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Kyiv: Despite, patriotism and cool heads appear on the streets of Ukraine’s capital

A total of 4,480 faces stare into the cold air - the photographs of the soldiers and women who have died on the front lines of a conflict of mud, trenches and abandoned villages that could have been enchanted from 1917.

People stare solemnly at these faces - the sons and daughters stolen away - as the traffic rushes through the winter slumber. Snow piles up against the walls, and the golden domes of the monastery glisten in a pale winter sun.

Some 15,000 people have lost their lives in Europe's only active conflict, which began when Russian forces occupied Crimea and pro-Russian separatists conquered part of eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The walls of St Michael's Monastery are a reminder of the conflict.

The streets of Kiev do not feel like those of a city ready for war. Shops and shops are open as usual, the train station is not full of anxious mothers with hastily packed suitcases. The casinos and bars are booming.

But beneath the surface, there is a quiet defiance bordering on fatalism. As President Volodomyr Zelensky never gets tired of saying: We have been living with the Russian threat for eight years already. There is no need to panic.

Zelensky's phlegmatic approach resonates in the streets. Yuri, a 42-year-old police officer dressed in a traditional "shapka" and held in a briefcase on his way home from work, says he is not the least bit scared.

"I see all the soldiers. I'm not scared and I'm ready to defend - in fact not just me, everyone's ready to defend and protect their country." He adds as he walks away, shrugging, "but anything can happen at the moment."

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At dusk, an orange hue bathes from the streetlight in the center of Kiev. We meet Darina Yakovenko, 19, wrapped in a fluff with a warm scarf covering her blonde hair. She is studying physics at Savchenko National University.

By chance we are standing right next to "European Square".

I asked her which way she would rather take, Ukraine take, one that seeks the West, towards the EU and potentially NATO, or one that returned it to Russia's orbit.

Darina is gentle and shy, but her views are straightforward. "We are still pulling the weight of the Soviet Union that we left behind and we want to get rid of it. I want our independence. This is a country with great potential."

Many residents of Kiev are defiant as fear of a Russian invasion threatens.

Darina tells of the stories her grandmother told her about the invasion in 2014. Stories of shootings, bombings and being forced to flee the eastern city of Donetsk, which is now held by the rebels.

She admits the situation is scary. Yet it flares the flame of anger again.

"If the fighting starts, I will even join the army because this is my country, this is my people."

Ukrainians have changed a lot since 2014, especially the younger generation. Visa-free travel to the EU has opened new horizons. At Kyiv Borispil Airport, backpackers left for Paris and the Costa del Sol. Social media is alive; lively debate. The idea of ​​a suffocating, intolerant condition is awful.

And it is not only the young people in Kiev who are ready, in the face of overwhelming odds, to accept the Russians.

In an underground crossing under Maidan Square, the site of the huge protests that ousted the pro-Russian government in 2014, Tatiana runs a souvenir shop selling strange and wonderful Ukrainian souvenirs: samovars, fridge magnets and traditional Ukrainian dresses called vyshyvanka.

Tatiana is in her mid 40s. Asked if she is ready for war, she says: "I am ready to fight. I have my suitcase, my money and I will join a militia if I have to. I trust our president and ours. army - they will defend us. "

There is certainly no sense of panic here, people are not fascinated by the drums of war and the social media videos showing Russian tanks being transported to the borders of Ukraine.

Irina, an elderly citizen, hurries to a social event. As she passes, she says, "It's all a show. And I do not want to be a part of any show. The only show I want to see is the concert I'm late for - so that should tell you what you need to know! "

The feeling is repeated by Aleksandr, 55. He consumes an early evening beer outside a typical shop found in large parts of the former Soviet Union, and neon lights announce its opening hours: 24/7. "Of course it can happen, but I'm not afraid ... what is there to be afraid of?"

When asked what would happen to him in a war, he replies with a smile: "It is better to drink beer now, because if there is war, we do not drink many then," and takes another sip.

It is possible that eight years of war have desensitized people. Perhaps there is a genuine belief in Kiev that Putin is bluffing and does not want the risk of a hot war or the punishment that might follow it. Maybe people think that the Ukrainian army, which was a mess in 2014, can now fight right, given billions of dollars in investment. But they have no illusions that NATO will ride them to the rescue if the balloon goes up.

As the sun sets and the air bites of cold, the road freezes up away from the Maidan and is treacherous.

A poster of a Ukrainian soldier fluttering across the sidewalk. It says "Heroes among us."

The feeling seems to be an appropriate reflection of the mindset here: Putin will not find it easy to bring part or all of Ukraine back within Moscow's umbrella.

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