People sheltering in Kyiv subway station after Russia opens war on Ukraine
People sheltering in Kyiv subway station after Russia opens war on UkraineREUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

"I'm on my way to the shelter right now," Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch, Chief Rabbi of Kyiv, told Radio 103FM on Thursday morning, with air raid sirens wailing in the city and sounds of explosions in the background. "There are people running through the streets and we can see smoke rising.

"No one believed it would happen," he added. "We were calm until the sirens started. But now there are explosions and people panicking. Anyone who could leave left already," he noted. "Many of the Jews here are older people, disabled people without families, bedridden people... It was impossible to talk to them about leaving even though we tried to persuade them to try to move them to the west of the country, where the chances of an attack were lower."

In the city of Lviv air raid sirens can be heard along with sounds of explosions. "The internet is about to collapse," Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Bold, the city's chief rabbi, told Radio 103FM. "Then we'll just be left with the radio. And people are trembling in fear."

Rabbi Bold noted that many Israelis in Ukraine failed to respond to the Israel government's call to return home. "With the sirens going off and all the action, Israelis feel right at home," he added, somewhat sardonically.

"All the same, we didn't think Putin would reach this far, to western Ukraine," he added. "Their hatred of Putin here is so deep, beyond all comprehension - and that was before all this started."