Mass exodus of Kyiv: Petrified Ukrainian’s race to flee capital as air sirens ring out

24 February 2022, 07:24 | Updated: 24 February 2022, 17:36

Huge queues of traffic leaving Kiev have been seen
Huge queues of traffic leaving Kiev have been seen. Picture: Getty

By Stephen Rigley

Ukrainians faced a race to flee the country as Vladimir Putin's tanks rolled across the border into their besieged country.

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Eyewitnesses reported huge queues of vehicles trying to leave the capital Kiev as the reality of war dawned on the population and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law.  

Photos and video showed Ukrainians driving out of Kiev Thursday morning, as air raid sirens wailed across the capital.  

Many were either heading for the exits or lining up in lengthy queues for gasoline, with some stopping at cash machines to empty their bank accounts beforehand. 

Huge lines of people were also seen at Kiev's Metro station as residents battled to get onto trains to flee the city while some were just heading into the station to take refuge.

Read more: Watch: Footage shows 'moment Russia invades Ukraine' as armoured column rolls in

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People wait for buses at a bus station as they attempt to evacuateKiev
People wait for buses at a bus station as they attempt to evacuateKiev. Picture: Getty

Cities across Ukraine have descended into panic buying as terrified residents raced to stockpile food and supplies while cars queued at petrol stations.

Officials in European Union countries bordering Ukraine, including Romania and Slovakia, say they has not yet seen a big influx of refugees for now, but local media and witnesses said foot traffic was increasing and pictures showed people crying as they crossed the border into Poland.

Explosions have been heard in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and were reported in many other cities as Russia launched strikes against targets including airfields and police stations.

Local media estimates hundreds of Ukraine's could have been killed while reports say 50 Russian troops have been killed and six planes destroyed in country's east.

Women cry as they cross the Polish border after fleeing Ukraine
Women cry as they cross the Polish border after fleeing Ukraine. Picture: Getty

Some 203 attacks have been carried out by Russia since the beginning of the day, Ukraine's police service has said.

The Russian president announced the action during a televised address early on Thursday morning, saying the move was a response to threats from Ukraine.

He adds that Russia doesn't have a goal to occupy Ukraine. Putin says the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian 'regime.'

Putin also is warning other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action will lead to 'consequences they have never seen.'

Prior to Thursday, defiant Ukrainians defied pressure from Moscow with a national show of flag-waving unity on Wednesday, even as the West warned it has seen no sign of a promised pullback of Russian troops from the country's borders.

Read more: First photos from the Ukraine frontline: Harrowing images of Russia's invasion

Read more: Putin warns of 'consequences greater than any have faced in history' if West intervenes

Vehicles queue up to fill gasoline at a gas station in Kiev
Vehicles queue up to fill gasoline at a gas station in Kiev. Picture: Alamy

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who declared the 'unity day' to coincide with the rumoured date of Putin's invasion, addressed the nation after the attack failed to materialise - telling his countrymen that "we can defend our home only if we stay united."

"We are united by a desire to happily live in peace," he added, before flying via helicopter to a training range in Ukraine's west where live-fire tank and aircraft drills were underway.

Read more: Terrified caller stuck in Kharkiv tells of fear on Ukrainian frontline

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Today the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Russia has launched a "full-scale invasion of Ukraine".

Mr Kuleba said that Ukraine would defend itself against the Russian aggression 'and will win'.

He said: "Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes.

"This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now."

There are particular concerns now about the prospect of an assault on Kyiv, a city with a population of more than 2.8 million.

In the past, such as in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russian forces having shown they are willing to use overwhelming firepower if they cannot achieve their objectives quickly, potentially resulting in large-scale civilian casualties.