A view shows destroyed military vehicles on a road in Kharkiv, Ukraine February 25, 2022.
A view shows destroyed military vehicles on a road in Kharkiv, Ukraine February 25, 2022. Reuters / MAKSIM LEVIN

Many Ukrainian roads were choked with cars on Friday as people fleeing Russia's invaders tried to reach relative safety in western Ukraine or leave the country.

Many had already spent hours making slow progress in heavy traffic on Thursday, and some had no idea of their destination.

"We are heading west. No idea where," Misha, a 29-year-old software engineer from Kharkiv, said as he helped his friend Serhiy repair his car at the side of a potholed road near the town of Znamyanka Druha in eastern Ukraine.

Both were accompanied by their families, their cars loaded with suitcases and bags. Nylon bags containing food were strewn on the ground nearby.

As they tried to fix the car, a steady flow of cars went by, many of them also packed with bags.

Serhiy said he had been woken by shelling early on Thursday, the day the Russian invasion began.

"I went outside to see what was going on and heard a huge blast and then felt the shockwave. So we packed whatever we could and left," he said.

Misha said he had hoped diplomacy would prevent war.

"I was hoping it would never come to this," he said.

On the road between the towns of Fastiv and Khmelnytskyi west of the capital Kyiv, few petrol stations were operating and drivers waited in long queues at those that were open, sometimes in lines of up to 50 cars.

In some places, cars were barely moving because the roads were so busy.

In one area, men were filling sandbags to make a checkpoint to slow any invaders who might pass that way.

"We are all locals and we will do everything to win," said a man in grey overalls who identified himself only as Anton.

Although many Ukrainians were still trying to reach safety, tens of thousands managed to cross into Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Most were women and children as men of fighting age were told to remain.

(Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Janet Lawrence)