At the Kiev station, rumors, near-jostling and frustration

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KYIV, Ukraine – Crowds of exhausted and frightened women and children at Kyiv’s Central Railway Station on Friday suddenly burst into a near rush towards a station platform where a train heading for safety in western l Ukraine was expected to arrive soon.

“Hurry! Hurry!” a mother shouted at her children. A couple were running, holding a little boy by the hands between them, so that his feet only touched the ground with each step.

A uniformed railway company employee rushed the crowd. “Go Go!” said the woman. “Follow other people.”

But no train showed up. A few minutes later, people were on the move again, climbing the rails, dragging suitcases and holding babies, trying to reach another platform before the others.

As Russian troops masse outside the city, there is a growing sense of a slowly tightening noose and, in some neighborhoods, mounting panic.

Kiev, a city of 2.8 million before the war, is slowly surrounded by Russian troops and armor. So far, most of the fighting has taken place in towns outside the city, where a mile-long column of Russian armored and military vehicles remains stuck to the northwest.

The fear is that Russian forces will follow the same script as in their assaults on Kharkiv and Mariupol, encircling the city, cutting off its residents from food and medicine supplies, depriving them of water, electricity and heating , and bombarding neighborhoods.

Since the start of the war eight days ago, tens of thousands of people have fled Kyiv, heading west to Lviv, then to Poland and other destinations in Europe. But tens of thousands more remained behind, and as escape routes have narrowed inexorably, they are increasingly desperate to get out.

Roads and railroads remain open to the southwest of the city. But the evacuee trains, so crowded that only children have seats, couldn’t take everyone.

In time, a train finally stopped in the station and opened its doors. The people were fairly calm and civil, and there was little jostling, as a few thousand women and children huddled together tightly.

Yet even as the train pulled away, bound for Lviv, the platform remained crowded.

“It’s not the first day we’ve been trying,” said Oksana Gorbula, a Kyiv resident who was traveling with her sister and two nieces. “Look at this crowd. We’ll never get along, that’s obvious. She said they would probably give up on fleeing the city and instead seek refuge in the city’s subway.

In an ominous sign, even as swarms of people sought to travel west, a new flow of displaced people was surging into the city from the northwest. The trains came from Irpin, an outlying town where the Ukrainian army mounted a fierce defense against Russian forces. The cars are completely filled with women and children, as all men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been ordered to stay put and help in the war effort.

A train driver said the Russian army was now in battle on the Irpin railway tracks in the west, forcing evacuees to return to the city of Kiev. The development suggested that the Russian military encirclement of the capital was tightening.

With displaced people arriving from besieged areas in the west and thousands more desperately trying to leave, chaotic scenes have unfolded.

“I want to go to Lviv,” one woman pleaded as the crowd pressed around her. “Where’s the train to Lviv?”

A couple was watching. “Why are they running? said the woman. “Let’s go back to the station and find the right platform for the Kiev-Lviv train.” But the trains departed haphazardly, and the time for any announced timetable was long gone.

“Listen, people are freaking out,” said Elizaveta, 45, who wouldn’t give her last name. “People see that it is getting worse and worse. We waited. But now, what is there to wait? Now we see that it’s not going to get better.

Tatyana Yanuk, who was hoping to leave with her one-and-a-half-year-old son Roman, said she was trying to get to the western town of Khmelnitsky, to stay with relatives. She had packed only one small bag, leaving behind almost all of Roman’s toys except for two picture books about backhoes, one of his fascinations. “He saw one once and was really interested in how it digs,” she said.

On one of the platforms, an elderly woman, seemingly alone, was crying, visibly confused and distressed.

After spending days in a basement in Irpin to escape the pounding of artillery shells outside, Viktoria Grudenko and her daughter, Valeria, 6, showed no sign of relief, holding each other’s face stone on the platform after arriving in Kyiv and seeing the chaos at the station. Mrs. Grudenko’s husband was not allowed to board the outgoing train, which was reserved for women and children.

She said she had no idea how she would get out of Kiev, but said her plan was to go to Europe. “We want out of Ukraine.”

Thousands of others have found themselves in the same situation.

When it became apparent that every square inch of the train to Lviv was crowded with people, those remaining on the platform stood up, staring, not knowing what to do or where to go.

Then the train, just a rushed commuter train on emergency service, sprang into motion and sped away with a whistle and the slap of the wheels on the track, leaving hundreds of people behind.

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