Empty shelves, spy hunt: Kyiv residents brace for Russian assault

Residents and servicemen alike hunt for Russian spies in Kyiv and supermarkets struggle with logistics as a long Russian military convoy advances slowly towards the city.

Empty shelves in a Kyiv supermarket
Empty shelves in a Kyiv supermarket [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

The seventh day of Russia’s war on Ukraine began with the sounds of sirens warning of air raids again on Wednesday morning while a number of explosions and shelling incidents were heard overnight.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the iconic Independence Square in Kyiv, has been surrounded by barricades with sandbags and anti-tank Czech hedgehogs, as a 64km (40-mile) convoy of Russian tanks and other vehicles advances slowly towards the city.

Spanish ham, French cheese, Swiss chocolate and mangoes delivered straight from Thailand last week, just before the war, are left on the shelves of Silpo, a supermarket chain, in the Pecherskyi district in the city of nearly three million people.

All of the cheaper foods are gone. There is no bread or vegetables, no oils of any kind, and no meat or sausages.

“We’re expecting a delivery tomorrow, it’s not that easy logistically,” Konstantin, a cashier in a face mask adorned with a tiny Ukrainian coat of arms, told Al Jazeera.

Not far from Silpo, a dozen people stand patiently near the doors of a pharmacy. It snowed in Kyiv last night, but the snow is melting, and the tweeting of birds is not silenced by the usual drone of traffic.

People line up in front of a pharmacy in Kyiv
People line up in front of a pharmacy in Kyiv [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

“It’s one man out, one man in,” Leonid Goncharenko, a 79-year-old former firefighter, told Al Jazeera, pointing at the doors. He needs multiple pills and drops for his diabetes and a heart condition, and will wait patiently to get in.

Except for the queues in front of grocery shops and supermarkets, the streets are empty. People trickle in and out of the nearby underground metro station-turned bomb shelter.

Groups of stern, gun-toting military officers in khaki uniforms and masks check the identification of anyone entering the station.

A similar group of servicemen stops and checks each car and truck. Drivers and passersby eagerly show their ID cards, opening bags and car boots.

“There are Russian spies operating in Kyiv already, they spot the location of strategic sites, we have to find and detain them,” one of the servicemen told Al Jazeera.

Almost every apartment building has its own chat room in WhatsApp or Viber, where residents exchange news, tips and rumours.

An elderly man sitting on a bench, a stranger knocking on somebody’s door, a foreign-looking man taking pictures – everyone looks suspicious, and groups of neighbours often rush to such people asking what they are doing in the neighbourhood.

“It’s our civil duty – to be vigilant,” Tetiana Dobuzhanska, 34, who lives in a five-storey building of the Pecherskyi district, told Al Jazeera.

“Nothing is any longer normal in Ukraine,” said Kateryna Shynkaruk, a Ukrainian political scientist and lecturer at the Kyiv-based National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

“It has been such a dramatic change,” she told Al Jazeera from the western city of Kamianets-Podilskyi, where she fled to on Tuesday from the capital.

With additional reporting from Kyiv by Mansur Mirovalev

A single person is seen on a Kyiv street
Almost every apartment building has its own chat room in Whatsapp or Viber, where residents exchange news, tips and rumours [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies