It was a long night for residents of Ukraine, where the Russian army launched multiple attacks in the early hours of Thursday. Air raid sirens wailed in the capital’s city center all through the night, and by dawn, the lights of numerous police cars were beaming out of the snarled traffic as families attempted to leave the city by road. Thousands more people were standing out on the streets, checking their cellphones for updates on the invasion ordered hours earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I woke up because of the sounds of bombing; I packed a bag and tried to escape,” said Maria Kashkoska, 29, in statements to Agence France Presse (AFP) as she huddled inside Kyiv’s subway system.
No military planes have been seen overhead in the Ukrainian capital so far, but a group of Russian Air Force soldiers had attacked Gostomel airbase, just 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Kyiv, on Thursday afternoon, CNN’s correspondent reported. And according to The New York Times, Russian special forces and airborne troops were pushing into the outskirts of Kyiv by sunset.
On the streets of Kyiv, there was a feeling of panic. Sasha, a 22-year-old psychologist, was leaving the city on the subway, lugging a suitcase and a pet carrier with her cat Gosha inside. She said she was going to a smaller town, Khmelnytskyi, located around 350 kilometers (217 miles) west of Kyiv. She was not the only one. Cars were clogging westbound thoroughfares by dawn, filled with families seeking the relative safety of the countryside, far from the border with Russia.
Some hotels in Kyiv were already closing and evacuating their clients. On Khreschatyk street, several people were standing around with their suitcases, ready to leave town. Several of them were in tears as they spoke on their phones, explaining the situation in the Ukrainian capital.
On Wednesday night, Mayor Vitali Klitschko had announced checkpoints at the capital’s main entry points and increased passenger controls at train stations and airports. “We’re staying here, it’s safer,” said one young man who declined to give out his name in statements to AFP. Inside his bag, he was carrying ID, phone chargers and a lot of cash: the “essential” items in times of war.
At 5am a projectile hit a billboard on Vasilkovskaya street, around eight kilometers (five miles) from the city center, right across from a brick building that houses a small cinema and a water utility company. While there were no personal injuries, the noise woke everyone up. The area was cordoned off early Thursday and soldiers and police officers were sent in to remove the debris, which was scattered in a radius of several dozen meters. Taras, one of the soldiers, said the impact was caused by a projectile dropped by a Russian plane. This claim has not been confirmed by official sources.
Groups of neighbors huddled near the police line tape to talk about the explosion. Ludmila Sofronyuk, 47, said she was in bed when she heard the blast. The window of her apartment did not shatter, she said, but others in the building did.