Stay or flee? Kyiv comes to terms with disaster of Russian invasion

It began in darkness soon after 4.30am local time. There were distant explosions in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the whine of car alarms. A nation shook itself awake. What had been foretold by western governments, by experts, and – late in the day – by the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was actually happening. Russia was attacking and invading.

Vladimir Putin’s apparent goal: the subjugation of a nation, a culture, a people. It was unthinkable in the twenty-first century. And yet, with imperial swagger, Russian troops, tanks and planes were on the move.

The disaster unfurled itself on a grey, ordinary Thursday morning, sprinkled by rain. By 5am friends and loved ones were ringing each other, peering into their phones, making life and death decisions.

Stay or flee? Some packed and got ready to leave; others took refuge in apartment block basements. An underground garage began to fill up in Yaroslaviv Val, close to Kyiv’s historic golden gate, dating back to the eleventh century and to Kyivan Rus, a pre-Moscow dynasty. A family arrived. A mother shepherded her two bleary-eyed children to safety. The children were carrying colouring books, scant defence against Russian missiles.

By breakfast the scale of Russia’s multitudinous military assault became clear. Putin’s ambitions, it turned out, went well beyond the Donbas region, whose separatist territories he recognised earlier this week. They included practically the entire country: east, south, north and even west. The port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov; the city of Kharkiv, home to 1.4 million people; Odesa on the Black Sea and Kherson; Ukrainian-controlled towns and villages on the Donbas frontline – all were being pulverised and bombed.

Russia was clinically targeting Ukraine’s defences: aerodromes, military bases, ammunition dumps. It was shock and awe, done with a ruthless indifference to human cost.

A damaged apartment building in the town of Chuhuiv, in Kharkiv region.
A damaged apartment building in the town of Chuhuiv in Kharkiv region.

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