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Fear and uncertainty grip Ukraine as Russian threat looms

On a Jan. 26 train ride from Kyiv to Kharkiv, in the east of the country, Ukrainians gave voice to their anxiety over a possible conflict with Russia. (Video: Whitney Shefte, James Cornsilk/The Washington Post)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — The train trip Wednesday morning from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, to Kharkiv, its second-largest city, was ordinary in every way.

There were people heading home and others traveling for business; some nodded off in their seats, while others stared at their phones or at the snow falling outside the window. But beneath the calm was an undercurrent of uncertainty and fear as the threat of an invasion by Russia looms.

Four maps that explain the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Kharkiv sits less than 30 miles from the Russian border and has deep historical and cultural ties with its more powerful neighbor to the north.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently said that the city could be occupied by Russia in the event of an invasion. In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Moscow-backed separatists tried to seize control of Kharkiv — but Ukrainian authorities quashed the rebellion.

Now, residents here fear a return to violence and unrest and are pinning their hopes on a diplomatic solution to the crisis. If that fails, however, they say that they hope other European nations will open their doors to them.

“If terrible things may happen, I just want the whole world to support us, and to be aware, to accept us if we ask them,” said Alena Krichko, who lives with her two children in Kharkiv. “I think perhaps I should move to Kyiv or move to European countries.”