Invasion in Ukraine: Kiev residents seek refuge after the start of the Russian military operation

Residents of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, woke up to the sound of explosions and sirens. Now many try to seek refuge or flee the country.

Some take refuge in the city’s subway stations and bomb shelters. Others are trying to escape.

Traffic is jammed on highways leading west out of the capital and the Polish border.

Two markedly different rhythms have been seen on the streets of Kiev this morning.

One was strangely subdued. Many people went to work normally: they walked the streets and took the buses.

The other mood was one of urgency. Many people were rushing to shelter in bomb shelters or subway stations. Others formed long queues at banks, supermarkets, gas stations. Some are fleeing west by car.

“I am ready to fight”

Subway stations are makeshift shelters.

A man stops me in the street and says, “This is war.”

Mark, a 27-year-old sales executive like us, woke up around 7:00 am to the sound of explosions and sirens.

He found a girl crying downstairs and took her to the nearest subway station to take shelter.

Mark, one of Ukraine’s 900,000 army reservists, says he’s ready to be called up to fight Russia.

“We have no other way,” he tells me. “We must defend our country. And maybe die in this war.”

Mark says he is prepared to die fighting for “every inch” of Ukraine.

“There is only one way: if our army comes to me and tells me that I must die for my country, I will do it.”

Many Ukrainians try to escape across the border with Poland

Border between Ukraine and Poland.

“We do not know what to do”

Elsewhere we meet Svetlana, a school worker on her way to a bomb shelter.

After being woken up at dawn “when something blew up”, Svetlana received a call from her friends from Crimea, which was annexed by Russia, where Russian tanks have been reported entering Ukraine.

“It’s a war,” they told him.

Images spread on social networks showed dozens of people sleeping in the cars and platforms of the Kiev metro.

Svetlana quickly packed a bag to take to the shelter. She contained a bathroom kit and a laptop, to continue working on her master’s degree in psychology.

“We don’t know what to do now: we are going to a place where we can be safe,” says Svetlana.

But she is worried about her family who live in Mariupol, the port city in southeastern Ukraine where Russian troops have reportedly landed.

“I can’t say everything I feel, but I’m very, very nervous. I am very afraid”.

For many, the safest places are the metro stations, below Kiev.

I met a couple with a two-year-old who was following the news on their phones and trying to figure out what to do.

They were scared and didn’t speak much English. But I understood when they asked me: “Where is NATO?”.

Residents of Kiev try to communicate with their relatives in other areas of Ukraine

Getty Images
Kyiv subway.

“I want my family to be away from here”

While some take refuge in the city’s subway and bomb shelters, others in Kiev are trying to escape. Traffic is backed up on highways west of the capital towards the Polish border.

Alex Svitelskyi, 31, says he wants to get his parents out of Kiev. He is also worried about his sister: “I want her to be away from here.”

Alex says that the news of the Russian attack did not surprise him.

“We all knew this would happen sooner or later, and I hope our soldiers are ready because they were preparing,” he says.

“We hope they stay on the line.”

But Alex fears that if Russian forces reach Kiev they will carry out atrocities against its residents, like those perpetrated by the Nazis in Ukraine during World War II.

He says he wants to get his parents out of the capital before it’s too late.

“I want them to go from Kiev to some town, because soon there will be bombings.”

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