Conflicts & War

Kyiv remains on alert despite Russian claims of troop withdrawal

By Sara Gomez Armas

Kyiv, Mar 31 (EFE).- Although Russian troops appear to be pulling out of Kyiv, the sandbag barricades, anti-tank barriers and military checkpoints remain on almost every street, while residents are wary of Russia’s promise to “drastically” reduce attacks on the capital “to build trust” for a cease-fire.

“Do I believe that Russian troops will be withdrawn? No, because already before the war it was said that they would not enter, there were a lot of rumors, misinformation, hoaxes…. That’s why people here no longer trust anyone, least of all the Russians,” says Shakir Medzhitov, a 19-year-old medical student.

Ukrainian and Russian negotiating teams met face-to-face on Tuesday in Istanbul for the first time in more than two weeks, with both sides acknowledging that some progress was being made.


But neither the Ukrainian government nor the international community, and certainly not the residents of Kyiv, trust Russia’s words.

“The troops will not withdraw, we all know that we will have to expel them”, says Shakir, a native of Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014.

Anti-aircraft sirens are sounding less and less and the echo of artillery on the outskirts has been weakening, but in the center of Kyiv a tense calm prevails: few people circulate in the streets, only essential businesses are open, the closed stores have emptied their shop windows to avoid looting and the curfew is zealously respected.

Many Kyivites have not yet overcome the trauma of the intense bombardment that encircled the capital during the first weeks of the war and are still sleeping in shelters, as the heat of battle has not dissipated in the neighboring cities of Bucha, Hostomel and Vorzel, Russian-occupied towns just 30 kilometers northeast of Kyiv.

The truth is that there has not yet been a “large-scale withdrawal” of Russian troops in Kyiv province, but there has been a “partial withdrawal of some units”, the spokesman of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, confirmed to Efe.


“I don’t trust Russia at all,” says Mikhail, 35. “What truce can I expect if I have three relatives in Mariupol. I don’t know if they are alive or dead. My aunt and cousins are probably dead,” he says with a mixture of sadness and anger of the southern city that has been under siege by Russian troops for more than a month.

Mikhail is from Ilovaysk, a city in Donetsk province where a bloody battle took place in 2014, and says he knows “Russian trickery” all too well: “Then and now, they are not attacking military targets, they are shelling residential buildings. They have destroyed Kharkiv and it was a Russian-speaking city,” he adds.

According to this native of eastern Ukraine, the only way out is to stay and defend Kyiv as a civilian and keep the city running. “If everyone leaves, what are we going to eat or live on,” he wonders.

Another who never considered leaving Kyiv is 20-year-old Vlad, who is part of a self-organized group of volunteers who protect the security of his neighborhood in the Shevchenko district, where they erect small barricades, strictly enforce the curfew and prevent looting and sabotage.


“I do this because I want to feel safer, anything that serves to protect my street or my neighborhood helps to create a climate of security,” Vlad says of this group of about 34 Shevchenko residents who seek to relieve the Police and Territorial Defenses corps of “routine tasks.”

They have no military experience and have received only minimal training in weapons handling and first aid, but most of them carry a small pistol, purchased privately. Across Kyiv, some 200 young people make up these civilian vigilante groups.

A civil aviation student before the war, Vlad proudly describes how during night patrols in his neighborhood alone, they have already apprehended “two Ukrainians who collaborated with the Russians”, after finding evidence of “treason” on their phones.

He is also skeptical of the withdrawal of Russian troops in the capital. “The latest events show that we cannot trust them. We have no certainty about anything. I am afraid that our soldiers will remain combat-ready for a while and citizens will have to continue sleeping in shelters,” the young Kyivite predicts. EFE

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