They fear a Russian attack is imminent, but soldiers in Ukraine’s Odessa took time to buy friends and family flowers for Women’s Day on Tuesday even though life in the Black Sea port has been turned upside down.

“I bought flowers, oddly enough, for my mother-in-law and my wife to congratulate them on March 8,” said Yuriy, a reservist in Ukraine’s Territorial Defence forces, speaking by a street stall selling pots of brightly coloured hyacinths and cyclamen, and bunches of tulips.

“War or no war, our women need to be protected, loved and respected.”

Odessa is home to one million people and its port is crucial to Ukraine’s economy. Locals have been filling bags with sand on the beach to build barriers in the historic city and taking part in weapons training, amid mounting dread of an attack as Russian forces move through Ukraine.

Pentagon officials said on Monday that the city of Kherson, some 145 km (90 miles) east of Odessa, has been taken by Russian troops and Ukraine Maritime Administration officials said heavy fighting has reached the town of Mykolaiv, between Odessa and Kherson.

Soldier Dmitriy clutched pink and yellow tulips which he had bought his fellow female soldiers.

“They [women] also serve (in the army), they also protect our country, they also help us, they bring positivity… we must always remember them.”

International Women’s Day aims to recognize the achievements of women and highlight the campaign for gender equality. It has a long tradition in eastern European countries and across the former Soviet Union, where men often mark the day by buying flowers or gifts for women.

Flower vendor Alena tied a bouquet of blue and yellow tulips, the national colours of Ukraine.

“I made it for peace, for peace everywhere,” she said.