SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Blood smears the stairwell floor and the shards of glass strewn about while shrapnel pockmarks the walls.
Outside, a crater between two apartment blocks marks the spot where the rocket hit in the very early hours of Tuesday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk. Authorities said three people were killed and six were wounded.
Sloviansk, in the eastern Donetsk region, is again in Russia’s sights as part of its efforts to seize the Donbas, made up of Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region.
Russian military officials have said their main goal is to “liberate” the Donbas, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.
“I was on my sofa and suddenly my sofa just jumped in the air,” said Mikhaylo Samoluk, one of the local residents. The strike came around 1:30 in the morning, he said, when those still living in the building were asleep.
Olena Voytenko, who lives on the first floor of one of the apartment blocks, said most of the residents had already moved away, but around 30 people still lived there.
“I will never forget what I saw today,” she said, recounting seeing the wounded and the dead.
She knew one of the people killed, she said. A man in his early 40s named Aleksander who lived upstairs from her. She saw his lifeless body being carried out on a stretcher, badly burnt.
“Why do they bomb the residential buildings? Isn’t there military honor for Russians that they can fight in the field?” questioned Voytenko, who is of Russian origin herself. “Why do you annihilate the country that you try to conquer? I do not see any sense in it.”
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s General Staff said an attempt to storm a village lying between currently Russian-held Izyum and Sloviansk was repelled, and that Russian forces were “creating conditions for (a) further offensive” in the area.
Many have fled Sloviansk, as others have from many cities and towns in eastern Ukraine. Some people stayed.
Among them are Lydmyla Telehyna and her husband Mykola. Both in their 70s, they stayed behind after their daughter and her four young children left Ukraine because of the war.
They went to check on their daughter’s apartment on the top floor of the building, and were horrified by what they saw.
The windows had shattered, shards of glass lying throughout the front room where the children would have slept, and the walls were marked with shrapnel.
“What have they done?” Telehyna cried, her grief mingled with the relief of her daughter and grandchildren already having fled the country.
“Everything is destroyed, there is no balcony, no windows no doors,” she said. Her daughter had considered coming back, but there is no longer a home to come back to.
“I hurt, I’m crying, I worry,” she said. “But what can I do? Nothing.”
Authorities have repeatedly urged residents to leave the areas of eastern Ukraine near the fighting.
“All the territory of Donetsk region now is a field of war,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk administration, said in a statement on the Sloviansk rocket attack posted on his Facebook page. “Every such blow is a cruel reminder that there are no safe places in the Donetsk region now. Evacuate! Evacuation saves lives!”
But some are unable, or unwilling, to move despite the dangers.
“There is no place to go,” said Samoluk. Besides, he said, he didn’t want to leave. “I didn’t leave in 2014, and I won’t go now.”