A tram ride through the deserted Ukrainian capital during wartime


At the wheel of her rusty red tram, Elena Sabirova drives past a barricade, shaking her head at the sad fate of Kiev since Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

To his right, a group of soldiers checks the cars, looking for weapons or explosives.

To his left, a skyscraper with balconies and windows blown out by a missile just a few nights after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

And behind her, some crowded passengers look at the deserted streets of the Ukrainian capital.

Olena Sabirova never thought that one day she would be on the front line. “It’s terrifying,” sighs this 45-year-old woman, who has been working as a tram conductor for 19 years.

“At least I help people get where they want to go, to the bomb shelters, to the train station,” he says. “But it’s really scary,” she admits.

Half of the 3.5 million inhabitants of the capital have left. Those who decided to stay seem terrified, but also sad to see their city destroyed.

“I am worried, worried about the city. It was in full development for so many years,” says 69-year-old Mykola Konoplytsky.

“And now they come and destroy it. How are we going to rebuild it? With what money?” asks this retiree.

For Inna Khmelievska, a 34-year-old bar clerk, her journeys along the eastern bank of the Dnieper were conducive to daydreaming. Now, explosions from the front north of Kiev are keeping her awake.

“When there are no explosions it’s fine and when there are it’s overwhelming. I listen to them when I’m on the tram and I listen to them when I’m at home,” he explains.

“The city has changed,” he adds.

Among the barricades in Kiev, this tram line is one of the only ones still in operation.

The left bank of the Dnieper is home to the city’s sleeping quarters and some factories. The right has a richer history and is closer to the front line.

Streetcars stopped running, as they offered a direct path from the front to government buildings.

Tanya Pogorilla, who lives on the right bank, looks at the closed shops and debris along the route.

“It’s the first time I’ve been out since the start of the war,” says this 45-year-old woman. “Some of my worst fears are fading now. What I fear most is for my son,” she says, pointing to her little one, tucked between her legs.

“I feel sorry for Kiev, but also for the country,” he explains.

Approaching the checkpoint that marks the last stop on her line, Olena Sabirova wonders how long she will be able to continue driving her tram.

“I didn’t see anything terrible, but I hear things, explosions,” he says.

“I hope the guy up there in the sky sees that I’m still doing it and takes it into account at the end,” he quips sarcastically. “People seem to appreciate that he’s still working,” she says.

For Mykola Konoplytsky, the retiree, the Russian president will soon order the attack on Kiev, as happened with Mariupol or Kharkov.

“I think Putin is saving Kiev for dessert,” he says fatalistically.