People flee Ukraine's capital as fear, panic spread from Russian military attack
People rushing to gas stations to fill up tanks, ATMs to draw cash, says longtime resident of Kyiv
ANKARA (AA) - Residents of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv woke up early Thursday morning to the blaring sounds of emergency sirens.
Despite the long buildup to the conflict, few were expecting that Russia would actually launch a war deep inside Ukraine, said Fazal Khan Fazal, a local resident Anadolu Agency reached by telephone.
Many thought any offensive would be confined to the eastern Ukrainian enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian-backed separatists declared independence and this week got Russian recognition, he said.
"I woke up to the sound of text message very early at around 4:00 a.m. (0200GMT) and when I checked my cellphone there was an alert and instructions from the government to stay at home,” Fazal told Anadolu Agency.
“Hours later, I heard gunfire rattling near the capital's main airport, and sirens were blaring all over the city. Initially there was panic."
"When I came out of my house, I saw people were rushing to gas stations to fill up their tanks and ATMs to withdraw cash,” said Fazal, who has been living in Kyiv for the last 15 years.
The city is witnessing a mass exodus, with major highways jammed. People are moving westward, away from the Russian border, with whatever means are available to them. Lots of military vehicles and tanks can be seen now moving around the streets.
“Till last evening, we were having dinner and coffee, and the city centers were bustling. We had no idea that our life in the city would take this turn in just a few hours,” he added.
Explosions in the background
There was still disbelief that Ukrainian units, military control centers, and airfields in Ukraine's east were under intense Russian shelling.
"You can hear the sound of explosions in the background," Fazal said in the phone call.
On state-run and local TV channels, a government spokesperson was urging calm and saying that Ukraine's air force was trying to repel a Russian air attack. The reports of Russian troops landing in the port city of Odessa are false, he said.
People in the city have lived with tensions with Russia since 2014, when Moscow took the country’s Crimean Peninsula by force, but few believed an attack would actually happen, he said. Finally, after eight years of buildup, the attack finally came, resulting in a desertion of the capital.
Despite the government spokesman urging calm, the heavy explosions and firing spread public fear and panic.
Leaving the city
“We’re hearing reports that Russian forces have asked civilians to leave areas near Ukrainian military compounds by 5 p.m. today and we’re leaving the city,” said Fazal.
"There’s fear and panic among the people and they’re leaving their homes."
Fazal along with his family and friends are planning to move toward the country’s European borders in the belief that they would be safe there, as Russia would steer clear.
"Around 70% of the people already left the city and the rest are moving to safe places," he said.
The city located along the Dniper River, the seventh-most populous city in Europe, has a population of 2.9 million.
According to 2001 census data, more than 130 nationalities and ethnic groups live in Kyiv, dominated by Ukrainians at 82.2%.
Ethnic Russians come next at 13.1%, followed by Jews, Belarusians, Poles, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tatars, Georgians, and Moldovans, all at less than 1%.
Early Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military intervention in Ukraine, just days after recognizing two breakaway enclaves in eastern Ukraine where conflict with Russian separatists has killed some 13,000 people since 2014, according to the UN.
The recognition followed by the intervention drew international condemnation and tough sanctions on Moscow.
In recent months Russian President Vladimir Putin had amassed over 100,000 Russian troops around Ukraine, but repeatedly denied he had any intention of invading.