- An endless sea of red taillights fill every road from Ukraine’s capital Kiev to Lviv in the far west.
- Photographer Alan Chin reports from Ukraine.
An endless sea of red taillights fill every road from Kiev – Ukraine’s capital, in the middle of the country – to Lviv on Ukraine’s western border with Poland.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine began just before dawn on February 24, with missile attacks and subsequent ground troops closing in on cities, hundreds of thousands of people got into their cars and joined a desperate westward exodus. Went.
Even the night before, it seemed unimaginable: restaurants and cafes in Kiev were open and operating normally. There were no lines in the markets or banks. Was masked with an undercurrent of concern, depending on who spoke to, resignation, bravado, denial, or all of the above.
The sound of explosions was heard in the outskirts of the city from around 5 am. Even more worrying, there were conflicting reports of fierce fighting with Russian ground troops at an air base 20 kilometers from the capital. By late morning, the central bus station was closed and people pulled suitcases and started entering the train station. Most trains heading east towards the most intense battle were cancelled, and an announcement on the PA system urged calm. Residents who could not or could not travel west took refuge in underground metro stations. Several others got into their cars.
A stream of cars travels west from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Alan Chin for Insider
Once the exodus began, it was calm and orderly. Motorists mostly followed traffic rules, even in heavy traffic jams, and bowed in front of ambulances. The long lines now forming at cash machines, gas stations, pharmacies and supermarkets were as polite and efficient as they could be in a society where receipts are generated for the smallest transactions. Thus far most places continue to have electricity, mobile phone service and internet access.
Online map apps like Google and Waze were largely accurate in showing delays. Because the apps are dynamic in real time – adjustments to estimate the best and fastest routes – and given the huge amount of vehicles on the move, every road was jammed, including potholes and cobblestones, rural streets She was Most vehicles, whether luxury SUVs and budget hatchbacks, carried Kiev license plates.
That didn’t mean it was easy with broken cars, unexpected obstacles and unnecessary hazards on the side of the road. Arbitrary rules that prioritized buying fuel at gas stations added to the confusion. Once, a station employee was asking for a special “gas card”, but it was not entirely clear what this meant and the request did not come to other stations.
Fifty miles south of Kiev, lawyer Andrey Olive was able to fill up and eat a hot dog. He said that he was going to Lviv, where he had relatives. “It is more dangerous in Kiev than anywhere else in Ukraine right now,” he explained. “Russia is trying to hold Kiev in a circle. They are attacking from Belarus. They are trying to hold Kiev between two lines of fire.”
Bila Tserkva Train Station. Alan Chin for Insider
That evening at the nearby Bila Tserkawa train station (above), M Ahtisham Bhutta (above, with the orange jacket, below) was one of eight Pakistani students who had waited all day for the next train to Lviv . Speaking for the group, he said that he had been studying at the National Agricultural University in Bila Tserkva for the past six months. “We were here first people in the morning,” he said.
“Last night was terrible for us, because of the bombings. More than 10 bombs. We were sleeping. Suddenly it happened and we woke up. I could see flashes of light,” he said. “We didn’t change our clothes, just took small bags, and came here. My family heard the news and called and called. They are very worried because I am the only son of my parents and they have sent me here. A good education. But now, who knows? It’s very difficult for the mothers of all the students.”
M Ahtisham Bhutta (wearing an orange jacket) was one of eight Pakistani students waiting for a train to leave Ukraine. Alan Chin for Insider
Nearby stood Anastasia Vasilyevska, who works as a manicurist (above). “Today at 5 am, hearing the blasts, I got scared, very scared. Nothing like this has ever happened here before,” she said. She said she was going to Poland, and added. “I hope they let us in.”
“I’m just sad,” she continued. “My friends are here and some of my families. They can’t go. They have their own families and kids. They don’t know what life will be like after them… They say, yes, we could have gone, but then what? We Where will we go? What will we do? They have already bought food, water, everything.”
Anastasia Vasilievska is expected to reach Poland. Alan Chin for Insider
Late at night, winding through the villages of central Ukraine – still not quite 24 hours into the offensive – the only visible military presence was the occasional trucks and equipment that apparently belonged to support, not combat, units. But near the small town of Skavira, a large group of men gathered at a gas station. Some were in military uniform, some were police, and some were civilians (or perhaps secret police). He declined to be photographed or to answer any questions.
As the air raid sirens sounded, a Vinnitsa resident called for the relative safety of an alleyway she was walking near the broad avenue. Alan Chin for Insider
Adding to the stress of the trip was the corrosive power of the rumours. In Vinnytsia, we heard that the Ukrainian government had shot down a Russian plane north of the city, although this could not be confirmed. Sirens continued to sound in the streets of the city. Each lament was followed by an ominous recording announcing that the threat of aerial bombardment was high, and that people should take cover. The police were on edge, with official Ukrainian media constantly warning of “saboteurs” and Russian spies. Along with another American journalist, the police interrogated us for over an hour and several times asked us to produce our documents.
At one point in the heavily congested traffic west of Vinnytsia, several cars and trucks began to make a U-turn, telling oncoming motorists that a bridge ahead had been blown up. Doing some quick checking, I noticed that there were unconfirmed reports. To the north-west of Kiev, the Ukrainian army had actually destroyed [different] bridge to prevent the invading Russians from using it. But the small part of it across the Letichev and Vovk River is more than 200 miles away. In fact, the bridge was intact, and traffic jams were caused by police and military checkpoints.
Avtandil and Maluja Glonti and their three children eat at the roadside restaurant “Ne Puhu Ne Pera” (“Neither Feathers nor Fur”). Alan Chin for Insider
In Letichiv – about halfway between Kiev and Lviv – Ne Puhu ne Pera (“neither feathers nor fur”) street-side restaurant did brisk business. Many of its menu items were sold out but were a welcome hot meal for weary travellers.
Avtandil Glonty, a lawyer, his wife Maluja, a doctor, and their three children (above) left their home in Dniepro just before their city was hit by air and missile attacks. The city, southeast of Kiev, sits on the Dnieper River that divides East and West Ukraine. “We had to flee Georgia in 2008. That was it – Putin invaded Georgia,” he explained.
“We’ve been driving for 15 hours straight, because we don’t want to waste time,” he continued. “We’re going to Poland. Once we’re in a safe place, we’ll decide what to do. Maybe Germany.”
“It is psychologically difficult to be in an unstable state,” Maluja said. “We had to leave everything. But we can go back only when Russia leaves.”
Dasha Polischuk, her one-year-old child Maxim, and her husband Roma. Alan Chin for Insider
Dasha Polishuk, a 28-year-old kindergarten teacher from Cherkasy, a town on the Dnieper River, was traveling in a van with her one-year-old child, Maxim, her husband Roma (all of the above) and other members of their family. They had been on the road for nine hours without stopping, as they heard air raid sirens as they passed through towns and cities along the way.
“Shock. Panic,” he said of the first explosions the night before. “We were running and running to pack everything. In a situation like this it’s impossible to explain what happens to your soul. And more importantly, what happens to your family and your baby.” I want Putin and his family to live. We just did it. I want to ask the Russian people to stand up to Putin.”
The mass movement continues, although able-bodied men in the age group of 18 to 60 are now prohibited from leaving the country as they have to live and fight. Ukraine’s cities are blacked out at night, making it difficult for Russian planes to locate their targets, and curfews are imposed in a quiet area. It remains to be seen whether any more refugees from these internally displaced people can return home any time soon.