Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – A fragment of a rocket pierced the ceiling of Mikhail Shcherbakov’s apartment in Kharkiv. Ukrainians in an instant discovered that the war after several weeks of warnings collapsed on the house.
“I heard a noise and woke up. I understood that it sounded like artillery, ”Shcherbakou said. He jumped off the couch and ran to wake his mother, and something exploded behind him.
The rocket left a nearby computer and a tea cup, shrouded in dust, instant artifacts of the last war in Europe.
At dawn on Thursday, the difficult efforts of Ukrainians to normalcy were shattered. Smoke was rising from cities, even far from the country’s disputed eastern border. The morning trip turned into a queue of cars waiting at the gas station or fleeing from the gray and rainy capital of Kiev. People with luggage hid in the subway, not knowing where to go.
Some immediately panicked. Others clung to the routine with irritation.
“I’m not afraid. I’m going to work. The only unusual thing is that there are no taxis in Kiev,” – complained one of the residents, even when the sirens of the air raid.
Many did not seem to know how to react. Kyiv’s main street, Khreshchatyk, was alarmed when people checked their phones. Some were walking dogs or waving to friends.
“I’m not scared now. Maybe then I’ll be scared, ”a resident of Maksim Prudskaya said.
The hotel, where many Associated Press reporters stayed, ordered an evacuation within 30 minutes. During the hasty discharge, the polite officer asked, “Did you have anything from the minibar?”
In Mariupol, a port city of the Sea of Azov that many fear because of its strategic importance, AP reporters saw similar confusing scenes of routine and fear.
Some residents waited at bus stops, seemingly on the way to work, while others rushed to leave the city, which is only about 15 kilometers (less than 10 miles) from the front line with the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of two districts that controlled by separatists. This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized independence in the prelude to the invasion.
Alarm was raised throughout Ukraine during the day. People crowded grocery stores and ATMs looking for supplies and cash. In Kharkov, concerned residents inspected fragments of military equipment scattered on the playground.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has urged 3 million city residents to stay at home when they are not working in critical sectors, and said everyone should prepare bags with essentials such as medicines and documents.
For weeks, President Vladimir Zelensky tried to soften expectations of Russian aggression, even as United States warnings became more urgent. Zelensky argued that the panic would destabilize society, which could be as tactical an advantage for Russia as the 150,000 troops gathered near Ukraine’s borders.
On Thursday, when the president imposed martial law, Ukrainians were shocked to realize that things could change.
“I feel panic, fear and excitement. I don’t know who to turn to for help, ”Kyiv resident Elizaveta Melnik said. We did not believe that such a situation would come. “