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‘We Are Really Desperate.’ Foreign Students, Soccer Players and Tourists Are Trying to Flee Kyiv as Russia Continues Attack

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As missiles continued to rain down on the Ukrainian capital city Kyiv on Friday morning, Ukrainians and foreigners rushed to flee the Russian invasion.

Pictures and videos circulating on social media Thursday showed long lines at bus and train stations in Kyiv, the capital and most populous city in Ukraine, with around three million inhabitants. Kyiv’s major roads were choked. Several airports across the country were also bombed on Thursday.

Thousands of people have been pouring across borders into neighboring countries as foreign embassies scrambled to get their citizens in Ukraine to safety.

Almost 20,000 Indian students were stranded in Ukraine on Thursday, according to Indian news reports. An Air India flight that was heading to Kyiv turned back to Delhi on Thursday as Ukraine closed its airspace, and a number of students have gathered at the Indian embassy in Kyiv seeking help.

Read More: How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Could Change the Global Order Forever

Students of other nationalities are also trapped. Vukile Dlamini, from the small southern African nation of Eswatini, told TIME on Friday morning that she had taken refuge in a bomb shelter at her university in Vinnytsia in the middle of the country.

She said she was with several other foreign students, most of them studying medicine or dentistry. Dlamini, 19, is looking for a way to get to the border of Romania or Poland, but said she heard of fighting near one border crossing, and air raid sirens are going off every 10 to 15 minutes.

“I’m trying to stay calm, because everyone around us is panicking,” she said. “Some of the trains are not working, and the ones that are working, people are packed in like sardines.” She planned to leave the shelter “and go to the bus station again and wait in the long lines and hope that something will come today.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian soccer players for two of Ukraine’s largest teams—Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv—posted a video on Instagram asking for help from the Brazilian government to leave Ukraine.

“We are really desperate. We are going through chaos,” Shakhtar defender Marlon Santos wrote on Instagram.

Video grab of Brazilian footballers who play in Ukranian clubs and their families, asking the Brazilian government for help to be evacuated, at a hotel in Kiev, on Feb. 24, 2022, after the Russian invasion.AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli embassies in the region sent representatives to major border crossings in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania to help their nationals leave the country.

Poland agreed to temporarily take in some Filipinos fleeing Ukraine, according to Philippine news reports.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv urged American citizens in Ukraine to depart immediately “if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options.”

Indian students returning from Ukraine are received by their relatives amid the crisis, at Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi, Feb. 22Rajat Gupta—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Actor Sean Penn is reportedly among Americans in Ukraine. Vice Studios confirmed to Variety that Penn was in the country making a documentary about the Russian invasion.

Read More: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine May Trigger a Refugee Crisis. Here’s How the World Is Preparing

A Twitter user, who said he was in Ukraine as a journalist for the Australian Financial Review, posted a photo that purported to be of him and Penn, sheltering in the basement of a hotel.

Offers of help to those fleeing are being made on social media. Christiaan de Vries, who says he is a Dutch student in Poland, typified the sentiments. “If anyone needs a bed for a couple days, do get in contact with me,” he tweeted.


Not everyone can leave. Ukraine has imposed martial law and prohibited male citizens aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

Ukraine Evacuation
Passengers rest on camp beds in a temporary shelter inside a building of the railway station after arriving on a train from Kiev in Ukraine to Przemysl, Poland on February 24, 2022.Beata Zawrzel—NurPhoto/Getty Images

There are fears that the conflict in Ukraine could trigger a refugee crisis. Frantic preparations are being made by the governments of the five countries that border Ukraine—Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. They have announced that they will receive Ukrainian refugees.

Ireland is waiving visa requirements for Ukrainians, and the E.U. has also pledged to process Ukrainian refugees.

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Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com