Kyiv Shelled. Correspondence from Ukraine

Paweł Pieniążek from Kyiv – 03/16/2022. Originally published in Tygodnik Powszechny.

For the second day in a row, the inhabitants of Kyiv were awakened by explosions destroying civilian buildings.

It was almost five when the 62-year-old Kateryna was again closing her eyes. Several dozen minutes earlier, she had been awakened by sirens warning of an air raid or rocket attack. She did not go down to the basement, she was lying in bed. The sirens howl several times a day, and after nineteen days of the Russian invasion, she was already taking them in stride. This time, however, she heard a terrible bang and pieces of glass pierced the air. Kateryna was lucky that none of them hit her.

“Ihor, it hit our house! Glass and windows are flying!” She shouted to her husband.

Her scream roused him from bed. They waited a while in the corridor. Then Kateryna looked around the apartment. In two rooms, the kitchen and the enclosed balcony, the shock wave broke the windows and in some places even tore off the window frames. There were piles of rubble on the lawn.

This is the effect of a payload exploding in front of the building where Kateryna lives. Most likely as a result of a strike by a Russian rocket downed by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses. According to CNN, Russia has fired more than 950 of them since the invasion began. Several apartments caught fire. The fire was extinguished by firefighters who arrived shortly after the event. Miraculously, there were no casualties.

“The most important thing is that we are alive,” admits Kateryna. ”And it didn’t hit the TV!” she adds, laughing.

As we talk, the thunder of artillery is heard every now and then. Kateryna refrained from leaving Kyiv for a long time, because she hoped that everything would calm down, that it would avoid her house. Now she don’t want to count on luck a second time. It is still cold outside and the gas has been cut off in the apartment building to avoid an even greater tragedy. Kateryna doesn’t know where to go. One of her sisters lives east of Kyiv, where Russian attacks have also been taking place recently. The second is in Cherkasy, ​​150 kilometers southeast of the capital.

“Maybe I’ll stay with her. Or with my children, who left with their grandchildren for the Khmelnytskyi oblast. Or we will remain in Kyiv, but in some other apartment,” says Kateryna, her voice breaking.

Before she leaves, she would like to find plasterboard to batten the windows, renovating the apartment only after the war.

It wasn’t the only apartment building to suffer this morning. At about the same time as the explosion roused Kateryna from bed, 38-year-old Dmytro on the other side of town was also violently awakened from slumber. He wanted to see what was going on. He smelled smoke in the stairwell, so he soaked a T-shirt, put it to his mouth, and went downstairs.

He barely managed. The smoke was so thick that light from a flashlight couldn’t penetrate it. He almost suffocated. He realized that he would not be able to make it through again. His parents and the cat remained upstairs. The fire quickly spread through the fifteen-story building. Only the fire brigade got Dmytro’s relatives out. In total, they saved 48 people, while 3 died.

When I asked Dmytro a few hours later if he lived in this building, he corrected me:

“I used to.”

The firefighters could not contain the fire for a long time. It was only extinguished after 3 PM and a large part of the building burnt to the ground. Dmytro had an evacuation rucksack packed at home, but he did not take it because he did not expect that he would not come back to his apartment. He was left with nothing and watched as the firefighters tried to save his home. What exactly exploded near the building is unknown, though it was probably a downed rocket.

Dmytro seems composed. What’s next? He will stay with relatives and then report to the army. He wanted to do this a while ago, but now there’s no excuse.

At least six people died as a result of Russian rockets and missiles in Kyiv between March 14 and 15. The war, which initially bypassed the capital, is getting closer and closer, and many expect this to be just the beginning.

“Today was a difficult and dangerous moment,” said the mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschko.

At the same time, he announced that the curfew would not end the next morning, as usual, but on March 17. Until then, the inhabitants of the capital must stay at home. They can only go out to get to a shelter in case of emergency.

After dark, the thunder of artillery increased. Kyiv went to sleep thinking about what the following morning would bring.