Nightly rocket fire strikes fear in eastern Ukrainian town

Residents of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk fear most at night, when rocket and artillery attacks occur most frequently. Shells and rockets rain down on gardens and apartment buildings, sending pieces of masonry and shards of glass into the darkness.

Just over 11 kilometers (7 miles) southwest of the front line and within artillery range of Russian forces, Sloviansk came under increasingly frequent attack. The city is seen as a strategic target in Moscow’s ambition to take over the entire province of Donetsk, a largely Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that is part of Donbass, Ukraine’s industrial heartland .

Firefighters sifted through the still-smoldering rubble of an apartment building on Wednesday, looking for possible victims after a pre-dawn strike collapsed part of the structure. After hours of searching, using a crane to remove concrete slabs and reach the basement, they emerged with a white body bag. Relatives waiting anxiously nearby said they were also looking for an elderly couple who lived on the third floor.

“What’s happening now is not just scary, it’s horrible,” said Raisa Smielkova, 75, who lives in another part of the same building and whose apartment suffered only minor damage. This war, she said, is worse than the previous one in 2014, when Ukrainian forces fought Russian-backed separatists. “There is more destruction. Everything is worse. Just everything.

Relying on their pensions to survive, she and her husband cannot afford to move to a safer part of Ukraine, Smielkova said.

“If we are killed, we are killed, what can I do? “, did she say. “Some people tell me: aren’t you afraid? And I answer: Of course I’m afraid. Only fools are not afraid, others are afraid like me.

Just over 24 hours earlier in another part of town, the force of another strike’s explosion threw 92-year-old Maria Ruban out of bed and onto the floor. She doesn’t remember how long she stood there, alone and helpless, covered in dust.

“I lost consciousness and there was no one around, no one could help me,” she said, recounting her ordeal through heavy sighs and a few tears. She eventually got up but couldn’t get out of the house – the force of the explosion had warped the door.

Ruban has lived in her small house in the southern part of Sloviansk since 1957. Now 92, she survived both World War II and the 2014 Ukrainian war. But she said that war was like she had never experienced before.

“I’ve been through everything, even starvation. But I have never seen anything like it, like what happened today,” she said, standing in her garden with the help of a crude wooden cane. Behind her, relatives and neighbors hammered plastic sheeting over her damaged roof and tore twisted pieces of shrapnel from her tomato beds to the distant sound of artillery.

It was around midnight on Monday night when Ribbon lay down and covered herself with a quilt. “I thought, ‘Now they’re going to start their attacks,’ because they’re attacking now,” she said. She wasn’t wrong.

Now she worries how she will survive Ukraine’s bitterly cold winter, with a damaged roof and blown windows.

“Oh my God, please help me so the roof can be covered for the winter,” she cried. “Who knows how long I will live.” Ribbon had also lost its windows to explosions in the 2014 war, she said. “All I know is fix, live and fix.”

Across the street, a projectile struck a neighbour’s yard, flattening his house and damaging several other residences. The neighbor, who declined to be named, was sleeping next to a window in a front room. Its roof was blown off, its walls crumbled and an apple tree in its front garden was washed away across the street. But he got away without even a scratch.

Taking a break from digging through the rubble to find his identity papers, he peered into the large crater where his front garden once stood, the bottom filled with water from the nightly rains.

He had thought about planting potatoes this year, he says wryly, but now maybe he should turn to fish farming instead.

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Christi C. Elwood