By Maria Tsvetkova
KYIV -A huge traffic jam blocked a major road out of Kyiv on Thursday as people tried to flee the capital after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, while others stood in long lines hoping to draw money and stock up on supplies.
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. Credit and debt cards ware still working and long lines formed in front of ATMs.
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.
Some people carried bags and suitcases as they looked for a way out of the city – by bus, car or plane.
Traffic was at a standstill on the four-lane main road to the western city of Lviv, far from the areas most likely to be attacked. Cars stretched back for dozens of kilometres, Reuters witnesses said.
“I’m going away because a war has started, Putin attacked us,” said Oxana, the driver of one of the cars who 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.
Others headed to the airport and a bus station, but were unsure whether they would be able to leave.
“We planned to fly from Kyiv to Baku today. But we were told that the flight had been cancelled because of the escalation of war in Ukraine,” said a traveller at the airport who gave her name only as Gulnara.
“No one is telling us what happened, what will happen to our flight, what should we do, where to go. We have no place to go to. No one is responding to us,” she said.