Dracoa the ferret and the ginger cat named Cat have reached an uneasy truce. And while the dog across the platform still yaps at them both, after more than a month, the humans and their pets living in this corner of Kharkiv’s metro station are used to each other.
On one side of the platform, Tetiana Kapustynska hung up balloons for her 24th birthday on the pillar she sleeps behind. “The day before I cried because I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but in the end people got together and celebrated with me,” she said.
“The biggest problem was champagne, I couldn’t find a bottle anywhere,” she added with a grin, as she made cups of instant coffee for visitors with water in a flask. “Cake wasn’t so much of a problem. You can still get it in the shops.”
Kapustynska, who is a maths and physics teacher, turned the metro station’s operation room into a cross between a childcare facility and a school for the children living in the underground chamber. For her birthday, they made decorations and organised flowers.
Barely a month ago, she had been trying to choose a bar or restaurant for celebrations. But since the war began, bombs, shells and rockets have smashed Kharkiv city centre and residential areas, killing hundreds of civilians, in perhaps the most intense offensives of the war outside the besieged port town of Mariupol.
In response, life has largely moved indoors and underground, with thousands of people taking refuge in Soviet-era stations. These were designed in the cold war era to shelter the city’s residents from a western attack, but now the bunkers are protecting civilians from the Russians.
“I don’t go out much; it’s frightening,” said Denis Kapustynskyi, 19, Tetiana’s brother. He lived with his mother in Saltivka, a northern suburb that has been turned into a burnt-out wasteland by some of the most intense shelling of the war.
He does not even know if they have a house any more, after fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs at the start of the war. “On the first day of the war, the sounds of explosions were really loud. They were already shelling housing blocks. We got dressed, picked up our documents and left,” he said.
Some still risk venturing out in the daytime for light, fresh air, shopping, and Tetiana goes to feed and play with her dog, who is too big to be brought into the metro station – although every trip above ground is potentially deadly.