Lviv - Before the war, he was developing programs in Javascript for a large data analysis company from an office in Kyiv Today, 26-year-old Dmytro Anastasiev travels the length and breadth of the Ukrainian capital, emptied and now besieged by Russian troops, to bring help to those in need, risking his own life.

The nightmare for Dmytro, as for 44 million other Ukrainians, began in the early hours of February 24 when Vladimir Putin ordered the large-scale attack that shocked the entire world. "Many Kyiv residents packed up immediately," he explains over the phone. "But I, even though I knew that males of draft age [between 18 and 60] would soon be prevented from leaving, stayed."

“In our hearts we believe peace is not around the corner”

For nearly three weeks now he has been making deliveries by car with basic necessities to families who have lost their homes, connecting food warehouses with canteens that cook for the troops, and compiling lists of those in need who are still trapped in the capital.

"We all know that there will be no easy solution to this conflict. We tell ourselves we are optimistic but in our hearts we believe peace is not around the corner," says Dmytro, who describes how the shock of being a citizen of an invaded nation lasted just three days, time enough for his family to pack up while he and other friends took care of getting under cover. Then there was the adjustment, the realization that he wasn't facing a flash war, and finally the will to fight back.

"I realized I couldn't sit still anymore," he says. And he started taking action.

Lives Reconfigured

Dmytro's life is one of the countless that have been "reconfigured" in a flash by the conflict in Ukraine, which has forced ordinary people to make themselves available for widespread resistance. Through word of mouth and social media, he found a vast network of volunteers who, like him, wanted to do something – anything – and since then he has been roaming the streets in overalls, sneakers and a jacket without ever taking a day off.

Until 20 days ago, Kyiv had a population of almost three million people. Today, according to rough estimates, there are less than half of them left. "We hear sirens every day. It's scary," Dmytro says. "We have to drop everything we're doing at the time and find a bunker. But for those who have small children or a pet, it's even worse: they risk not sleeping and not letting others sleep." The mayor of Kyiv announced a 35-hour curfew on Monday night due to the "difficult and dangerous" situation.

Dmytro also explains what those who can't get to safety during the alerts should do. "If you really can't stay in a shelter, you should try to sleep in the innermost part of the apartment. There must be at least one wall between you and the windows, which can explode into a thousand pieces by shock waves."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly warned Russian forces surrounding Kyiv that they will face a deadly struggle, and risk taking over a city reduced to rubble. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has also said that the city will not surrender or accept any ultimatums.

The Subway as a Shelter

Meanwhile, the remaining citizens seek refuge in the subway, which has become one of the most grim symbols of this war.

In peacetime, the service was used by about 1 million people a day; now the underground stations serve as an emergency shelter for about 15,000 residents, who sleep on platforms and in corridors once the curfew begins.

The subway operates on one platform every 90 minutes, while the opposite platform has cars stationed for people to wait, sit or sleep. As a form of support, the government has also bolstered Wi-Fi access throughout the city, providing internet connections to more than 200 bomb shelters to allow people to keep in touch with relatives.

The Ukrainian Hackers

Some of Dmytro's former IT colleagues have made themselves available for one of the most sophisticated aspects of the war. "There's a hidden communications group in the city fighting Russian propaganda," he explains, pointing out that they are both social media influencers and real hackers, anonymous disruptors of enemy institutions.

Funding for the operations of Dmytro and other volunteers comes from a myriad of sources: donations from wealthy Ukrainians or from abroad, from NGOs that are now all located in Western regions. In particular, economic support comes from Lviv, the city about 60 km from the Polish border that has become the main hub for displaced persons in Ukraine, as well as the de facto capital of the country. Kyiv survives in relative isolation, as the richest associations and the entire foreign diplomatic corps have fled to operate better elsewhere, from remote locations.

Territorial Defense Groups

For those who want to be part of the real armed resistance, there are the so-called "territorial defense groups" – ordinary people equipped with rifles and machine guns with government approval and coordinated by the army.

"You have no idea how many people in civilian clothes you can see around Kyiv with guns in their hands," Dmytro explains. "And it's been like that for weeks."

But now those groups are overflowing with participants and are no longer taking volunteers, at least not officially. "Armed groups have become far too many, the government is aware of this and doesn't want too much improvisation to turn into chaos. Or to do more damage than anything else. I share this idea: better to help out behind the scenes." Dmytro’s individual urge to contribute in any way he can is noticeable in larger trends. Blood banks in Kyiv, for example, are fully stocked thanks to an unprecedented wave of donors.

The Organization of Volunteering

Telegram groups are essential for organizing volunteers. The need is great across the board: those who need money, food, those who have lost their homes. "I found a woman who had been shot by Russian soldiers. Her relatives wrote to us that she had nothing, and she was in the hospital. We got her clean clothes and cash." Dmytro also gives a hand to a wide network of restaurants, converted into charity canteens: "I take care of going to retrieve hot meals and distribute them together with other volunteers from house to house, organizing tours that keep us busy for hours every day".

And then there are the many – thousands at any given time – who are trying to escape.

First of all, out of Kyiv. Then almost always to the west. And from there to Poland, Hungary, Germany. "The evacuations are actually managed by the state authorities, because the risk is that inexperienced drivers can get into trouble by ending up on roads already controlled by the Russians. But in any case we are always on the alert, ready to help those who escape by our means," says Dmytro.

Who is Fleeing the War

In any case, leaving has become very difficult: airports are closed, trains are packed, and only one highway south of the capital remains open to reach Lviv. "You have to make an endless loop that takes over three days by car. In normal times, six hours would be enough," says Dmytro.

Whether by train, bus, or car, more than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine after nearly three weeks of conflict, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While Moscow claims it has not targeted civilians since invading Ukraine, Zelensky and Western allies say otherwise. Russia blames Ukraine for not evacuating civilians from encircled cities, but news reports and numerous eyewitnesses have refuted this claim.

The Kyiv Paradox

Dmytro illustrates a paradox: although Kyiv lives in a precarious and unsafe status, and its satellite cities risk being reduced to dust one by one.

"I'm trying to figure out how to live in the new Kyiv I have before my eyes," says Dmytro, who tries to grasp with his words a glimmer of normalcy, however alienating.

He admits to himself: "Those of us who stayed behind know: the conflict will not be short. We have to resume the work we used to do. Make some money and spend it here. Getting back to using the restaurants, the services. Reprogramming ourselves for a new routine. There are so many people like me who won't leave. We're proud of our heroes. And we know we're going to win, there's no doubt about that."