The National Times - Kyiv civilians huddle in cellars as Russian forces attack

Kyiv civilians huddle in cellars as Russian forces attack

Kyiv civilians huddle in cellars as Russian forces attack
Kyiv civilians huddle in cellars as Russian forces attack

As a street battle with invading Russian forces raged overhead, Kyiv resident Yulia Snitko spent the night cowering in the basement of her apartment block praying for her unborn baby.

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Eight months pregnant and with her bulging belly showing through her clothes, she was terrified that each blast or volley of gunfire from an attack on a nearby military facility could send her into labour.

"I'm trying to stay as calm as possible to not cause a premature birth," the 32-year-old told AFP on Saturday morning in the Soviet-era bomb shelter.

"At night it was more than one hour of huge explosions, it was very stressful. When I realised what was happening, I was trembling, totally shaking for five minutes."

Around her, families huddled together on the cardboard boxes and camping mats they were using as makeshift beds.

On the streets above it was a bright sunny day, but only a handful of civilians were brave enough to queue for emergency food supplies, as Kyiv has been transformed within days into a war zone.

Tanks manoeuvred along the streets as the city, home to three million people, braced for an all-out assault by Russian forces pushing towards it.

The burnt-out wreckage of a Ukrainian military truck still smouldered in the middle of the grand Soviet-era Victory Avenue and soldiers cleared away debris.

Nearby, a Ukrainian soldier commanded an elderly volunteer as he hastily dug a trench in preparation for fresh attacks.

Several servicemen said Russian forces a few kilometres away had been firing barrages of rockets indiscriminately from their feared Grad systems.

The sounds of explosions rumbled in the distance.

- 'We are not afraid!' -

Suddenly the wail of an air raid siren sounded and the civilians on the street sprinted for the nearest shelter.

City authorities blamed Russian "sabotage groups" for the attacks in the city overnight and said Moscow's regular forces were fighting to break in.

Missiles pounded multiple locations around the capital.

One rocket blasted a gaping hole across several floors of an apartment block not far from the city centre sending rubble spewing onto the street below.

Teacher Irina Butyak, 38, has spent two days in the basement of her apartment block sheltering together with some 20 people.

As air raid sirens blared directly overhead, some tried to sleep on mattresses on the ground, some sat on stools chatting.

"We have train tickets for western Ukraine for tomorrow. I don't think we will make the train," she told AFP.

Buses have stopped running and Kyiv's metro has been turned into a giant bomb shelter.

"We'll sit here until we can get to the train station," she said.

She was still struggling to digest the nightmare unfolding around her as the city plunged into violence.

"We thought something like this might happen but we were hoping until the end that it wouldn't," she said.

"We were hoping that common sense and common decency would prevail. Well, it didn't."

"This Hitler is trying to seize power," he said.

"We are not afraid! If you knew how many young people have already stood up and taken their machine guns! I am 68 years old, but I will take any gun tomorrow and will shoot."