The sound of explosions on the edge of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and air sirens set off by a full-scale Russian invasion of the country have prompted the city residents to panic and flee for safety.
On Thursday morning, long queues of cars formed from the city centre towards various exits out of Kyiv and people took cover in the city’s underground stations and other safe places, according to local media.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Kyiv, said that just after 5am local time (03:00 GMT) the hotel he was staying at was “virtually shaking with the sound of explosions”.
“They weren’t in the city centre. They were in the distance. The sky was going orange and red and 15 seconds later you’d hear the explosion so it was some distance away initially. And then it got closer and we heard all across the country reports of explosions,” he said.
“People were initially just panicking and running for cover in some places and the word went out from the president that Russia was invading. He said, ‘please stay calm.’”
Simmons also said that at the moment “there is a very eerie atmosphere in the centre of the city”.
“That’s because we are not sure whether armoured columns are heading in this direction,” he added.
Ukraine’s Korrespondent news outlet reported that the traffic jams formed from central Kyiv towards Zhytomyr and other exits from the city at 6am local time (04:00 GMT).
Local authorities have been urging Kyiv residents to stay at home.
“Everyone who is not involved in the operation of the critical infrastructure and life support of the city, stay at home and be ready to follow to the shelter when the sirens turn on,” the Kyiv City State Administration said in a message on its official Telegram channel.
Iliya Kusa, an international relations analyst at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, told Al Jazeera from Kyiv that the fact that “people are leaving Kyiv is partially true but it is not a panic wave”.
“The situation in Kyiv, where I am located now, is more or less stable. There is no panic, there is no critical problems right now. The public transport is working as usual. The only thing that changed actually is that … schools, universities and kindergartens are closed and hospitals are on high alert since the parliament introduced martial law.
“However, I have noticed that many people are trying to get money from ATMs. There are queues there and a bunch of people immediately went to shops to stock up on basic products. Besides that, everything is OK,” he said.
“There are traffic jams on the main roads which lead out of the city. I can’t assess the number of people who are trying to leave the city … but of course, there are some people who want to leave Kyiv.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a full-scale military operation in Ukraine early on Thursday, telling Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms and warning any forces that interfere will face the consequences.
He claimed the operation is to protect civilians in Ukraine.
The Russian military said Ukraine’s air defences and bases have been destroyed while numerous civilian airports were bombed.
Separatists in eastern Ukraine have also said they had taken over several towns.
Tanks have been seen coming from the Russian-occupied Crimea and across the border from Belarus. Ukraine said its air force has shot down several Russian aircraft in the east.
There are reports in Ukrainian media that Russian troops have landed in the eastern port cities of Odesa and Mariupol.
Read more detailed updates on the Ukraine crisis here.