Bloodshed and tears as eastern Ukraine faces Russian attack

A man uses a carpet to cover a body on the ground after bombings in Chuguiv on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

CHUGUIV, UKRAINE (AFP) - A son wept over the body of his father lying among the wreckage of a missile strike in a residential district in the eastern Ukrainian town of Chuguiv, as the country woke up on Thursday (Feb 24) to Russian invasion.

"I told him to leave," the man in his 30s sobbed, next to the twisted ruins of a car.

Nearby, a woman screamed curses into the wintry sky.

A missile crater, some 4m to 5m wide, was scoured into the earth between two devastated five-storey apartment buildings. Firefighters battled to extinguish the remains of a blaze.

Several other buildings on the street were seriously damaged, their windows shattered and door frame hanging in the frigid morning air.

Sergiy, 67, tried to use the leg of an Ikea table to block up his smashed window. The leg stuck out into the air.

He had received a few bruises but said he was fine.

"I'm going to stay here, my daughter is in Kyiv and it's the same there," he told AFP.

In Sergiy's opinion, the missile has targeted the nearby military airfield, close to Ukraine's second city Kharkiv and just some 40km from the Russian border.

"It was one of the targets that Putin had cited. I'm not even surprised," he said, refusing to give his surname. "We will hang in there."

Thick black smoke could be seen billowing from the direction of the airfield - one of a raft of strategic locations across the country pounded by Moscow's firepower in an opening barrage.

A policeman said the toll from the bombardment was still being "evaluated", without giving more details.

Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuguiv near Kharkiv on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Teenager Anastasia clutched her grey cat as she watched her grandfather in a wheelchair being loaded onto a minibus waiting to rush them to a nearby village.

'Hope the war will spare us'

"We could never have expected this. We're going to the village; we hope the war will spare us there," she said.

Ukrainian military personnel and trucks swarmed around the town as the government in Kyiv insisted its forces would do all they could to protect Ukraine.

Across Ukraine's vulnerable eastern front, civilians and soldiers scrambled to react as one of the world's most powerful militaries began what the authorities warned was a "full-scale invasion".

Some 300km to the south, in the key port city of Mariupol - close to the front line where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine - the authorities were rushing to evacuate civilians as fighting raged.

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Local official Alexiy Babchenko said they were starting to move people out of two areas to the nearest railway station - but the violence was too heavy to begin in another location.

"It is under heavy artillery," he told AFP.

Mr Yevgeny Kaplin, head of the humanitarian organisation Proliska, said attacks were going on across the entire front line that had divided Ukrainian forces from an enclave held by Russian-backed rebels.

But poor communications were hampering information coming about victims.

"The offensive is under way along the entire demarcation line in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions," he said.

"Fighting is happening everywhere. We cannot yet receive information about victims, because there is no communication in this area."

Long queues for supplies in Kyiv

People stand in line outside a grocery store in Kyiv, on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

People in Kyiv stood in long queues trying to stock up on supplies on Thursday after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, and a huge traffic jam blocked the main road heading west out of the capital as others tried to flee.

The capital city did not come under attack but signs of nervousness were growing as planes flew overhead, explosions were heard and an emergency siren sounded early in the morning.

Even after weeks of warnings by Ukrainian and Western politicians that a Russian attack was imminent, some people were caught off guard in the city of around three million people.

“I didn’t expect this. Until this morning I believed nothing would happen,” said Nikita, a 34-year-old marketing specialist, as he waited in a long line at a supermarket with bottles of water piled high in his shopping cart.

“I was woken up. I’m an adult healthy man. I packed, bought food and will stay at home with my family.”

Other supermarkets and grocery stores were also packed with shoppers preparing to stay in Kyiv, and credit and debit cards ware still working.

Other residents were determined to leave for what they believed to be the relative safety of western Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised what he called a special military operation in the east.

By mid-morning, traffic was at a standstill on the four-lane main road to the western city of Lviv. Cars stretched back for dozens of kilometres, Reuters witnesses said.

Heavy traffic is seen on a road heading out of the Kyiv, on Feb 24, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

“I’m going away because a war has started, Putin attacked us,” said Oxana, the driver of one of the cars which was stuck in the traffic jam, with her three-year-old daughter on the back seat. “We’re afraid of bombardments.”

She said her immediate aim was just to get out of Kyiv, the centre of power in Ukraine and home to the government, presidency and Parliament. Once out, she would decide where to go, she said.

“Tell them (Russia), ‘You cannot do that. This is so scary’,” she said.

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