A Night of Terror, a Day of Fleeing

Kyivans withstand merciless Russian bombardment as many prepare to evacuate

After a night of fierce firefighting and explosions in the outskirts of Kyiv, the Ukrainian army managed to repel an attempt by Russian troops to enter the capital. Shortly after dawn on Saturday, we were able to head out to the site of the night’s battles.

We toured Prospekt Peremohy — Victory Avenue — less than 6 miles from the famous parade street Khreshchatyk and Maidan Square.

In the middle of the wide avenue were two burnt-out trucks, still burning around the tires, around the road are debris and remnants of grenades and rockets, and whole boxes of hand grenades. In the truck’s cab were also the charred remains of two Russian soldiers. There were unidentifiable meat slabs on the sidewalk and around the road.

The Ukrainian soldiers told New Lines they were certain of victory. One of them asked one of the authors to record him.

“All Russian brothers who come here will die,” he said. “Mothers, take back your sons. They will die on someone else’s land.

“We did not start this war, but we will end it.

“Long live Ukraine!” the soldier shouted, and the other soldiers lined up and answered, “Long live the heroes!”

As the morning passed, more and more people came out of houses and shelters and took stock of the devastation. Suddenly, the air raid warning system started, the siren echoed over the city. “Run to the shelters,” a soldier shouted.

We went down to the basement of one of the five-story apartment buildings next to the road.

The bunker was old and neglected, the doors rusty and the plaster on the walls was peeling. On homemade bunks of cardboard, people lay under blankets.

“Tonight the Russians attacked the military base on the other side of the street, and in the evening we moved down here in the basement,” said Irina Budsiack. “All night we heard explosions. They wanted to break through on the avenue. There were firefights here in the yard of our house as well.”

Budsiack’s two sons, Valeri, 10, and Sergei, 11, sat on the floor playing cards.

She and her husband Sergei were trying to get out of Kyiv.

“We plan to leave Kyiv for western Ukraine, but we cannot reach the train station, it feels unsafe to move the children now,” Sergei said.

Another resident taking cover in the bunker was Irina Tjajka, 48. She was in tears and in shock. She said she did not make it down to the shelter before the fight began.

“I took shelter in the bathroom and cried and prayed to God.

“The fight lasted for two hours,” Tjajka continued. “Bangs, and shots. At five o’clock it calmed down, then the whole apartment was full of shrapnel.

“Russia will never be our brothers again after this. I do not want to say that everyone there is bad people — there are good ones too. And I know that there are people in Russia who protest against this, and that they will be arrested for it. But we will never be brothers again.

“And I want to say that I am proud of our country. I love it. And I especially respect our president who did not flee, who is here with us to the last. They said he was a clown, he’s not a clown. He became president during a difficult time, and he has done a lot,” Tjajka said.

Kyiv after a night of terror / By Niclas Hammarström
Kyiv after a night of terror / By Niclas Hammarström
Kyiv after a night of terror / By Niclas Hammarström

After a while, the situation calmed down on the street, and we could go out again. In the middle of the broken glass and the remains of the night’s battles, a family with two small children were walking with their suitcases. The small wheels on the bags got stuck in the rubble. A little boy came after his mother when he had to fix the bag. A soldier approached him and asked him to hurry.

“Faster, faster, catch up with your parents.”

The boy hurried forward among the broken glass, the remains of grenades and meat slabs.

At platform 3 at Kyiv’s train station, a train was ready to leave for Ivano Frankivsk in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.

“It is a state of war so no tickets are needed, everyone who gets a seat can go with the train,” said the conductor Vitalii Andrusik.

Families with children and young people with backpacks and sleeping pads came running to try to find a train car that was not yet full. The atmosphere was mostly calm, but everyone was in a tense mood. A father with a small child held up the child and showed the conductor.

“We have a small child, can we come along?”

That particular carriage was full. Later we met the family again. They came from Israel and were trying to get to Lviv. They did not get a seat on the train. But another five trains will leave Kyiv during the day.

“We hope to get on one of the trains,” said the man named Ron.

He was on the platform with his wife Alexandra and sons Vanja and Daniel. “We had a difficult situation with Alexandra’s mother who is seriously ill. We would have evacuated earlier.”

In another part of Kyiv, there was a large hole in the facade of a high-rise building. Three floors were completely blown away by a Russian rocket that hit during the night. The remains of the homes, pictures, school paper and a bag lay on the asphalt among the insulation, bricks and glass. Smoke came out and a curtain fluttered in the wind. A rescue worker told me no one died in the hit.

Wherever we went, people were walking with wheeled suitcases. Outside the few shops that were open, there were long queues of people who wanted to stock up on food and supplies.

Suddenly, a burning police car was in the middle of the street. The fire brigade was just about to put out the fire when we passed by, and a cloud of smoke rose toward the sky. Further ahead a Ukrainian military truck drove straight into a house. There were traces of blood on the street, and a group of police officers and soldiers stood with their weapons, ready to fire.

“It was an attempt at terrorist attack by the Russians,” said a Ukrainian police officer. “I cannot say anything more.”

The windshield of the truck was punctured by more than 25 bullets. The blood dripped down from the seat on the passenger side. Bloody tracks could be seen from the truck bed after bodies had been pulled away.

Earlier, the Ukrainian military announced that Russian forces had stolen a number of military trucks and tried to use them to enter Kyiv.

The details of what happened has not been confirmed.

As the evening came and the streets of Kyiv were completely empty, the air raid sirens started again. From the outskirts of the city comes the sound of another firefight.

Kyiv after a night of terror / By Niclas Hammarström
Kyiv after a night of terror / By Niclas Hammarström
Kyiv after a night of terror / By Niclas Hammarström

This dispatch is a collaboration between New Lines and Swedish newspaper Expressen.

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