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Watching and waiting in Kyiv, wondering where the West is

KYIV — In the city of Kyiv on Friday afternoon, residents anxiously waited for news — not just about what will happen to their country, but about what more Western allies will do to stop Russia.

Most are increasingly disappointed with the allied reaction, which has so far consisted of cutting off key portions of the Russian economy from EU, U.S. and U.K. markets — but avoiding the most extreme penalties Ukraine has requested.

“They could support us more,” said Karina Lezikian, 35, smoking in the afternoon sunshine outside a bomb shelter in central Kyiv, where air raid sirens went off intermittently throughout the day. “I understand they are trying to hold something in reserve because they think they can negotiate, but when your city is already being bombed, then what the hell?”

“But thanks anyway for the support,” added Yevhen Kozenko, a documentary filmmaker who filmed the war in east Ukraine in 2014-15. “We do feel it.” 

The situation looked grim Friday morning in Kyiv, as Russian troops encircled the city and tried to advance from the north and the west. By the afternoon, however, the Ukrainian military said its defenses were holding for the moment. 

Ukrainians’ disappointment with the West dates back to 2014, when Russia first invaded its neighbor, annexing Crimea and fomenting the eastern Ukraine conflict, which never ceased. Western allies did slap a series of sanctions on Russia after the land grab, but the punishments never really deterred Vladimir Putin.

“Europe is concerned, Europe is deeply concerned, that’s all we heard. This war has been going on for eight years already,” said Lezikian. “We need action, or at least an explanation of why not. It feels like they are just saying ‘sorry, but you’re on your own.’”

The reluctance to bar Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, mostly because it is used in Europe to make energy purchases, is a particular disappointment.

Residents would also like to see more weapons and financial support from other countries.

Lezikian’s mother, Oksana, displays messages from a theater group in Lithuania she has worked with, showing the funds they have raised for the Ukrainian army. But ultimately, even as news arrives that the EU is planning to personally sanction Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, Oksana is doubtful that even the most strident penalty or most robust financial assistance can make a difference in Putin’s Russia.

“I don’t think anyone can stop this person,” she said. 

In the meantime, an otherworldly existence continues for Kyiv residents.

Lezikian got a call at 6 a.m. on Thursday from the digital marketing company where she works, telling her to stay home and pull their ad campaigns. “It would be a bit ridiculous, still getting ads in between news about tanks and bombing,” she said. “But it’s so hard to believe this is happening.”

Kozenko had just traveled to the center from Kyiv’s left bank by metro.

“It’s surreal,” he said.” People are out in the sunshine; the metro is working as normal.”

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