Kharkiv: the bombed city that lives underground, in metro stations

The story of the director of Caritas-Spes, returning from one of Kharkiv’s metro stations. An underground network of carriages and tunnels, where we sleep, cook, study, and where children – despite the bombs – continue to be born. “What you feel is a great sense of uncertainty about the future. At the same time, taking responsibility for each other in these small communities gives a sense of moving forward.” “The war will not end soon with a peace agreement. It will stay with us for a long time to come. There is always the fear of being forgotten by Europe, because after the first shock it is easy to get used to war. Our task as Ukrainian Church and as Caritas is therefore to be there as long as this conflict requires “

Kharkiv: the bombed city that lives underground, in metro stations
(Photo ANSA / SIR)

(Photo Caritas-Spes)

Outside, on the surface, Kharkiv is a ghost town. Only very few shops are open. People are gone. The offices are closed. On the street, children no longer play in parks. But the city is still active. He lives underground, in the underground stations, an underground network of wagons and tunnels, where you sleep, cook, study, and where children – despite the bombs – continue to be born. It is Fr. Vyacheslav Grynevych, director of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, who tells SIR what is happening under the Kharkiv metro, where he was on the last mission to bring humanitarian aid and share the work that the local Caritas is doing on the spot . “I was surprised to see how people organized themselves,” he says. As soon as you get into the subway, in the booth where you used to buy tickets, now there are people checking the entrance. A policeman stops the “visitors”, asks for the documents and the reason why they ask to enter. “They then called a woman whom we later understood as the person in charge of the community living at that subway station.” A kind of “mini-mayor” selected from among the most active people, capable of relations and contacts with authorities and local charities. As the Russians began bombing the city, all people flocked under the subway in search of a safe place. There was total chaos. As the days went by, everyone understood that this would not be a temporary situation and that they needed to get organized. Today, for many, the subway station has become a city within a city. The entire network has been used as a reception center, where between 60 and 70 people can live at the station. The manager also has, among other things, tasks to manage an attendance register, with exits and new registrations, to avoid overcrowding or vacancies.

(Photo Caritas-Spes)

Inside there is a kitchen to the right. There is a tab indicating the guards and how many people can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To the left is a medical point where it is possible to get a consultation or even medication. The trains – which once carried the inhabitants from one place in the city to another – now stand still. Each car has three entrances and in each room there is a room for each family unit or group. Inside, people have brought everything they need to live. It is their home, so much so that here every family and every nucleus is defined by the carriage in which it is placed. “In those days there was a very young woman of 22, who gave birth to her little daughter Victoria,” says the pastor. “And when she got back to the subway station with the little girl, it was like she was going home, and the little girl was the last child born into a larger family.”

(Photo Caritas-Spes)

However, there are few children. Most young families have traveled. Those left behind are generally the elderly who do not want to and cannot leave the city. In the common area of ​​the metro station there is a table with a computer where children take turns playing video games. There is also a guy who provides tuition online. They have organized a station for him, and when he has a lesson, the silence of the whole station falls so as not to disturb. “The experience of war has nevertheless entered their lives and will remain forever,” notes Fr. Vyacheslav. “Our operators tell us that when children describe war, they repeat ‘bang bang’, and to describe the sound of weapons they hear, they compare it to the sound of rain falling violently to the ground during a storm. “It’s not normal for a child to talk like that.”

The various metro stations are connected to each other through an online viber chat with which they communicate the needs and resources they have, from sugar to flour to medicine and the exchange of goods takes place under the tunnels. It is an underground logistics organization. Every day, at 8 p.m., they even have a movie night: they set up a projector, and all the “residents” of the station vote for the movie they want to see every night. Outside on the surface, the offices are closed. People do not work, but they have all given the will to clean up the city or work as volunteers in the various services. Some are there because their houses have been bombed, others because they are afraid of bombs and have found a safer place at the station. Many also came from the suburbs hardest hit by the attacks. “What you feel is a great sense of uncertainty about the future. At the same time, taking responsibility for each other in these small communities gives a feeling of moving forward, ”says the director of Caritas Spes. He adds: “The war will not end soon with a peace agreement. It will remain with us for a long time to come. It will remain in the current history of our country and Europe. There is always the fear of being forgotten by Europe, because after the first shock is it easy to get used to war.Our task as a Ukrainian church and as Caritas is therefore to be there as long as this conflict requires.It is easy to start a war, it is very difficult to stop it.The question, we ask ourselves is how we can work to not only rebuild the country from the rubble but also to heal wounded hearts. Forgiveness becomes the great challenge. Our gaze is always on the day the war ends and people will be able to take home ”.

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