KHERSON, Ukraine — Natalia Kristenko’s dead body lay wrapped in a blanket in the doorway of her apartment building for hours at night. City workers were initially too overwhelmed to retrieve her as they responded to a deadly barrage of attacks that shook the southern Ukraine city of Kherson.
The 62-year-old was walking outside her home with her husband after drinking tea on Thursday night when the building was hit. Kristenko died instantly from a head wound. Her husband died hours later in hospital from internal bleeding.
“The Russians took the two dearest people from me,” said their bereaved daughter, Lilia Kristenko, 38, clutching her cat in her coat as she watched in horror on Friday as aid workers finally arrived to take her mother to the morgue .
“They lived so well, they lived differently,” she told The The Singapore Time. “But they died in one day.”
A barrage of rockets hit the recently liberated city of Kherson for a second day on Friday in a marked escalation of attacks since Russia pulled out of the city two weeks ago after an eight-month occupation. It comes as Russia has stepped up its bombing of Ukraine’s power grid and other critical civilian infrastructure in an effort to tighten the screw on Kiev. Officials estimate that about 50% of Ukraine’s energy facilities have been damaged by the recent strikes.
Kherson’s Ukrainian governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said Friday that Russian shelling killed 10 civilians and wounded 54 others the previous day, with two neighborhoods in the city of Kherson coming “under tremendous artillery fire”.
Soldiers in the region had warned that Kherson would face intensified attacks as Russian troops dig across the Dnieper River.
Dozens of people were injured in the strikes that hit residential and commercial buildings, setting some on fire, blowing ash into the air and littering the streets with broken glass. The attacks have devastated some residential areas that have not been hit before in the war, which has just entered its tenth month.
After Kristenko’s parents were hit, she tried to call an ambulance, but there was no phone network, she said. Her 66-year-old father grabbed his stomach wound and screamed “it hurts so much I’m dying,” she said. He was eventually taken to hospital by ambulance, but died during surgery.
On Friday morning, people searched what was left of their destroyed homes and shops. Containers of food lined the floor of a shattered meat shop, while customers lined up across the street at a coffee shop where residents said four people had died the night before.
“I don’t even know what to say, it was unexpected,” says Diana Samsonova, who works at the coffee shop, which remained open during the Russian occupation and has no plans to close despite the attacks.
Later in the day, a woman was killed, likely by a missile hitting a nearby lawn. Her motionless body lay by the side of the road. The violence is exacerbating what has become a terrible humanitarian crisis. When the Russians withdrew, they destroyed key infrastructure, leaving people with little water and electricity.
People have become so desperate that they find salvation among the wreckage. Outside an apartment building that was badly damaged, residents filled buckets with water that remained on the ground. Workers at the morgue used puddles to clean their bloodied hands.
Valerii Parkhomenko had just parked his car and entered a coffee shop when a missile destroyed his vehicle.
“We were all crouched on the floor inside,” he said, showing the ashes on his hands. “I feel terrible, my car was wrecked, I need this car for work to feed my family,” he said.
Outside apartment buildings fired upon, residents picked up debris and frantically searched for relatives as paramedics helped the wounded.
“I am so sorry and I think all countries should do something about this because it is not normal,” said Ivan Mashkarynets, a man in his early 20s who was at home with his mother when the apartment building next to him was hit.
“There is no army, there are no soldiers. People just live here and they shoot (still),” he said.
Kherson’s population has shrunk to about 80,000 from its pre-war level of nearly 300,000. The government has said it will help evacuate people if they wish, but many say they have nowhere to go.
“There is no work (elsewhere), there is no work here,” Ihor Novak said as he stood on the street and watched the aftermath of the shelling. “For now, the Ukrainian army is here and with them we hope it will be safer.”
The Singapore Time writer Mstyslav Chernov in Kherson contributed reporting.