Ukraine’s tallest flag – at 200 meters (656ft) – was on display at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, with hundreds of people waving it while singing the national anthem and other patriotic songs.
They marked Ukraine’s “Day of Unity”, an impromptu celebration declared by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
For Serhii Kachinskyi, 45, Unity Day is about showing the world that ordinary Ukrainians like him are not afraid of potential armed conflict.
We have been living with this for eight years, we understand what is happening and we are not afraid, we stand together and it is in the heart of every Ukrainian,” he said.
Although he said the situation has been the same for much of the past eight years, he sees a big difference.
We have become more united, we think more of the country and we have become more responsible,” he said.
The significance of Wednesday: Zelensky announced today would be a “Day of Unity” during an address to the nation on Monday, noting wryly that his government had been told that Wednesday was the day Russia would invade Ukraine.
“We are told that February 16 will be the day of the attack. We will make it Unity Day. The corresponding decree has already been signed. On this day we will raise national flags, put on blue and yellow ribbons and show the world our unity,” Zelensky said.
While celebrations were muted, with some events across the country attended by only a handful of people, flags large and small flew on many street corners.
Digital billboards normally displaying advertisements on the streets of Kyiv have been replaced with video showing the flash flying, and some government buildings have been covered with giant blue and yellow banners.
Explaining the war to children: Natalya Schamych said she came to the stadium to be a good example for her son. Children were not allowed at the event, but she will forward the events to him. Schamych wants her son to grow up to be a responsible citizen, so she often talks about politics and civic duty with him, she said.
“I would like him to stay in our country and want to leave. I want him to respect the country, to live and work here,” she said.
She said her son was too young to understand the full picture, but he knows what’s going on.
“We try to give him information in a way that he can understand, we don’t want him to be too scared,” she said. , he knows where he lives, he knows there is a war.”
Life goes on: Meanwhile, rushing to work in central Kiev, Alim, 48, wrapped himself in a Ukrainian flag as if it were a superhero cape. He’s carried the flag with him every day for eight years now, he told CNN.
As a Crimean Tatar, he never accepted Russian annexation of his home region in 2014.
“It’s my civilian job. I’m from Crimea, I’ve been wearing it since the occupation,” he said.
Around the corner, foreign dignitaries, including the German and EU ambassadors to Ukraine, laid flowers near the memorial wall dedicated to those who defended Ukraine during the war that began in 2014.
Many pinned their coats with blue and yellow ribbons to show their solidarity with Ukraine.
For Alim however, Wednesday was just another day. Another day carrying the flag, going about our business.