September 27, 2022

Westside People

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The Dracoa mongoose and the ginger cat named Cat have reached an uneasy truce. And while the dog across the platform is still barking at them, after more than a month, the humans and their pets who live in this corner of the Kharkiv metro station are used to each other.

On one side of the catwalk, Titiana Kapustinska hung her twenty-fourth birthday balloons on the pole behind which she sleeps. “The day before I cried because I didn’t know what it would be like, but in the end people got together and celebrated with me,” she said.

“The biggest problem was the champagne, I couldn’t find a bottle anywhere,” she smiled, making cups of instant coffee for visitors with water in a flask. “The cake wasn’t a big deal. You can still get it in stores.”

Dasha with mongoose Drakoa in the Kharkiv metro.

Dasha with mongoose Drakoa in the Kharkiv metro. Photo: Dmytro Frantsev/The Guardian

Kapustynska, a mathematics and physics teacher, has transformed a metro station operating room into a cross between a childcare facility and a school for children who live in the underground room. On her birthday, they made decorations and organized flowers.

About a month ago, she was trying to choose a bar or restaurant to celebrate. But since the war began, bombs, shells and missiles have decimated downtown Kharkiv and residential areas, killing hundreds of civilians, perhaps in the war’s deadliest attacks outside the besieged port city of Mariupol.

In response, life has largely moved indoors and underground, with thousands of people taking refuge in Soviet-era stations. These were designed in the Cold War era to shelter the city’s population from a Western attack, but now bunkers protect civilians from the Russians.

It’s scary, said Denis Kapustinsky, 19, Tetiana’s brother. He lived with his mother in Saltivka, a northern suburb that had been reduced to a scorching wasteland by some of the fiercest bombing of the war.

He doesn’t even know if they have a home anymore, having fled with little more than clothes on their backs at the start of the war. “On the first day of the war, the explosions were very loud. They were already bombing apartment buildings. We got dressed, picked up our documents, and left.”

Still some venture out in the day for light, fresh air, and shopping, and Titiana goes to feed and play with her dog, which is too big to bring to the metro station – though every trip over land is likely to be fatal.

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