Home International News Fear among Ukrainians rampant as many stay put, others flee: ‘The situation...

Fear among Ukrainians rampant as many stay put, others flee: ‘The situation is very tense and terrible’

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes a statement in Kyiv Feb. 25, 2022, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine. (CNS photo/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service handout via Reuters) NO ARCHIVES. MUST DISCARD 30 DAYS AFTER DOWNLOAD.

Uncertainty of where Russian troops will strike is feeding fear among Ukrainians, despite many standing in defiance over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military invasion, which is being called “Europe’s 9/11 moment.”

Across Ukraine, many spent their first night of war sleeping in bunkers and basements, while multiple explosions shattered the area around the capital, Kyiv. Some sought shelter in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.

Others, including hundreds of thousands of civilians, are trying to flee westward to the Polish border for safety, some seven hours away. Poland has said it is preparing a medical train to assist people seeking to escape.

But others, like distraught Olga, who is in Amman, Jordan, for business, told Catholic News Service her family in Kyiv has “no other choice but to stay put, as ways to access cash have shut, roads are clogged and a curfew is in place under the emergency martial law.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with representatives of the business community at the Kremlin in Moscow Feb. 24, 2022. (CNS photo/Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters) NO ARCHIVES. MUST DISCARD 30 DAYS AFTER DOWNLOAD.

A woman in Lviv said although the city had not yet been bombed, people were sitting in shelters. “The situation is very tense and terrible,” she told CNS.

Some church leaders say that now is not the time to abandon their flocks. In a post made available to CNS, one wrote: “We are not leaving. How can we? My responsibility is to shepherd at all times. It would be a terrible testimony to get up and leave the believers.”

“We have been preparing for this day, buying generators, fuel, and food in order to help people who will face many a hardship. God is about to give us a great opportunity to show our Christian faith practically and to reach out into our community with the Gospel,” he said, wishing to withhold his name due to fear of reprisal.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three border areas in an attack that could rewrite the post-Cold War security order.

Nuns from the Order of St. Basil the Great are pictured Feb. 22, 2022, during a pilgrimage in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, just hours ahead of a Russian invasion. (CNS photo/Sister Anna Andrusiv, via catholicphilly.com)

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, accused Putin of “trying to redraw the maps of Europe.”

The invasion could drive up to 5 million people to flee abroad, U.N. aid agencies said Feb. 25, adding that at least 100,000 people already were uprooted in Ukraine and fuel, cash and medical supplies were running low.

According to U.N. refugee agency, several thousand Ukrainians have already crossed into neighboring countries — mainly Moldova and Romania — while an estimated 100,000 have fled their homes.

The Permanent Council of the Polish bishops’ conference met Feb. 25 and urged Poles to “open for our sisters and brothers from Ukraine homes, hostels, diocesan, parish, retreat houses and all places where help can be provided to people in need.” They also encouraged parishes to take up a special collection after Ash Wednesday Masses “to help those affected by the current crisis in Ukraine.”

U.S. officials warned that the Kremlin’s intention was to overthrow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and install a puppet regime allied to Russia. But Zelenskyy has been defiant in refusing to leave Kyiv, even as Russian troops were on the outskirts of the capital.

Zelenskyy discounted Putin’s accusation that Ukraine supported neo-Nazism, asking how “could a people who lost more than 8 million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism?”

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, although he did not explicitly mention this in his prewar speech, added: “How can I be a Nazi? Explain it to my grandfather, who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.” He said that three of his grandfather’s brothers were killed in the Holocaust.

Maria Toma, originally from Crimea and now living in Ukraine, accused Putin of wanting to “prevent Ukraine from existing; however, Ukraine is resisting and needs global solidarity.”

“I can’t image Ukraine ruled by a pro-Russian person,” she said. “Putin is trying to blackmail the world and Ukraine not to enter NATO and (keep) Ukraine (from) being a democracy.”