DNIPRO, Ukraine — Outside the large military hospital in the central Ukrainian town of Dnipro, people lined up on Sunday to donate warm clothes and water, as a priest moved among the crowd offering sips of holy wine from a silver chalice and allowing those waiting to kiss the large silver cross he wore on a chain around his neck.
Since the start of the war three days ago, wounded soldiers have poured into the hospital, sometimes as many as 80 at a time, largely from the front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine near Crimea, said Serhii Bachynskyi, deputy director of the hospital. The hospital has 400 beds, but the number of injured has sometimes exceeded in recent days, he added.
Because Russian planes control the skies, it is too dangerous to evacuate the wounded by helicopter.
“We are evacuating with everything we can; on trains, buses, people volunteer,” Bachynskyi said.
On the other side of the street, a group of military orderlies, who had just arrived with their load of wounded, were smoking and preparing to return to the front. They gave few details of what they saw at the front, but said they were not lacking in work.
“Either we fight them or we all die,” said one of the doctors. “We are hanging on and we will do it all the way.”
On Sunday morning, Dnipro was a hive of activity. The city, like many others in Ukraine, is preparing for war. Although the Russian soldiers are still some distance away and the sound of artillery that has become the soundtrack to so many places in Ukraine is not yet audible, it is expected that fighting may occur at any time.
Mr Bachynskyi, from the military hospital, said a group of Russian diversionary troops tried to parachute into the outskirts of Dnipro on Saturday. One was killed and three were captured, he said, but four were able to escape and are now hiding somewhere in the area.
At all the entrances to the city, groups of men were piling up sandbags and setting tank traps. Soldiers armed with automatic rifles interrogated motorists and searched cars.
At Rocket Park, an outdoor display of intercontinental ballistic missiles and other rockets produced by the local Yuzhmash factory, men dressed in black or camouflage were part of territorial defense brigades deployed to protect the city’s perimeter and patrol the center.
There I met Timofei Khomyak, a musician I knew from a previous visit to Dnipro. Less than a month ago, we were drinking beer in a bohemian bar on the banks of the Dnieper. Now, he said, he had given up his guitar for a gun: “I am no longer a musician. I am a soldier now.
Nearby, people in civilian clothes were sorting and crate bottles intended to be transformed into incendiary bombs. One man was organizing the others, looking for volunteers to transport the bottles to somewhere else in town to be filled with flammable liquid.
They spoke Russian, the language this region of Ukraine tends to prefer. But that doesn’t mean they plan to greet Russian troops with flowers if they show up, as Russian officials and propaganda TV insist the Ukrainians will.
“We are all Ukrainians, and everyone feels Ukrainian,” said Yefrem Korotkov, 25, who had just signed up as a volunteer. “No one will let these ethnic Russians come in here and do anything. They will all die.
At 15, Bohdan Smolkov is about nine months too young to join the Territorial Defense Forces, so he was trying to help in various ways.
“It’s my duty to help my army,” he said. “Everything they tell me to do, I do. I sort the bottles; they called me to make Molotov cocktails.