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Those who haven't fled Ukraine hunker down in makeshift bomb shelters

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

While tens of thousands of people have fled Ukraine's capital city, many are hunkering down in makeshift bomb shelters. That is where we found Kristina Berdynskykh. She spoke with our colleague, Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: How many people are there with you when you look around?

KRISTINA BERDYNSKYKH: I think it's around 150 or maybe 200 people.

MARTIN: And are there families? Who do you see?

BERDYNSKYKH: Yeah - families, women with children, elderly people, but mostly, I think, women.

MARTIN: That's because Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 have been asked to pick up weapons and help fight against the Russians, who are now advancing on their city. Kristina is a reporter with a daily English-language news site in Kyiv. I met her when I was there last month. Then, the war seemed to her like a distant possibility. Now she is underground at the Obolon metro station, about a 15-minute ride from the city center, bundled up with blankets and sleeping on the concrete floor. She and her mom are getting by on the food and water they brought from home. When I talked to her yesterday, Kristina was staring down her fourth night there.

BERDYNSKYKH: It's not very warm at night, yeah. I sleep in all my clothes, yes. And it's cold.

MARTIN: I heard the sound of children a little bit in the background.

BERDYNSKYKH: Yeah.

MARTIN: What do the kids do who are there? Are they really young? About how old are the children who are down there?

BERDYNSKYKH: Different ages - from - I think, from 2 years old and 5, 6 years old. They are playing games and each other. They are very calm.

MARTIN: They're calm.

BERDYNSKYKH: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know if they understand that it is war.

MARTIN: And you're there with your mom - right? - who's 67 years old.

BERDYNSKYKH: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: And...

BERDYNSKYKH: I never ever could have imagined that I will sleep on the floor in the metro station.

MARTIN: Yeah. And how is everyone spending their days?

BERDYNSKYKH: I - during the day, I read news all the time because I want to know everything, what's going on outside, and not just in Kyiv but in other cities also. But the hard part of the day is the night because the main explosions in the city happen during the night. And yesterday may be the hardest night. And I saw that some women, when they read that news, they began crying. And one woman even was praying.

MARTIN: What has run through your mind in the night?

BERDYNSKYKH: It depends on - when I read this news that maybe Russia will destroy Kyiv, yes, of course I'm afraid for my country, for my family, for my own security. But also, I understand that now I'm in a better position than people who fight with the enemy outside. I speak about our army. And I have hope that we will win. And I just pray for that people.

MARTIN: We are seeing and hearing stories of ordinary Ukrainians - right? - taking up weapons to fight against the Russians, people standing in the roads trying to block Russian tanks, elderly folks going up to Russian soldiers and confronting them face-to-face, telling them to go back to Russia. What do you make of how Ukrainians are pushing back?

BERDYNSKYKH: I think Ukrainians now are very angry because no one expected a war. And no one understands (ph) why. Why Russia? Just - and why Putin? He decides just destroy our country. And that's why I think so many people now help each other inside the country. Someone go to the army. Some become to volunteer. That's why Putin couldn't destroy Kyiv during today's - because our people fight.

MARTIN: Ukraine's foreign minister is calling this the people's war.

BERDYNSKYKH: Yeah. Yeah. I agree with him. But you know, of course, I hope we will win. And I know that we will win at the end. But I don't know why it happened in Ukraine, in the middle of Europe, yes, in 21st century. Why?

MARTIN: Why did you stay in Kyiv? Why didn't you try, like so many other Ukrainians in the capital city, to leave, to head west?

BERDYNSKYKH: I had doubt during the first night, yes. What should I do next? But when I saw how brave our people outside, I - now I just have big hope that we will win. And I want to be in Kyiv in that moment. Then I want to see our victory in Kyiv. That's why I just sit in here and wait in that moment.

MARTIN: Is there anything else you want us to know, you want Americans to know, the world to know?

BERDYNSKYKH: I just want to repeat my phrase that this war not about, like Putin says, about some part of Ukraine, about Donbas or about humanitarian problem, about genocide. No. It's just about one old maniac who just wants to destroy our country. He's like Hitler, unfortunately. And the world should understand that.

MARTIN: Kristina, thank you. Thank you for talking with us. And please stay in touch and stay safe.

BERDYNSKYKH: Thank you. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOGS' "5/4")

MARTINEZ: That was Kristina Berdynskykh speaking to Rachel from a makeshift bomb shelter in Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOGS' "5/4") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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