Ukraine residents recount Russian attacks: ‘We realised we had nowhere to go’

A line of people wait along a highway outside Kyiv, Ukraine on February 24, 2022, hoping to flee the Russian invasion in the country.
A line of people wait along a highway outside Kyiv, Ukraine on February 24, 2022, hoping to flee the Russian invasion in the country. © Jérèmy de la Cruz

In the early morning hours of Thursday, February 24, Russian troops launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine, after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any countries who dared to interfere would face “consequences you have never seen”. Videos shared on social networks showed heavy missile attacks as well as Russian deployments on land. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with residents of Kharkiv, Kyiv and Bila Tserkva, who told us how the invasion unfolded in their cities.

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The morning of February 24 was marked by heavy bombardments in the capital Kyiv, as well as Kharkiv, Odesa and several other Ukrainian cities and towns as Russia began its invasion into the country. Videos circulating on Twitter, Telegram and other social networks show the explosions and their aftermath.

Russian air strikes targeted military facilities around the country, including airports and ammunition warehouses.

A video posted on Twitter on February 24, 2022 shows a missile hitting the civilian-military airport in Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine.
@_o_schastlivchik_ #украина #харьков #харків #україна ♬ оригинальный звук - Счастливчик
In this video posted on TikTok on February 24, 2022, explosions can be heard in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

People in Kharkiv began taking shelter in underground subway stations.

These videos taken on February 24, 2022 shows people taking refuge in underground subway stations in Kharkiv to shelter from bombardments.

‘Just before you called me, there was another explosion’

Ivan (not his real name), a resident of Kharkiv, spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team on a phone call punctuated by the sound of explosions. 

We heard explosions since 5am [Kyiv time, GMT+2] this morning. It stopped for a little while, then just before you called me, there was another explosion. I live to the north of the city, we’re about 22 km from the border [with Russia]. In the streets, the situation is more or less calm. There are queues everywhere, people are buying everything they can. We are at home for the moment. We went outside on the porch, to breathe some fresh air at least, since it’s not possible anymore to just stay inside. 

There was just another explosion, about 5 km away. We are waiting for more information. If we need to be evacuated, we have to find someone who can come get us. We have gathered our things, we are preparing.

Residents of Ukrainian cities immediately began making preparations. Cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv saw long lines outside of banks, petrol stations and grocery stores. 

This photo shared on Twitter on February 24, 2022 shows a line of people outside a pharmacy in Kyiv.
A video shared on SnapMap and reposted on Twitter on February 24, 2022 shows a long line of people waiting outside a grocery store in Kyiv.

‘I started hearing huge explosions, since I live in the city centre, and then I turned on the news’

Yulia Vernykivska, who is in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, also started hearing explosions in the early morning. 

My hometown is located 80 km from Kyiv, and there are airfields and two military bases there. I was woken up at 5:30 am by a friend who told me that Russia invaded Ukraine and obviously I was in shock. Ten minutes later, I started hearing huge explosions since I live in the city centre and then I turned on the news and obviously we were told that Russia invaded Ukraine.

Lots of people in Kyiv got scared and are trying to get out of Kyiv to go to western Ukraine. But they are blockaded in the Kyiv suburbs and there are lots of traffic jams. I know that in some eastern cities, like in Kramatorsk (Donetsk region) for instance, people are being evacuated by trains and going to central Ukraine.

‘There are 2, 3, maybe 4 million people who want to cross the border’

Jérèmy de la Cruz is a French national living in Ukraine with his family, in a village around 29 km from Kyiv. He witnessed the mass exodus from the capital.

I was woken up at 5am by explosions. I opened the window and heard two huge ones and my windows shook. It was an explosion at a military base. I went back and forth to Kyiv to pick up my in-laws and I ran into some French people, four of whom are now taking refuge at my house. 

I saw four kilometres of traffic jams at each petrol station. But I was on a deserted road going into Kyiv. On the other hand, in the other direction, there were millions of vehicles bumper to bumper. 

This video, posted on Twitter on February 24, 2022, shows long lines of cars blocked in a traffic jam on a highway leading out of Kyiv.
This video shared on Twitter on February 24, 2022 shows long lines of cars waiting for petrol stations and banks.

The two-lane road has turned into a four-lane road. People are driving on the median, on the grass, on the hard shoulder. I saw at least 4,000 people on the side of the highway walking, probably because they don't have a car.

At the moment there are 2, 3, maybe 4 million people who want to cross the border. But who knows if we won’t be stuck in camps or stuck on the highway indefinitely? I prefer to take stock of the situation, see how things are going at the borders, and if it is possible, cross them quietly... We will decide what to do according to the circumstances. 

Video provided by Jérèmy de la Cruz.
A photo taken by our Observer shows people packing up their car to leave Kyiv.
A photo taken by our Observer shows people packing up their car to leave Kyiv. © Jérèmy de la Cruz

‘We started gathering our passports, money, but then we realised we had nowhere to go’

Yulia and her family began making preparations immediately after hearing the shelling, but like Jérèmy and his family, they decided to stay where they were.

I felt extremely scared, especially when I heard those explosions. I didn’t know what to do. It’s impossible to describe how it sounded because it was nothing like the sound of fireworks. There were five massive explosions. We started gathering our passports, money, but then we realised we had nowhere to go. People are in a panic. They are just trying to withdraw money and have some supplies of water, but they are also definitely ready to fight.

Currently, everything is open, but people are withdrawing money and buying medicine. But I suppose that Ukrainians are ready to fight and ready to resist. Personally, my family and I are planning on staying here to defend our homes because we have nowhere to escape to and we want to stay in our motherland.

Western leaders have strongly condemned the attack on Ukraine, including US President Joe Biden, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and French President Emmanuel Macron.