Published on: Amended:
Kharkiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – “Close the window, the smoke is coming in,” yells a policeman. Vyacheslav Pavlov and his elderly mother live on the ninth floor of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, and the apartment next door is on fire after a Russian rocket attack.
The city hasn’t come under heavy bombardment but is the target of random strikes at all hours of the day or night, and they can be deadly.
The eastern and northeastern neighborhoods are the worst affected and this is where 86-year-old Tamara Pavlovna and her son live on Working Hero Street.
Twenty apartment towers rise along the road, each 11 stories high, surrounded by gardens dotted with swings and slides for children.
Three rockets struck within seconds on Friday, just after 4:00 p.m.
One destroyed a sex shop across the street.
A second hit a residential tower and the third left a hole in the ground next to the sidewalk.
No one was hurt.
“Saved by the Gate”
The police told the old lady she had to leave her house, with barely time to put a few items in a small backpack.
The elevator is broken and Pavlovna comes down the stairs with a white scarf.
Outside, she waits on a bench, a little lost and stressed.
“My son took care of me for eight years,” she says.
“He doesn’t want to leave and I can’t make the decision alone.
“For a month and a half, the Russians have been bombing here in this neighborhood, non-stop.”
The border with Russia is 30 kilometers away as the crow flies.
At the start of the invasion in late February, Moscow attempted to take control of Kharkiv, to no avail. Ukrainian forces repelled the assault several kilometers from the town after bitter fighting.
Ukraine has since recaptured several small areas to the southeast, but Kharkiv remains within range of Russian artillery.
On Working Hero Street, firefighters have trained water hoses on the burning apartment and clouds of black smoke are rising skyward.
Next door, Pavlov has duly closed the balcony window and is smoking a cigarette on the landing.
“When the second shot hit the next apartment, the door saved us by blocking the glass shards,” he explains.
Further east on Peace Street, a rocket hit a hotel-restaurant the previous evening.
Surveillance cameras at a leather shop across the road clocked the strike as 10:02 p.m.
In the black and white video images, a white fog suddenly appears and pieces of wood fly like in a hurricane. The headlights of two nearby cars flash.
Most of the restaurant was destroyed.
In leather goods, Ivan drives nails into wooden planks to seal blown glass.
“Every window has been broken, everything is damaged, the door has been torn off.
“We’ll try to patch it up today to protect the shop. Shrapnel tore the metal like paper. The whole ceiling collapsed.”
“It’s the ‘Russian world’,” he said, refusing to give his full name.
In the parking lot behind the shop, two representatives of a Protestant church arrive carrying bags of groceries for a family. Their seven-year-old child is invited by the clerics to pray every day.
“My child went to bed at 8 p.m.,” says Yelena, whose apartment is just behind the hotel restaurant.
“At 10, everything started, everything changed,” she recalls.
“There were two strikes, later there were more, we couldn’t sleep and spent the whole night in the hallway.
“It was a terrifying night,” she said, black bags under her eyes flushed with tears.
© 2022 AFP