The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kyiv’s streets empty as tensions rise over fears of Russian ground assault

A roadblock on a Kyiv street on March 2. (Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian capital’s streets remained largely empty Wednesday as civilians hunkered down inside their homes and underground shelters amid ongoing fears of Russian attacks.

Sirens warning of potential air assaults blared consistently through the city for most of the morning and early afternoon.

On main roads, defense forces have erected roadblocks using tree branches, tires, concrete blocks and old cars.

At checkpoints every few hundred yards, male and female volunteers with yellow tape on their arms and rifles in their hands checked IDs.

On one normally busy road near downtown, an abandoned, burned-out car was smashed into a telephone pole.

Tensions in the capital are rising as fears persist over a massive column of Russian forces pointed toward Kyiv from the north. U.S. defense officials said Tuesday that the 40-mile-long column of tanks and combat vehicles appeared stalled about 20 miles north of central Kyiv, as Russian forces grappled with fuel and food shortages.

Britain’s Defense Intelligence agency said Wednesday that “heavy Russian artillery and air strikes” have continued to target “built-up areas” in the past 24 hours, focusing primarily on the cities of Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, in addition to Kyiv.

In southern Ukraine, the mayor of Kherson called for safe passage to remove the wounded and dead, writing on a messaging app: “We are all waiting for a miracle. We need it.” The mayor and Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russian troops had entered Kherson but denied reports from Russian state media that the vital port city had fallen.

In the Black Sea port of Mariupol, the city administration reported Wednesday that a maternity hospital and dozens of residential buildings had been hit, along with a school and a hostel for migrants, in more than 14 hours of Russian shelling.

“The Russians staged a real bloody terror,” the administration said. “Mariupol will not forget and will not forgive. Putin’s fascists must be stopped!”

In Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko urged residents to stay strong despite the shelling. “We are preparing and will defend Kyiv,” he said in a video message.

David L. Stern in Mukachevo, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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