Portugal Colonial - Kyiv residents resolute as Russia signals pullback

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Kyiv residents resolute as Russia signals pullback
Kyiv residents resolute as Russia signals pullback

Kyiv residents resolute as Russia signals pullback

At 80 years old, Kyiv retiree Yuriy Mykhailin has seen Ukraine battle through a lot to forge its own path in the world, and he's not going to let Russian pressure daunt him now.

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On Tuesday, hearing reports from Moscow that suggested some Russian forces were pulling back from the border, he choked back tears of emotion.

"I want to sign up to the Kyiv territorial defence to protect my family, my children and grandchildren," he said told AFP.

A poll this month said nearly 60 percent of Ukrainians "would resist" Russia if it invades.

"That way, I think the victory will be ours," Mykhailin said.

Ukraine has faced sporadic fighting with Russian-backed separatists in the southeast of the country for the past eight years.

But the recent massive deployment of Russian forces on its borders -- including in Belarus, a few hours drive from Kyiv -- brought the pressure to a new level.

Alongside threats from Moscow, Ukraine's airwaves were filled with dire warnings from US officials that a Russian invasion could be just days away.

The US embassy in Kyiv shut up shop, and a "core team" of diplomats moved to Lviv in western Ukraine, considered further from the potential frontline.

- 'We are strong!' -

Washington insisted it would stand by its partner and, with the EU, has threatened Russia with economic sanctions if it does invade.

US charge d'affaires Kristina Kvien took to the streets of her new home town safely 470 kilometres (290 miles) west of the capital to try to reassure Ukrainians.

"I'd like to just reiterate that this is a temporary move and, as much as we love Lviv, we hope very much to be back in Kyiv very soon," she said.

"It's Russia that has caused this change in our posture," she said, denouncing Moscow's troop build-up and "aggressive and hostile rhetoric".

But, with foreign nationals rushing to leave and airlines beginning to cancel flights into Ukrainian air space, some here complain they are being abandoned.

On Tuesday, a bare-breasted protester from the Ukrainian activist group Femen mocked the US fall back to the west outside the closed Kyiv mission.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has responded to the mood by declaring Wednesday -- the day some US reports suggested an invasion could begin -- a day of unity.

"On this day we will hang our national flags, put on blue and yellow ribbons and show our unity to the whole world," he declared in a televised statement.

"We are calm! We are strong! We are together!"

- Pride in unity -

But in truth there has been little sign of panic in the streets of Kyiv, lit brightly this week by chilly but cheerful spring-like sunshine.

Ukrainians have gone about their business, some expressing pride that Russian warnings and intense media reporting of their plight have not shaken them.

There was a protest in Kyiv on Tuesday morning. Around 100 demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament, watched by a larger group of police.

But they were not responding to the threat to the border, nor denouncing the government response: they were quietly opposed to coronavirus vaccine mandates.

In a street near the central Maidan square 22-year-old lawyer Artem Zaluzhniy admitted that he sometimes shunned media reports to avoid too much stress.

But he gave Zelensky some credit for his work to deter the Russian threat, and said he might turn up on Wednesday to see Day of Unity events.

"I work nearby, so I will probably come and take a look. In general, I think such a celebration is urgently needed in Ukraine today," he told AFP.

"Because in times like this the national idea and the unity of the nation is formed."

V.F.Barreira--PC