• Mon. May 16th, 2022

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Lines, traffic jams and bomb shelters: Ukrainians confront Russia’s terrifying might

In north-eastern city of Kharkiv, just 25 miles from the Russian border, Mikhail Shcherbakov told The Associated Press that a missile fragment had pierced the ceiling of his apartment. 

“I heard noise and woke up. I realized it sounded like artillery,” Shcherbakov told the new agency. He jumped from the couch and ran to wake his mother, and something exploded behind him, Shcherbakov said. The missile left a nearby computer and teacup shrouded with dust.

NBC News correspondent Matt Bradley, who is in Kharkiv, tweeted that a series of explosions was heard in the city later on Thursday, a lot closer to its center than before.

But he said people were not fleeing the city and instead were hunkering down. The streets are almost empty, most shops are closed and there are lines of cars and customers at gas stations and grocery stores.

Feb. 24, 202200:47

By around 9 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET), NBC News’ Erin McLauglin reported that Kyiv was quiet and that they had not heard any explosions for about two hours. 

“There has been an element of disbelief up until this point that the Russians would go after the capital,” McLaughlin said. 

For months Russia has been amassing tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders. Still, many Ukrainians had remained stoically calm in the face of warnings from the United States and its allies that Moscow was readying an attack. Ukrainian officials initially appeared to play down the warnings, but have been sounding more concerned in recent days as Russia recognized two breakaway republics as the country’s east. 

An emotional President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the nation early Thursday, declaring martial law across the country. In a later video message, he urged Ukrainians, who had long braced for the prospect of an assault while never knowing precisely when it would come, to stay home and not panic. 

His message was echoed by Ukraine’s emergency service, asking civilians to remain calm. 

“Pack your valuables, warm clothes and be ready to to act accordingly to the official orders,” its message read.

In Kyiv, city officials announced that as a result of martial law, schools and kindergartens would be closed, while hospitals and the entire medical system in the capital would be working in “intensified mode.” 

Capital officials asked people who were not involved in the city’s critical infrastructure to “stay home” and prepare to go to bomb shelters if sirens went off, with a reminder that shelters are marked on a map of the city. 

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former professional boxer, said officials continued to ensure “the functioning of the city.”

UNICEF said Thursday they were concerned about the well-being of the country’s 7.5 million children, warning that tens of thousands of families could be forcibly displaced.

Meanwhile, the State Department warned U.S. citizens in Ukraine to shelter in place in an alert sent Thursday morning, warning that “further Russian military action can occur at any time without warning.”

Reuters contributed.