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In the hours after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, citizens began taking shelter in subway stations, withdrew cash from banks, and filled their cars with gas, while others took only what they could carry and began fleeing the country

“What we’re seeing are initial phases of a large-scale invasion,” a senior defense official told reporters on Thursday. The official added that Russia has “every intention of basically decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance.” 

The attack that began in the early morning on Thursday, local time, has focused on three main advances from Russian forces, the official said. The first from Crimea to the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson; the second from north-central Ukraine to the south of the country, “basically from Belarus to Kyiv;” and the third from the northeast of Ukraine to the south. 

While Russia is “making a move” on the capital of Kyiv, the official said, the heaviest fighting is around Kharkiv at the moment. The advances are “clearly designed to take key population centers.” Russian airborne troops assaulted an airport in Hostemel, according to CNN, which is about 21 miles from Kyiv.

“If it unfolds the way … we have come to believe that it will, it has every potential to be very bloody, very costly, and very impactful on European security writ large,” the official said. “Perhaps for a long, long time to come.”

One woman who lives in the capital of Kyiv, Yaroslava Antipina, told VICE News that through her window she saw “people with bags. Some of them were running.” 

Another woman speaking with CNN’s Clarissa Ward on Thursday morning, from a subway station in which she and her two children were taking shelter, said that people are trying “to be brave because we have children. We don’t want to show them we are scared.” 

The defense official said that, in the end, the war unfolding in Ukraine is “100% a war of choice” from Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“Whatever blood is spilled, whatever destruction is caused, however many lives are permanently altered … all of that has to be laid at his feet and his government,” the official said. “What we’ve seen already was 100% avoidable.” 

Here’s what citizens and Ukrainian troops are seeing on the ground:

Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A local citizen shows the debris of a privet house in the aftermath of Russian shelling outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia on Thursday unleashed a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukrainian facilities across the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A Russian Ka-52 helicopter gunship is seen in the field after a forced landing outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia on Thursday unleashed a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukrainian facilities across the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A man stands in front of a Russian Ka-52 helicopter gunship is seen in the field after a forced landing outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia on Thursday unleashed a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukrainian facilities across the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
Traffic jams are seen as people leave the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a military operation in Ukraine and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences you have never seen.” (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A Ukrainian police officer carrying an assault rifle walks on a platform backdropped by people waiting for a Kiev bound train in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
Damaged radar arrays and other equipment is seen at Ukrainian military facility outside Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia has launched a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukraine early Thursday and Ukrainian officials said that Russian troops have rolled into the country from the north, east and south. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A woman reacts as she waits for a train trying to leave Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian troops have launched their anticipated attack on Ukraine. Big explosions were heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of an Russian invasion that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
Ukrainian soldiers ride in a military vehicle in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian troops launched their anticipated attack on Ukraine on Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions, warning other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen.” (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
People struggle to get on a bus as they try to leave Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
Ukrainian soldiers load the surviving equipment at a destroyed Ukrainian military facility outside Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia has launched a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukraine early Thursday and Ukrainian officials said that Russian troops have rolled into the country from the north, east and south. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a military vehicle on a road in Kramatosrk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian troops launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday. President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen.” (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
A woman and child peer out of the window of a bus as they leave Sievierodonetsk, the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a military operation in Ukraine and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences you have never seen.” (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Photos: What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looks like on the ground
Ukrainian servicemen get ready to repel an attack in Ukraine’s Lugansk region on February 24, 2022. – Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, killing dozens and forcing hundreds to flee for their lives in the pro-Western neighbour. Russian air strikes hit military facilities across the country and ground forces moved in from the north, south and east, triggering condemnation from Western leaders and warnings of massive sanctions. (Photo by Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP) (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

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