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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits teen gunfire victim in hospital

Katherina, 16, was shot in the back as she covered her 8-year-old brother.
/ Source: TODAY

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has continued to target civilians in Kyiv. NBC News' Richard Engel reported the harrowing story of one family who were gunned down by Russian soldiers while trying to escape.

After hiding in their neighbor's basement, the Vlasenko family decided to leave their neighborhood in north Kyiv. A Russian soldier told them it was safe to leave the area, but as they began to move in their car, soldiers opened fire, Engel reported.

When the gunfire began, Katherina Vlasenko, 16, covered her 8-year-old brother, Igor, with her body. She was shot in the back, ribs, lungs and thighs, her mother Tetyana said, and saved her brother's life.

The family is recovering from the attack in an intensive care unit in Kyiv. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the hospital, shaking hands and sharing jokes with patients, including Katherina. Zelenskyy handed her a bouquet of white flowers as she looked at him in shock. Doctors laughed at her surprise, and Katherina smiled at him with tears in her eyes.

Before the soldiers opened fire on the family, Katherina remembers hearing her father shout, "Don't shoot, there are children here."

“I remember the bullet coming through my knee,” she told Engel. “After this, I lost consciousness.”

"She suffered the most as she was covering her little brother," Katherina's mother, Tetyana Vlasenko, said. Tetyana herself was shot 12 times in the leg.

“It is not easy, but we do the right thing,” Zelenskyy told Katherina upon their meeting, People reported.

Katherina responded by telling the president that he is popular on TikTok.

Zelenskyy, 44, has become a symbol of hope for many Ukrainians during the war. He has refused to leave the capital city of Kyiv during Russia's attacks, inspiring many to stay and fight invading Russian forces.

On Friday morning, Russian forces opened fire on a residential building, Engel reported, killing one resident and injuring more than a dozen as Russia's invasion continues to devastate Ukranian cities and civilian sites.

The total number of refugees from Ukraine has surpassed 3 million, making it the largest refugee crisis since World War II. One survivor from a Russian attack on Mariupol said, "I had to decide to leave or to stay and be killed."

In a virtual address to Congress Wednesday, Zelenskyy pleaded with Congress for increased United States aide to stop the war, sharing graphic footage of destruction and death overlaid with the text, "This is a murder."