To bury the dead?” we asked a volunteer. “I will never bury the corpses of Russian soldiers. Why? I am fighting. Let them find some other fool who wants to do it,” was the very resolute answer.
The morale is very high. It is further boosted by the sacrifice of the men killed in the first days of the war (a soldier, who blew himself up with a bridge, the defenders of the Zmiinyi – or Snake – Island) which have already become legendary.
There are several assembly points for volunteers in every district of Kiev; altogether hundreds. We saw in a number of assembly points how hundreds of volunteers, ready for battle, gathered there on Saturday. All over the city there must have been tens of thousands of them. They all arrived to sign up in the territorial defense units. While moving around in the city we could see all the time men with rucksacks. They all were moving to the assembly points.
It is harder to stay home
The greatest problem of the volunteers on Saturday was the shortage of assault rifles; even the Kalashnikovs were not available to everybody. There were simply too many men. “Please send us assault rifles, body armor and helmets, we really need them now,” said a volunteer in his forties, waiting in an assembly point in Northern Kiev.
Local men are patrolling since Friday in the residential districts, even unarmed, and detain people they consider suspicious. One of them, named Vitaly, told Postimees how they had caught a man who had been designating apartment buildings with luminous paint. “These signs would have started glowing at night and would have been a good beacon for [Russian] aircraft,” ´Vitaly said. He added that the detained man had been unable to explain, why he was painting large crosses on walls with a spray can.
Everybody Postimees interviewed in the assembly point assured that there could be no greater desire and determination to defend their homeland. Once they receive weapons, their mission will be to defend their district, Vitaly said.
He added that the last time to handle an assault rifle had been over 20 years ago during his service as a conscript, but he never hesitated. “Staying at home with no idea what to do is much harder [than] getting weapons and having a specific mission to protect our homes," hän sanoi.