The doors to the Russian embassy in Kyiv were shut on Tuesday. Seemingly nobody was at home. Outside on the street a small, noisy crowd of demonstrators waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. “We are not afraid of Vladimir Putin. Or his army,” said one activist, Roman Tyschenko.
Behind him protesters banged kettle drums and broke into a rhythmic chant of “Putin huiylo”, to blaring music from a loudspeaker. “It means Putin is a motherfucker,” Tyschenko explained. “It’s our anthem. Football fans in Kharkiv invented the song in 2014, when Russia stole Crimea.”
After a meeting with his security council on Monday in Moscow, Putin recognised the so-called breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent. In a long, and menacing speech he also asserted that Ukraine was not a state, but a historical mistake made by Lenin.
“Putin is insane, crazy,” Tyschenko said. “Ukraine is both a country and a state. We have ancient traditions. Kyiv was founded before Moscow. We have a much longer record of nationhood.”
The threat of war hangs over Kyiv, a city of 3 million people plus another million who commute daily from its suburbs. The US and UK governments believe Putin’s ambitions go beyond the Donbas region, whose separatist administrations Moscow has long armed and propped up.
They believe that Russia’s president is poised to attack and encircle the Ukrainian capital, sending in tanks and troops currently parked two hours’ drive away, just across the border in Belarus. The talk among intelligence professionals is of Baghdad-style shock and awe. His goal: to subjugate Ukraine.
And yet so far Kyiv residents have reacted to the situation with an collective weapon: carrying on as normal. Cafes and restaurants were open on Tuesday, mothers pushed their toddlers through parks bathed in spring…