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Politics

“I Don’t Want to Die”: Ukrainians Fear as Invasion Closes In

February 25, 2022

KYIV, Ukraine — Yurii Zhyhanov woke to his mother’s screaming and found himself covered in dust. Before dawn on the second day of Russia’s invasion, their residential building had been struck by shelling on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

He and other civilians were horrified to find their lives at risk, and many have begun to flee. Amid the smoke and the wailing of car alarms, Zhyhanov and his family packed and joined them.

“What are you doing? What is this?” he said, addressing Russia and gesturing to the damaged building behind him. “If you want to attack military personnel, attack military personnel. This is all I can say.”

His weariness and shock reflected that of his country on Friday as people climbed out of bomb shelters, basements and subways to face another day of upheaval.

Those who didn’t wake to explosions were roused by another day of air raid sirens. Then came the news that Russian forces had advanced to the outskirts of the capital.

Russia has said it is not targeting cities, but the fighting seemed far too close.

The body of a dead soldier lay on the ground near a Kyiv underpass. Elsewhere, fragments of a downed aircraft smoked amid the brick homes of a residential area. Black plastic was draped over body parts found beside them.

Armored personnel carriers drove down the city’s streets. Residents stood uneasily in doorways of apartment buildings, watching.

In the port city of Mariupol, a young girl named Vlada was new to war and already wished for it to stop.

“I don’t want to die,” she said. “I want all of this to end as soon as possible.”

Ukrainians picked through the damage left by shelling. And some mourned.

In the city of Horlivka, a body covered with a blanket lay on the ground outside a house that had been hit by shelling. A man standing nearby spoke on the phone.

“Yes, Mom’s gone, that’s all,” he said. “That’s it, Mom’s gone.”

The urge to run away grew. In a train station just across the border in Poland, hundreds of people from Ukraine sought shelter. Some curled up on cots, trying to sleep. A woman stroked the hair of a young girl.

One of those at the station was Andry Borysov, who said he had heard the rush of something flying overhead and then an explosion as he hurried to catch a train out of Kyiv.

“It was an unmistakable sound,” he said.

Others hesitated to leave Ukraine, even as they stood on railway platforms.

In Kostiantynivka, a government-controlled area in the separatist-held Donetsk People’s Republic, a woman who gave only her first name, Yelena, was among those who appeared undecided.

“It’s fifty-fifty on whether it is worth leaving or not,” she said. “But it wouldn’t hurt to leave for a couple days, for a weekend.”

Others leaving Ukraine knew it might take much longer before they can come home.

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