“Hell on earth”: Civilians recount Russia’s deadly Dnipro strike
When air-raid sirens rang out over Ukraine’s southeastern city of Dnipro on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January, many continued with their daily tasks. Almost everyone, nearly a year after Russia launched its invasion, had grown accustomed to hearing the high-pitched battle warnings.
Then the Russian missile struck.
The strike, which tore through a towering nine-story Soviet-era apartment block that previously housed around 1.100 people, killed at least 46 people, including six children, and left 80 injured. It was one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in months.
“The explosion was so powerful that we all fell to the ground,” Yuriy Vasetsky, a martial arts coach from Dnipro who was near the scene when the missile struck the residential building, told Context.ro. “Debris was flying in all directions … I have never heard such a powerful sound.”
Amid the chaos and horror surrounding the apartment block, Vasetsky realised that a young boy named Rostislav, whom he used to train before the war, was trapped inside the stricken building, next to which parked cars “began to explode,” he said.
“I started shouting, calling him … but he couldn’t answer me because of the dust, the cement, and the rocket fuel was choking his throat,” he said, adding that the entrance to the boy’s apartment, as well as the elevator to his second floor, had been blown out in the explosion.
Eventually, Vasetsky managed to locate his former student, who was not badly hurt in the strike and dragged him to safety outside the block. By then, emergency services had already arrived at the scene to tend to those wounded in the attack.
“A horror movie is nothing compared to what we saw,” Vasetsky added. “This is not a war, but a real genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
His anger and sentiment was shared by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who reacted to the strike by saying that “all Russian murderers, everyone who gives and executes orders on missile terror against our people,” must face legal repucusions and be punished.
Dnipro City Council said that emergency service crews cleared about 9 metric tons of debris during the search and rescue mission, and that 400 people lost their homes in the attack.
Ukrainian officials also said that the missile – which is designed to destroy aircraft carriers at sea – contravened international law and thus constitutes a war crime. The grim incident is one of many alledged crimes against civilians charged against Moscow since it launched its brutal war.
Computer programmer Vsevolod, who did provide a surname for security reasons, was lounging on his sofa in a building adjacent to the Dnipro apartment block, when the missile struck. He describes the impact as “like a million bombs hitting the city at the same time.”
“Surprisingly, I had no fear or anxiety. I just felt like I needed to do something,” he said. “Without thinking I immediately packed a backpack and threw medical supplies into it – a tourniquet and (some) bandages.”
When Vsevolod ran outside, he saw a large column of smoke rising, curling among the debris, the horror. Across the road from the explosion, he spotted a woman sprawled out on a grass verge “in a pool of blood,” screaming. He went over to help her.
“I saw that she already had a tourniquet and that numbers were written on her cheek,” he said, explaining that the number represents the time of application.
But the lasting image, he says, one that will stick with after the carnage of war, was the solidarity and people’s desire to help.
Kseniya Bashibular, a professional singer and volunteer who has been helping deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s Kherson region, says that when she heard about the strike she knew that her home where her mother still lived had been hit.
Bashibular, whose mother survived the missile strike, describes the scene as a “hell on earth,” marked by people screaming, crying.
“There are no surviving apartments left in our part of the building. It knocked out all the windows,” she said,“later I found fragments of the rocket in my belongings.”
But she vowed to fight on in the face of Russia’s aggression. “I have no fear,” she said, “I am doing what is in my power now to bring our victory closer.”
Edited by Stephen McGrath
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