Now, as the West warns a fresh attack is a “distinct possibility” as soon as next week, many in Kyiv aren’t convinced.
“I don’t believe that Russia is going to invade Kyiv. The situation is wound up from both sides,” Oleksandr Bovtach, 55, told NBC News. “The West and Putin are playing each other’s nerves.”
Although some are wary of an invasion, few are preparing for that possibility.
“When I start thinking about it — it’s scary. But I try not to read too much news, not to panic,” said Yevheniia Biliavska, 30. “In 2014 we also didn’t believe that Crimea could be annexed,” she added. “But Putin is a crazy old man.”
The Kyiv-based DJ said she and her husband were mulling relocating abroad, but the only concrete preparations they have made is paperwork for their dog.
The Russian president has massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders and issued a set of bold demands that would include a stop to Ukraine ever joining NATO, the transatlantic military alliance. Moscow has denied it plans to invade and accused the West of anti-Russian hysteria.
Ukraine’s government has also sought to play down the threat, urging calm while its western allies sound the alarm.
“Today the best friend for enemies is panic in our country and all this information that helps only for panic, doesn’t help us,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters on Saturday as he oversaw security drills in the country’s south.
“We are not afraid of anyone and we do not panic. We conduct training and keep the situation under control.” the president wrote on his Facebook page.
But its neighbor’s military buildup has stirred some action in the Ukrainian capital.
Thousands rallied and chanted at a “Unity March” against a possible Russian attack in the center of Kyiv Saturday. For weeks some Ukrainians have been attending training camps on guerilla warfare and readying bomb shelters just in case.
The ramped up warnings from Washington also changed the mind of at least one American in the country. Charlie Bonds, a 40-year-old historian from Albuquerque, only arrived in Kyiv less than two weeks ago with the intention to stay permanently.
“I felt that I had to be here. I studied history for 20 years, I have incredibly close contacts and people that I have intimate relationships with here,” he told NBC News on Friday.