Kharkiv METRO-2022. "It's like we're in Glukhovsky's book"

The independent Kazakh publication "Respublika" released a series of reports devoted to the true history of the war in Ukraine. This view "from abroad" on the events seemed interesting to us, so "ElitExpert" decided to introduce it with these publications our readers.

From the very first day of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, Kharkiv, the city of one and a half million people - the second largest in the country - became the scene of the fiercest battles.

Located only a few tens of kilometers from the Russian border, Kharkiv was considered by Russia as easy prey. The Kremlin expected that a city with an almost XNUMX percent Russian-speaking population would meet the Russian army as "liberators" at best, neutrally at worst. However, the opposite happened. The people of Kharkiv rallied in the fight against the advancing Russian troops and began to stubbornly fight for every block, for every house.

When the blitzkrieg failed, the Russian command relied on continuous rocket and artillery fire, destroying the city day after day. After the first shelling, thousands and then tens of thousands of people moved to live in the subway. Up to one hundred and fifty thousand people found shelter there, on the platforms of Kharkiv stations or inside the cars of the stopped trains.

The Metropolitan became home

The city authorities stopped the work of the underground on the very first day of the war and urged Kharkiv residents to hide there to save their lives. At that time, it seemed like a temporary, forced measure, and no one could assume that the subway would become a real home for hundreds of thousands of citizens for many months.

Some people came there on February 24 and stayed. Others came only to spend the night, because it was difficult for them to wake up from shelling every hour and run to the nearest bomb shelters. Some were left homeless altogether, and subway station platforms became their only safe haven in a city at war.

The Metropolitan will become a real home for hundreds of thousands of citizens for many months.

"Life in the subway after the first days of chaos quickly became quite measured," says Iryna Ilyasova, who lived at the Akademika Pavlova station from February to May 2022.

Some pitched warm modern tents on platforms, some slept on air mattresses, some on pallets covered with blankets. All children are warmly dressed, they, by and large, perceived life in the subway as some exciting game invented for them by adults. And teachers even came to teach the older children.

There were sockets everywhere, and people have electric kettles, slow cookers: without such equipment it would be difficult. There were also shared teapots - in the evening, a huge queue lined up for them. Plus, there were also queues at the outlets: people were charging their gadgets there. There were no problems with water - fountains with drinking water worked on the platforms, plus bottled water was constantly delivered by volunteers and the city authorities.

Everything was fine with food as well - firstly, unlike Mariupol, many shops at the top were open and you could go out and buy something, secondly, free hot lunches were offered at the stations."

The family is having lunch on the platform floor of the Heroes of Labor station.

Soon, the people in the subway already knew each other well, and many developed friendly relationships. They stuck together, because each of them did not come there from a good life.

There was no panic, because everyone felt safe in the subway. Everyone read the news together, worried, cried when they learned what destruction the next shelling of the city had caused.

Family couple watching movie on smartphone on subway floor.

"We can say that the trouble brought everyone together. People were polite to each other, and everyone communicated with sadness in their eyes," says Andriy Borovykov, who lived at the Akademika Barabashova station in March.

"At the same time, everyone wanted their own corner, cozy and safe, so many tried to "allocate a living space" from the common space: someone equipped a "room" from cardboard attached to the wall of the platform, many put up large tents, someone simply brought pegs and pulled a sheet between them. They arranged their lives as best they could - they brought floor lamps, folding chairs, table lamps, even dining tables.

Among the problems, I can say about lighting. There was not enough sunlight, so the atmosphere was sleepy. Yes, there were no extraneous smells, the subway has a good hood, but the toilet and shower left much to be desired - and there were not enough of them for such a large number of people.

In general, people are so used to living underground that soon a real micro-city was formed there, which embodies Kharkiv."

Even in the subway, everyone wanted their own corner, cozy and safe.

Long-distance map

At the same time, subway trains also froze on the tracks, and their carriages turned into the same shelters for people, although a little more comfortable than life just on the floor of the stations. Here, the lucky ones could even sleep on the seats, and in principle, everything resembled a first-class carriage in a long-distance train, which was already overgrown with life and acquaintances.

The metro trains resembled reserved carriages on long-distance trains.

"There is such a book - "Metro 2033" by Dmytro Hlukhovsky and a computer game from this book. There, people live underground, breed animals, plant gardens. And it's as if we found ourselves in this very book," say Igor and Olena, who spent a month in a Kharkiv subway train at the Palats Pratsi station.

"At first we lived on the platform, in a week there were seats in one of the carriages and we moved there. It was also warmer there, and you can close yourself in the carriages, which gave the illusion of personal space. At the same time, all permanent residents knew their places at the station and in the cars. If someone left, the place was vacated and the family with children was taken there first.

Before the war, we lived in Northern Saltivka (Kharkov district, which suffered the most from shelling - Ed .) and stayed there for quite a long time already during the war. When there was shelling, they simply hid in the corridor or in the bathroom, using the "two-wall rule". But at the beginning of March, a shell flew into the apartment next to ours, a family was killed there, and the whole floor caught fire.

After it was extinguished, we collected the necessary things and documents in half an hour, took our sphynx cat with us and moved to the subway."

In the photo, Ihor Zhuravlev from Kharkiv with his cat.

Pupils together with their owners

In general, pets living in the underground is a story that deserves special attention. Together with the owners, hundreds of dogs and cats lived in the subway, even turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs and parrots in cages were found. All this periodically barked, meowed, flapped its wings, got lost, ran away with the leashes in the subway tunnel, bringing even more commotion to what was happening.

Sometimes it felt like we were living in a giant animal shelter, people recalled.

Several dozen activists immediately took on organizational issues, engaged in food procurement, delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid. At the same time, many men said that at first they were ashamed to hide in the subway, when others with weapons were defending the city above.

"We even got together once, there were about 15 of us, and we thought - as long as we can sit here, we have to go out and sign up for the Teroboron. But then we talked to the police and the military - and they said that since most of us do not have army experience, we will only become a burden, and here, down here, men's hands are very necessary to organize life, to help, to volunteer," Igor says. Zhuravlev.

People and babies were hiding in the underground.

Life goes on

After the successful counteroffensive of the Ukrainian army, the threat of direct capture of Kharkiv was removed. Yes, regular shelling continues to this day, but the lives of Kharkiv residents have gradually improved, as much as is possible in a war-torn city. Public transport started working again, and the city hall decided to start the metro again.

At the beginning of summer, people began to be evicted from metro stations - first from the trains themselves, then from the platforms.   

"I begged you at one time to go down to the subway and live here, and thanks to this you saved your life. Now my task is to provide transport to all people, to restart the economy, because enterprises must work and give life to the city," said Mayor of Kharkiv Ihor Terekhov.

As of October 2022, up to 90% of people hiding in the subway have gradually come out of the underground and have either returned home or been relocated to safer areas of the city. There, if possible, they were provided with normal living conditions, food, and medicines, and the children were assigned to schools and kindergartens. 

And yet some people still live in the metro. There are not many of them, and while the war is going on, the Kharkiv authorities turn a blind eye to it. Therefore, thousands of people who use the subway today as intended, here and there, as before, meet tents and mattresses on the platforms, and people with kettles and in dressing gowns, whose lives were broken by the war, turning the subway into the only safe place for them residence.


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