The Battle for Kyiv Looms as a Long and Bloody Conflict. Ukraine’s capital is the biggest prize of all for the Russian military. If Russia tries to take control, it could lead to one of the biggest urban conflicts since World War II.

Ukraine’s capital is the biggest prize of all for the Russian military. If Russia tries to take control, it could lead to one of the biggest urban conflicts since World War II.

The city of Kyiv covers 325 square miles and is divided by a broad river. It has about 500,000 structures — factories, ornate churches and high-rise apartments — many on narrow, winding streets. Roughly two million people remain after extensive evacuations of women and children.

To the northwest and to the east, tens of thousands of Russian troops are pressing toward the city, Ukraine’s capital, backed by columns of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery. Inside Kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers and civilian volunteers are fortifying the downtown with barriers, anti-tank mines and artillery.

Kyiv remains the biggest prize of all for the Russian military; it is the seat of government and ingrained in both Russian and Ukrainian identity. But capturing it, military analysts say, would require a furious and bloody conflict that could be the world’s biggest urban battle in 80 years.

After three weeks of fighting in the suburbs, Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers, who are operating in loosely organized small units and relying heavily on ambushes, are growing more confident in the city’s defense. Part of their strategy is to make the assault so costly for the Russian army in lives that it will exhaust or demoralize its troops before they reach the city center.

“There’s no talk of capitulation for Kyiv,” said Lt. Tetiana Chornovol, the commander of an anti-tank missile unit operating on the outskirts of the city. “Everything is going far better than we thought.”

Lieutenant Chornovol, 42, is a former activist in Ukraine’s street protest movement who sent her two children to safety before reporting for duty as a reserve officer. She commands two teams of a half-dozen or so people each, firing Ukrainian-made, tripod-mounted missiles, which they transport to ambush positions in their personal cars.

Grim conspiracy theories about replacing white, Christian French with Muslims from North Africa. Vows to limit immigration from the region. And the evocation of memories of a supposedly glorious colonial past in Algeria.

While President Emmanuel Macron of France has tried over the past year to address the painful memories of his country’s colonial history in Algeria, the long shadows of that past — provoked by such messages — have increasingly pervaded the campaigns of right-wing candidates in next month’s presidential elections.

In the fall, one far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, said, “France does not have to welcome and keep all the criminals from North Africa.” Another, Marine Le Pen, said on Friday that memories could not be reconciled “by scourging ourselves in front of Algeria.”

Mr. Macron’s attempts to heal the wounds of France’s colonization of Algeria have included acknowledging crimes committed by the French military and by the police, recognizing France’s lack of regard for former settlers and Algerians who had fought for the country, and easing access to archives related to the war.

Those efforts continued on Saturday with an official commemoration on the 60th anniversary of the Évian Accords, which brought an end to the war for Algerian independence, and with a speech by Mr. Macron at the Élysée Palace in which he said, “The Algerian war, its unsaid things, had become — and still are when I listen to our news — the matrix of resentments.”

Karim Amellal, a French-Algerian member of the government’s so-called Memories and Truth Commission on Algeria, said that Mr. Macron wanted to “untangle a
But those reconciliation efforts have been mainly drowned out in a presidential campaign that has been dominated by heated debates on immigration and identity, themes heavily entwined with France’s colonial past in Algeria.

The legacy of Algeria has perhaps been most evident in the phrase “great replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory claiming that white Christians were being replaced by nonwhite immigrants. The concept was popularized during the campaign by Mr. Zemmour, whose Jewish family comes from Algeria, and then picked up by Valérie Pécresse, the candidate of the mainstream right, in coded attacks on Muslim immigrants.

Sylvie Thénault, a historian of the Algerian war at CNRS, a national public research organization, said, “Today, behind the support for the great replacement idea, there is this past of French Algeria which is at play.” She described such notions as the “legacy of this French minority in Algeria for whom Algerian population growth was a threat.”

At the end of the 1950s, there were about 8.5 million Muslim residents of Algeria, and about a million settlers of European descent, known as Pieds-Noirs.

The colonization of Algeria, and the 1954-62 war of independence that followed, ripped French society apart, opening up crises of identity that continue to shape France and drive its politics, with nostalgia and resentment still brewing among the seven million residents of the country who have ties to Algeria, including war veterans, families o

Mr. Zemmour, whose parents left Algeria just before the war, said in 2018 that immigration and the rise of Islam in France were like a “second episode of the Algerian war.” At a news conference in January, he said that “there is no French guilt” regarding colonization, claiming that it had brought roads, hospitals and oil wells to Algeria.
Many of the ideological conflicts that colored the war — such as the struggle over whether French identity could expand to include Muslim Algerians — have been imported onto French soil. Benjamin Stora, a French historian of colonial Algeria, has compared this phenomenon to the legacy of the American Civil War, which still impacts race issues in the United States.

Central to what Mr. Stora calls a “memory transfer” from colonial Algeria to contemporary France are the political figures that today drive the public debate. Many of them are intimately tied to Algeria, like Mr. Zemmour is.

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