What is the problem?
On January 10, the metro celebrates its birthday. The first subway was launched in London in 1863. When Nazi Germany bombed Great Britain during the Second World War, the London Underground became a refuge for many people. After that, the Ukraine metro was built with the British experience in mind.
Since February 24, the Ukrainian metro has ceased to be just a means of transportation. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, this is where people have run to find rescue from russian missiles. You can safely wait out an air raid in the subway even now. However, underground stations do not simply protect against shelling. During the ten months of russian aggression, the subway became a hub of invincibility: cultural, educational, and humanitarian. The subway has become one of the symbols of Ukrainian resistance and unity.
What is the solution?
Subway as refuge
After russia's invasion, the Kyiv subway stopped working in its usual mode — trains ran once an hour, and in the breaks between air raids, some stations didn't work at all. The metro became the main bomb shelter for thousands of Kyiv residents who didn't leave the city. From the first days of the full-scale war, the underground team selflessly helped tens of thousands of people who sought refuge in subway stations.
Thus, Lesia Snihur, the head of the Lukianivska metro station, later became world-famous — VOGUE magazine wrote about her. As part of the series "Portraits of Ukrainian Women at War," Lesia Snihur talked about the situation at the station, where about 800 people were hiding in the first days of the war. Among them were children, older people, and animals. For almost a month, the woman herself lived next to them. Lesia Snihur could not go home because she felt responsible for people and employees.
"Strangers got to know each other, helping each other. Everyone shared with everyone. Then volunteers started helping. We found bread and lard somewhere and started making sandwiches together. I just burst into tears, realizing the conditions imposed on us. We lived peacefully, but now we had to hide in the subway," she said in an interview.
Metro as home
Stopped on February 24, the Kharkiv metro became not only the biggest shelter for the citizens but also a home. People lived simply on platforms and in wagons. People set up tents, brought household appliances here, and organized kitchens and places to sleep. To create at least the illusion of home comfort, they hung curtains in the carriages and decorated "rooms" with heart-warming little items. They washed the floor and took out the trash. They established shifts and took care of their safety — they were on the lookout for potential saboteurs. Children were entertained and educated. Even hairdressers came down to the platform to meet Kharkiv residents.
People also celebrated very personal events there. The wedding photo of newlyweds Anastasia and Anton from Kharkiv was included in the list of the best photos of the year, according to The Guardian. The newlyweds celebrated their wedding among the ruins of Kharkiv, and the wedding ceremony took place at the Universitet metro station, which then worked only as a shelter.
The Kharkiv underground functioned as a shelter for 89 days. Many of those who found refuge in the Kharkiv metro live here and now — they simply have nowhere to go, as russia destroyed their homes.
Subway as dispensary
Serhii Alkhimov, a fifth-year medical university student, organized a medical center at the 23 Serpnia subway station in Kharkiv and helped people forced to live underground because of the war. Alkhimov came to the station on February 24 to protect himself from russian shelling and, on the same day, helped the first person — a girl with poisoning.
In three days, the guy began to receive patients in the wagon. Because of the cold, most people had colds. Later, volunteers began to bring medicine to the station, and the subway assigned Serhii an office. The student lived and worked in the subway until the end of May. He received about a hundred patients a day. Some patients are still calling.
Subway as educational space
In spring and summer in Kharkiv, teachers helped organize education, leisure time, and psychological support for children who lived at subway stations. Thus, an improvised school class appeared at the Sportyvna station. Here and at other metro stations, teachers advised schoolchildren on various academic subjects and helped them learn the material that children study remotely. In addition, psychologists and social educators worked with the children.
Children were provided textbooks, furniture, and other school supplies for classes. Master classes were planned, as well as sports competitions, quests, and mobile games.
In the Dnipro underground, a traditional holiday was held for school graduates with the highest scores. This year, for the sake of safety, 255 gold medalists were invited to one of the stations of the Dnipro metro. Children, parents, and teachers had a festive evening with greetings, gifts, and performances by famous Dnipro residents.
Adults also study in the metro. Free pieces of first aid training in the Kyiv metro have already become commonplace for residents of Kyiv and guests of the city. They have been organized here since the beginning of the full-scale war. The training program is designed to teach a person the basics of providing first aid in a short time — correctly assessing the victim's condition, stopping bleeding, and assisting in airway obstruction, circulatory arrest, and thermal burns. About 3,000 people attended the course last November! Considering the demand, training in the subway is to be held every third Friday of the month from 12:00 to 17:00.
And in the photo above, students of one of Kyiv's theater universities conduct classes in the capital's subway during an air raid.
Subway as coworking
This is what the subway in Kyiv looks like during an air raid — the subway works as a shelter. People read books and monitor the news. Some come with pets. There is always internet and communication in the Kyiv metro. And this is an opportunity to call relatives, learn information and even work. This option is especially relevant if there is no electricity at home. "And this is our small victory," the subway workers say.
At 19 stations, Kyiv authorities have set up Points of Invincibility with USB chargers, where you can recharge mobile phones and other gadgets.
The metro proved the status of the Point of Invincibility because here:
- 1.5 million minutes were spent talking with relatives on February 24-26;
- 600,000 minutes were spent talking to loved ones on October 10, the day of the first massive strike on Ukraine's energy infrastructure;
- on the days of the mass missile strikes, 95% used more Internet traffic, scrolling the news feed and working online.
In addition, as the Kyiv City State Administration reported, about 5,200 people used the Kyiv subway as a refuge on New Year's Eve during the air raid. Almost 400 of them are children.
Subway as stage
Since the beginning of the war, Kyiv, Dnipro, and Kharkiv subways have been actively used for holding important meetings and as concert venues. Stars from different parts of the world come out to support Ukrainian fighters and their families, rescuers, and volunteers.
- On Easter, the Okean Elsy band gave a charity concert in the Kyiv metro. The musicians performed in the Kyiv metro. Ukrainian volunteers, medical workers, and military personnel were invited to the show as spectators. At the same time, during the broadcast, donations were collected to help children affected by the war.
- Members of the Irish band U2 also visited Kyiv for a concert. They played a show on May 8 in the middle of the Khreshchatyk metro station. As the musicians said on Twitter, they performed at the request of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
- The super final of the 12th season of Ukraine's Voice, which was broadcast live, was held at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station. Well-known volunteers and the military, including those released from captivity, sat in the audience hall located on the subway platform.
- In September, a charity concert for the 246th anniversary of the city was held in Dnipro at one of the metro stations. Spectators had the opportunity to see the performances of the bands TVORCHI and Wellboy and donate to an ambulance for one of the brigades of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Subway as place for celebrations and events
Underground becomes not only a shelter but also the epicenter of life and various activities for children and adults. Older couples dance at the Teatralna metro station in Kyiv; the war did not interrupt the tradition. Not just famous performers sing in the subway, but also ordinary Kyiv residents, waiting out the air raid. Birthdays and various family events are celebrated underground.
This year, the Kharkiv authorities refused to celebrate the New Year on Freedom Square due to the full-scale war. However, the Christmas tree was installed underground at the Universitet metro station.
The Universitet metro station became the New Year's center. On December 31, for safety reasons, all New Year's events for children were held here. The residence of St. Nicholas worked at the station. There was a New Year's performance for children. In the evening, there was a festive program on the occasion of New Year's Eve with the participation of Kharkiv artists and musical groups.
A Christmas performance was held in the capital at the Teatralna metro station!
And in the photo above, despite the shelling, the New Year's sorcerer gives gifts to children in the Kyiv metro.
Metro as platform for Ukraine to speak
On April 23, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky held a press conference in the Kyiv metro. It was the first major press conference of the president for Ukrainian and foreign media since the beginning of russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Zelensky answered the questions of Ukrainian and foreign journalists about Mariupol, negotiations with putin, the supply of weapons, russia's plan to reach the Carpathians, and prospects for Ukraine's recovery through the mediation of other countries.
The special episode of the American TV host David Letterman's talk show My Next Guest with Volodymyr Zelensky was also filmed in the subway. This program has been on Netflix since 2018. During this time, George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds, Barack Obama, Billie Eilish, and other top celebrities have already visited Letterman.
The episode with the President of Ukraine was recorded at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station when it was still closed to passengers. An air raid alarm sounded during the recording. Letterman asked what that meant. Zelensky replied that this sound is an indicator that the war is not over:
"It is a reminder that someone gives his life for yours."
He stated that Ukrainians are getting used to air raid sirens. But such signals are not what a person should get used to.
Refuge that also suffers
Metro, which has been a reliable shelter for Ukrainians for almost a year, is also suffering from russian attacks.
This is what the Kharkiv metro depot looked like after the russian missile strike in July 2022. And after one of the russian missile attacks in December, a fragment of a missile was found at the Livoberezhna metro station in Kyiv.
But despite everything, the Ukrainian metro continues to work, develop, transport passengers and support us all in the fight against russia's invasion. In addition, 363 employees of the Kyiv subway alone serve in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and stand in defense of our country. As one of them said, "Kyiv metro not only transports passengers but also protects them!"
This article was created by the Rubryka online publication within the Ukraine Rapid Response Fund program, implemented by IREX with the support of the US State Department. The content is the sole responsibility of the Rubryka online publication and does not necessarily reflect the views of IREX or the US State Department.
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