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While some Ukrainians flee, others are rushing back to fight

The video shows hundreds of people stuck at the Medyka border crossing in Shehyni, Ukraine, waiting to enter Poland on Feb. 25. (Video: Wojciech Grzedzinski/The Washington Post)

SHEHYNI, Ukraine — At the jammed-up border crossing to Poland, where people lined up for more than a day to make their way out of Ukraine to the safety of the European Union on Friday, some rushed in the opposite direction.

“It’s my home, it’s my land,” said Viktor, 22, who had boarded a plane from London two days earlier and made his way over land from the Czech Republic. “I’m going to fight to my last drop of blood.” He entered Ukraine at the land border crossing near the village of Shehyni with jerrycans of fuel — he’d heard there was a shortage.

As Russia launched its assault on Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky called on citizens to take up arms and fight, and promised firearms to anyone who is willing. Ukraine’s border guards were ordered Friday to stop all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country.

With no foreign troops coming to Ukraine’s rescue, it’s a battle of David and Goliath. Some 18,000 rifles have been distributed in Kyiv, according to the defense ministry, while citizens were urged to make their own petrol bombs.

Gridlocked traffic, three vehicles abreast, snaked 10 miles to the border. On the television screen in a cafe near the crossing, an infographic distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs showed viewers how to make molotov cocktails as Ukrainians fortified themselves with dumplings and beer. “LET’S GET PREPARED,” it urged.

The message reminded viewers of the homemade explosive’s history in another seeming mismatch with Russian forces: It was invented by Finns to help fend off a Soviet invasion in the first months of World War II.

“The Finnish army fought tanks with these bottles,” the message read. It instructed citizens to fill jars or bottles with one-third machine oil and two-thirds gasoline and stuff them with fabric to use as a fuse.

As Russian forces press closer to Kyiv, more than 50,000 flee Ukraine

As Russian troops closed in on the capital Kyiv on Friday, entering the district of Obolon, Ukraine’s defense ministry took to social media.

“We ask citizens to inform about the movement of equipment!” the ministry tweeted. “Make molotov cocktails, neutralize the infidels! Peaceful residents — be careful! Do not leave the house!”

“We will fight them back,” Viktor said as he waited for a ride into Ukraine. He spoke on the condition that his last name not be used, citing his plan to join a military unit.

The United States and European allies are imposing sanctions on Russia and sending arms to Ukraine, but aren’t sending troops to join the fight. Viktor said he was disappointed by what he saw as insufficient support. “The United States turned their back on us,” he said. “We will remember their behavior.”

Other border arrivals passed through metal gates and raced toward minibuses.

“I’m going to fight,” said a young man weighed down with bags.

As Russians advance on Kyiv, ordinary civilians heed calls to fight for Ukraine however they can

But down the road, Alexander Gorbenko, 54, was unconvinced by efforts to rally the home guard.

“I just have an air rifle, the cash machines don’t work and there is no organization,” he said. “I cannot prepare.”

He had said goodbye to his wife and 11-year-old daughter at a checkpoint 10 miles from the border, where a mass of people waited to exit on foot. The journey from checkpoint to border now takes more than 24 hours; some waited overnight in cars on gridlocked roads.

Gorbenko said he would try to protect his home and neighborhood, but not more.

“A lot of young guys haven’t been in the military at all, they will just die, like they have been in Donbas,” he said. Ukrainians have battled Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine for eight years.

For those who were allowed to leave, progress was agonizingly slow. Yarsolav Proniv, 42, who had been stuck in his black Audi for 17 hours, said he’d thought about staying to mobilize.

“But it’s not easy to buy a gun,” he said. “Not like the U.S.” And when the war arrives in his neighborhood, he said, it would not just be Russian soldiers to fend off. “Many bad guys will come out.”

As a dual U.S.-Ukrainian citizen, he expected he would be allowed to leave when he finally made it to the border.

Others were disappointed they didn’t have the option as they said goodbyes to women and children at the checkpoint.

“If I could go, too, I would,” Vitali, 31, said after his wife and child crossed into Poland, with tears in his eyes. “It’s brutal.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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