KYIV (AFP) – As a street battle with invading Russian forces raged overhead, Kyiv resident Yulia Snitko spent the night cowering in the basement of her apartment block praying for her unborn baby.
Eight months pregnant and with her bulging belly showing through her clothes, she was terrified that each blast or volley of gunfire from an attack on a nearby military facility could send her into labour.
“I’m trying to stay as calm as possible to not cause a premature birth,” the 32-year-old told AFP on Saturday (Feb 26) morning in the Soviet-era bomb shelter.
“At night, it was more than one hour of huge explosions. It was very stressful. When I realised what was happening, I was trembling, totally shaking for five minutes.”
Around her, families huddled together on the cardboard boxes and camping mats they were using as makeshift beds.
On the streets above, it was a bright sunny day, but only a handful of civilians were brave enough to queue for emergency food supplies, as Kyiv had been transformed within days into a war zone.
Tanks manoeuvred along the streets as the city, home to three million people, braced for an all-out assault by Russian forces pushing towards it.
The burnt-out wreckage of a Ukrainian military truck still smouldered in the middle of the grand Soviet-era Victory Avenue and soldiers cleared away debris.
Nearby, a Ukrainian soldier commanded an elderly volunteer as he hastily dug a trench in preparation for fresh attacks.
Several servicemen said Russian forces a few kilometres away had been firing barrages of rockets indiscriminately from their feared Grad systems.
The sounds of explosions rumbled in the distance.
Suddenly the wail of an air raid siren sounded and the civilians on the street sprinted for the nearest shelter.
City authorities blamed Russian “sabotage groups” for the attacks in the city overnight and said Moscow’s regular forces were fighting to break in.
Missiles pounded multiple locations around the capital.