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Ukrainians navigate overcrowded trains and snarled traffic as they seek to escape the Russian assault on Kyiv

People packed onto platforms in the hope of securing a train out of Kyiv, Ukraine.

Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

  • People have fled the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, as Russia intensified its attacks.
  • People have walked, waited in traffic jams, or crammed onto trains in desperate attempts to leave.
  • One person described the situation on train platforms as “absolute mayhem.”

People have fled Kyiv as Russian strikes intensified.People crowd train stations waiting to board trains leaving Kyiv.Crowds at stations waiting to board trains leaving Kyiv.

Murat Saka/ dia images via Getty Images.

After a night sheltering from explosions in a Kyiv basement, 28-year-old Rita Malka decided to leave her home city.

At 10 a.m. on February 25, the day after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Malka headed west out of the capital as Russians advanced toward Kyiv from the north.

“I decided to go to western Ukraine, just in case,” Rita said. “So that I could return home quickly.”

Rita told Insider she spent her last evening in the city in a bomb shelter. “I kept thinking that none of this was true and that I would go home very soon. But I didn’t go home and spent the whole night there,” she said.

People crammed onto train platforms in search of space on a train heading west.Local residents are hoping to catch trains heading west.Local residents hoped to catch trains heading west.

Pierre Crom/Getty Images.

Rita said that she struggled to find bus or train tickets for sale but packed up her bag and her cat, Kiki, and took them to the station in search of a train out of the city.

On a 30-minute walk to the train station, Rita said she heard three explosions. 

“There was a line of 10 rows on the platform,” Rita told Insider, adding: “When the train arrived, there was absolute mayhem. People were pushing and pushing each other, the military was shooting in the air to calm this hysteria, people were falling under the wagons.”

She added: “I couldn’t get on this train. I was just pushed out. And I was left waiting for the second train. It arrived two hours later. All that time I tried to calm my tears and didn’t understand why I was doing it.”

Rita told Insider she eventually managed to secure a place on a packed train, where every compartment was crammed with people and their pets, including dogs, cats, and birds.

An estimated 1 million people have left Ukraine since the start of invasion.People crowd platforms waiting to board trains.People crowding platforms waiting to board trains.

Diego Herrera/Europa Press via Getty Images.

Rita is one of the thousands of people who have left the capital city as it becomes increasingly dangerous.

Russia attacked Ukraine on the morning of February 24. Following the invasion, people headed west out of Kyiv, getting snarled in traffic jams, cramming onto trains, and sometimes walking as they sought to evacuate a city that has come under attack from Russian airstrikes.

Within a week, an estimated 1 million people had fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday.

Some people have hunkered down in shelters before leaving the city.Elena shared this image with Insider of the conditions in the bomb shelter where she spent the night.Elena shared this image with Insider of the conditions in the shelter where she spent the night.

Elena.

Elena, an architecture student in Kyiv who didn’t give her last name, left the city on February 26 after spending one night in a shelter.

She told Insider the shelter where she spent the night could “hardly be called a bomb shelter.” 

“But I’m glad that I ended up there, because in that basement it was dry, clean, warm, the light was on, there was access to electricity and, most importantly, ventilation,” she said.

“My friends who stayed in the student hostel were less fortunate,” she added. “The basement there is not equipped, there is a lot of dust in it, there is no ventilation.”

Roads out of the city backed up with long lines of vehicles.People are queueing in traffic jams as they try to leave Kyiv.People lined up in traffic jams while trying to leave Kyiv.

GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

Elena said she left the city as shelling intensified.

“Trying to get out of the city was risky, but it was even more dangerous to stay there,” she told Insider.

Elena said her father had planned to travel into Kyiv to pick her up at a metro station. They later changed plans so her father wouldn’t get slowed down by the traffic jams and checkpoints in the city. Elena later met her father outside Kyiv after catching a lift with others leaving the capital.

“The traffic jam at the exit was just crazy,” she said, adding: “The distance that is usually covered in an hour, we covered it in five hours.”

Increasing numbers of people left the city as the attacks escalated.Men aged 18-60 haven't been able to board the trains because of martial law.Men ages 18 to 60 haven’t been able to leave the country after Ukraine’s government imposed martial law.

Diego Herrera/Europa Press via Getty Images.

People have flooded out of the city in the week of the invasion as shelling escalated. On Tuesday, Russian forces attacked a TV tower in Kyiv. Ukrainian officials said the attack killed five people. As the assault has progressed, Russian forces have been accused of increasingly striking nonmilitary sites, including grocery stores and residential buildings.

Satellite pictures this week showed a Russian military convoy stretching for 40 miles north of Kyiv. The convoy has hardly moved since the picture were taken Monday, according to reports, although US defence officials believe that Russian forces may have decided to pause their operations as “they are possibly regrouping, rethinking, reevaluating.” 

Some men are returning to Kyiv to volunteer.Ukrainian soldiers patrolled Kyiv in the week of the invasion.Ukrainian soldiers patrolling Kyiv in the week of the invasion.

Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Elena told Insider she made it safely to her home 300 kilometers from Kyiv, where locals are now collecting funds and provisions for Ukrainian fighters.

“Many men take their families to western Ukraine and return to fight back the enemy,” she said. “My father also went to the draft board, but he was told to wait for a call, because there are many who want to.”

While some men are returning to volunteer, others are unable to leave Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law in Ukraine on the day the invasion started and stopped men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

Elena said her district had so far collected 10 million Ukrainian hryvnias, or about $330,000, for the Ukrainian army.

“Now in Ukraine, more than ever, there is powerful support for the volunteer movement,” she said.

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