Mikhail Shcherbakov’s residence in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, had its ceiling damaged by a missile piece. After weeks of rhetoric and warning indicators, a Russian attack had touched home.
“I heard noise and woke up. I realized it sounded like artillery,” Shcherbakov said. He jumped from the couch and ran to wake his mother, and something exploded behind him.
Ukrainians’ tentative attempts at normalcy were smashed at dawn on Thursday. Smoke billowed from places all around the country, even those far from the country’s long-running separatist strife in the east. Many citizens of the city had sought refuge deep underground, in Kyiv’s metro system, by the end of the day.
“Today I had the worst sunrise in my life,” said another Kharkiv resident, who gave her name only as Sasha. She rushed to her balcony and realized the sounds that had woken her weren’t fireworks.
Vitaly Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, urged the city’s 3 million residents to remain indoors unless they worked in important areas, and advised everyone to pack go-bags with essentials such as medicine and paperwork.
Within an hour of the sun setting, the metro stations in the capital were packed with families and children chatting, playing, and eating dinner. Sleeping bags and blankets were brought, as well as pets and crossword puzzles. Some people looked visibly moved by what was going on in their homeland.
Ukrainians in the western city of Lviv, which is close to Poland, began forming lines outside gun shops after the government encouraged them to join the national defence.
“We’re defending, not assaulting,” one homeowner, identified only as Yuri, said. “This is our home, and we’ll fight till the end.”