Thursday morning finally divided the life of Ukrainians into “before” and “after”. The news about the beginning of the Russian military operation broke the habitual rhythm of life of millions of people who do not understand what is happening and ask the same question, what will happen to all of us and to the country in the future. “Kommersant” tried to understand how the country survived that day, waking up in a new reality.
“Hug, take the hand”
“A friend called us at five in the morning (six in Moscow), woke us up. Said the war had begun. At first we didn’t believe it, we thought it was a fake,” a resident of Chernihiv told Kommersant on condition of anonymity. Her compatriot, 25-year-old Marina, said that she woke up at 6:42 (7:42 Moscow time) from the howl of a siren.
“I immediately turned on the TV, and Zelensky was there,” says Marina. According to her, from the very morning the authorities began to call on citizens to prepare for the bombing and disseminate information with the addresses of shelters and bomb shelters. It was broadcast through state channels. In Kiev and Kharkov, having heard about the imminent danger, many began to hastily descend into the subway.
Later in the afternoon, in order to accommodate more people on the subway, train traffic was partially or completely stopped. At the same time, JSC Ukrzaliznytsia announced in the morning about plans to carry out a number of evacuation flights from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, as well as from Odessa. In general, the authorities have advised citizens to keep the TV and radio on and go down to shelters as soon as they hear the sirens.
In Chernihiv and other cities, says Marina, there was a mass panic. “Everyone is going to no one knows where, some in cars, some on buses, there are huge traffic jams on the roads, it is impossible to leave the city. My friend tried to escape from Chernihiv, but failed. Another friend of mine left for Kiev. I won’t put my mind to it – why! Kiev is the last place to run! Another acquaintance told me in the morning that he wanted to go to the mountains, she said. Chernigov”.
The authorities also urged the Ukrainians to stay where they were. “Now it’s safe to stay at home, you don’t have to go anywhere. Indeed, there are huge traffic jams at all exits from Kiev, – confirmed the press secretary of the President of Ukraine Serhiy Nikiforov. – This only complicates the work of special services, adds to the problems of the national police.
The same recommendation was made by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko. He warned: the patrol service will not leave for an accident without victims. “The police now have more important things to do, to ensure order on the streets of cities,” Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Facebook.
Along with traffic jams, there were long queues at gas stations. As early as in the first half of the day, the Ukrainian media reported that there was no shortage of fuel. However, then there was news that some gas station operators did not allow refueling “to a full tank.” Later it became known that a number of gas station networks impose restrictions – no more than 10-20 liters of fuel per car. By evening, there were reports that many gas stations ran out of gas, some of them stopped working.
In supermarkets, according to the stories of local residents, there is already a shortage of products, primarily buckwheat and bread.
Residents of Chernihiv also told Kommersant that in some stores they do not accept cards, but ask to pay only in cash. Some companies, such as the McDonald’s restaurant chain, have closed their establishments.
From the very morning, long queues, reaching up to a hundred people, began to line up at banks, many of them soon stopped issuing loans. Against this background, the National Bank of Ukraine limited the withdrawal of cash from accounts to the amount of 100 thousand hryvnia (about 285 thousand rubles) per day and banned the issuance of cash in foreign currency. He also fixed the exchange rate at the official level as of February 24 – 29.25 hryvnia per dollar, 33.17 hryvnia per euro. The work of the foreign exchange market of Ukraine was also suspended (except for the sale of foreign currency). Later in the afternoon, the National Bank opened a special account to raise money for the needs of the army.
Across the country, the work of schools and kindergartens was stopped, and hospitals began to switch to an enhanced mode of operation. The Ministry of Health of Ukraine announced that until a separate order, all planned hospitalizations are stopped. In the morning, the authorities began to actively urge citizens to donate blood for the needs of the wounded. Images from donor centers appeared on social networks, where people lined up to donate blood. In the meantime, psychologists on television and in social networks told how to calm children. “Hug, take by the hand. To say: now the situation is very difficult, – the well-known Ukrainian psychologist Svetlana Royz wrote on Facebook. – What we feared happened. And it is important for us to be very collected and help each other.”
From one neighbor to another
On the western borders of the country, long queues of cars began to accumulate at the checkpoint in the morning. According to the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Union is ready to “welcome and accept” Ukrainian refugees. She assured that the EU is fully prepared for this.
“We have specific emergency plans with the bloc countries neighboring Ukraine to immediately receive and accommodate refugees from Ukraine,” Ms. von der Leyen said. And the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, promised that the EU would decide on political, humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine.
Western countries expressed their readiness to help Ukrainians separately. “In the next few hours, eight reception points for refugees from Ukraine will be organized in the Lubelskie and Podkarpackie voivodeships near the border with Ukraine,” Polish Deputy Interior Minister Pavel Shefernaker said on the air of Polish radio on Thursday afternoon.
“Everyone who asks for help will receive it,” Tomasz Praga, the chief commandant of the Polish Border Guard, assured at a briefing on Thursday. And the Ministry of Health of the country reported that Polish hospitals are preparing for the possible hospitalization of the Ukrainian wounded.
Slovakia also declared its readiness to accept refugees. In turn, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister of Moldova Nikolai Popescu said that Chisinau is coordinating the issue of receiving and accommodating Ukrainians with neighboring Romania. In general, Moldova said that it could accept about 10 thousand citizens of Ukraine (at least 1.9 thousand Ukrainians crossed its border on Thursday). Latvia is ready to accommodate the same number of people, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the country, Maria Golubeva, said on the air of the Latvian Radio.
Some countries have announced financial support to Ukraine. Thus, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to donate €200,000 to help residents of Ukraine who find themselves in an emergency situation. In the Netherlands, the Refugees Foundation has begun raising funds for humanitarian needs, the organization’s director, Tineke Seilen, told the Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation. “We have no doubt that the situation in Ukraine, where there are already 850,000 internally displaced persons and 3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, will only get worse in the coming days and hours,” she said.
Budapest also declared its readiness to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. True, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban explained at the same time, “Hungary must withdraw from this military conflict and sending soldiers or weapons to Ukraine is out of the question.”