European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo
Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Thousands of terrified civilians are seeking shelter across Ukraine as Russian bombs and rocket fire rain down on various parts of the country, with many of them taking to social media to appeal to foreign leaders for help.
After Russian forces began the invasion early Thursday, thousands of Ukrainians fled the city -- creating a pileup of traffic in some places like Kyiv -- and many who had no opportunity to leave sought protection in shelters.
While many still hide in shelters, others are scrambling to leave, standing in lines for fuel, food and cash. Air raid sirens wailed in Kyiv as residents flocked, some carrying personal possessions and beloved pets, to subway stations to get out of the line of fire.
"I'm scared," Alisa Rodionova, 20, told NBC News from her mother's apartment. "People are just in a severe panic right now."
Rodionova and her mother are thinking about escaping to Lviv in western Ukraine to get away from the shelling. Others are using subway stations for shelter.
Ukrainian civilians and their pet dog are seen near the Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi railway station in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday during a sustained assault from Russian forces in locations throughout Ukraine. Photo by Oleksandr Khomenko/UPI
Although it's clear that most taking refuge in shelters are frightened, some say they're trying to remain calm. Newborn babies who were in Ukrainian hospitals have also been moved to shelters -- some in intensive care -- to shield them from Russian fire. One video showing a row of newborns on the floor at one shelter drew sympathy and heartbreak on social media.
Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for the sustained assault and for targeting civilians.
"They say that civilian objects are not a target for them," he said in a statement posted to the government website. "This is a lie. In fact, they do not distinguish in which areas to operate."
Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said that Russia is trying to enter Kyiv and "liquidate the leadership of the state".
"The availability of fuel is a problem. There are limits, there are queues at petrol stations, we are talking directly about it," Podolykak said in a statement.
"Regarding the groceries -- currently there is a sufficient quantity of goods in stores," he added. "They will be replenished, at least in those places where fighting does not happen today."
In Kharkiv, near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine, Kostyantyn Achkasov told Euronews that he woke up before dawn to sounds of explosions and roaring warplanes.
"Right now, everybody is staying at home," he said. "People have put fuel in their cars or got groceries. We are all waiting for the instructions from the government. It's not safe to travel."
Kharkiv residents are mostly hunkering down and the streets are mostly empty. Most shops are closed and there are lines to get food and fuel.
Some Ukrainian refugees are fleeing to Poland. U.S. officials estimate that there could be as many as 5 million refugees from Ukraine.