People shelter from shelling in a metro station, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 10, 2022.
People shelter from shelling in a metro station, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 10, 2022. Reuters / STRINGER

Deep under the streets of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine hundreds of people are sheltering from fierce Russian bombardment, occupying the Heroiv Pratsi metro station where they do what they can to get comfortable.

From tiny babies to the elderly, residents sit or lie on mattresses and blankets arranged on the ground beside ticket machines, on platforms and inside trains halted alongside.

Some look at mobile phones, others do laundry which they dry on the handrails of the train, mothers feed toddlers and a man hurries past with a kettle full of water.

The scenes are similar on transport systems across the worst-affected areas of Ukraine, although in Kharkiv, the country's second city that has suffered some of the heaviest shelling since the invasion began, the numbers are high.

Above ground, where people go and stand in line for food and supplies when it is safe enough, the snow falls on near-empty streets.

Nastya, a young girl lying on her makeshift bed on the floor of the train carriage, said she had been in the shelter for more than a week. She said she was unable to move around much as she was sick with a virus that had being going around.

Asked what she will do when the fighting stops, she replied: "I'll return home, and at last have a good sleep. This is something I'm longing for at the moment. I also want it to be over as soon as possible.

"I'm scared for my home, for the homes of my friends, very scared for the whole country, and scared for myself of course."

Valentyna, an elderly resident of Kharkiv, said she had fled to the underground because the area where she lived was under constant attack from artillery fire and air strikes.

The city's mayor said on Friday that Kharkiv was under relentless bombardment from Russian forces.

"As of today, 48 (of the city's) schools have been destroyed," said Ihor Terekhov. The city has a peacetime population of about 1.4 million, though many have fled to the relative safety of the west of Ukraine and beyond into neighbouring countries.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation" to disarm and "de-Nazify" the country. It denies targeting civilians.

Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unjustified invasion that has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in which hundreds of civilians have been killed and millions more displaced.

(Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Alison Williams)