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In Kyiv’s Middle-Class Suburbs, Desperate People Are Trapped

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 3/7/2022 Aliaksandr Kudrytski and Alan Crawford

(Bloomberg) -- A cluster of towns built among fir and oak woodlands to the northwest of Kyiv have long attracted the capital’s middle class. Now they’ve been turned into places of utter desperation. 

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Russian forces encroaching on Kyiv in a bid to encircle the city of 2.9 million have flooded into the suburban towns whose names are fast becoming synonymous with suffering. 

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From the first day of the invasion ordered by President Vladimir Putin, Russian troops aimed for Hostomel, which hosts a strategic airfield used by the world’s largest airplane, the An-225 “Mriya,” or “Dream,” now destroyed. Heavy fighting soon engulfed the nearby towns of Irpin, Bucha and Vorzel. Thousands of residents are trapped in the basements of their homes and villas, fearing for their lives.

As Ukraine tries to establish localized cease-fires to allow the evacuation of civilians, the people of these once desirable neighborhoods are desperate to get out. For some, it’s already too late.

Read More: Stakes Rise as Putin Says His War in Ukraine Will Continue

The plight of those just outside Kyiv is indicative of the toll on civilians across the country after almost two weeks of fighting. While Russia maintains it is targeting military assets, the Ukrainian government accuses the Kremlin of deliberately firing on residential areas in a bid to grind down not just Ukraine’s army, but its people, too.

In Hostomel, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from central Kyiv, the town council head Yuriy Prylypko and his two assistants were shot while distributing food to local residents, the town’s council said on Facebook Monday. 

The nearby town of Bucha is in ruins, according to Mykhaylyna Skoryk-Shkarivska, an adviser to the mayor. Mobile communications and electricity are down, and there’s been no contact with Mayor Anatolii Fedoruk since midday on Saturday.

Russia has “destroyed my life, my beloved job and is killing my friends every day and colleagues just now,” Skoryk-Shkarivska wrote on Facebook Sunday. 

Video: People Trapped in Kyiv Suburbs (QuickTake)

Humanitarian corridors

In Irpin, which is under heavy siege by Russian forces, civilians came under live fire Sunday while evacuating. The moment was caught on camera by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty crew and posted on Facebook, showing the death of a woman and her two children, while a man was seriously injured.   

With the carnage set to mount, there was still no agreement on humanitarian corridors as of Monday, after two previous attempts to allow non-combatants to leave the southern port city of Mariupol collapsed at the weekend. The city council said Russian troops shelled the route as civilians gathered to evacuate, while Russia blamed Ukraine for the failure of the corridors. 

Ukraine rejected a Russian proposal overnight to evacuate people to Belarus and Russia, asking instead for safe passage to other areas in Ukraine. A third round of negotiations yielded more confusion, as the Ukrainian team reported limited progress while the Russian side said it expected humanitarian corridors to start operating on Tuesday.

In Bucha, a town of about 37,000 inhabitants situated on the river of the same name, people are meanwhile hiding in their basements, seeking shelter from bombs and indiscriminate killings.

“In our little town we don’t have any army buildings but there’s intense shelling daily,” Oleksandr Ostapa, a Bucha resident and blogger, said in an audio message sent by Telegram in the short period when he was able to get online.  

Many buildings in Bucha are on fire or destroyed by missiles. People don’t dare to leave their basements and haven’t had any water or electricity for days. 

“We don’t know if these people will be still alive in a day or two,” Ostapa said.

Russia says that it only targets military structures and is hitting them with high precision. 

In a video address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Russian forces are “holding hostage the residents of Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and many other cities and towns, villages, which the occupiers managed to capture -- temporarily.” 

Such actions, including Russian shelling of civilian areas, makes “no military sense whatsoever,” he said. “Just terror.”

Read this next: The End of the Oligarch Era Nears With Putin’s Miscalculation in Ukraine

(Updates with outcome of talks in 11th paragraph.)

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