AFP — Swaying stunned in the street, Svitlana Pelelygina surveys the wreck of her apartment building smouldering from the latest salvo of blasts to rain down on Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv.
“The whole home rumbled and trembled,” the 71-year-old told AFP on Sunday. “Everything here began to burn.”
“I called the firefighters. They said, ‘We are on our way but we were also being shelled.'”
Officials said five people were killed and 13 wounded in the latest volley to hit Kharkiv — just 21 kilometres (13 miles) from the border with Russia.
Since President Vladimir Putin called off his northern offensive to capture Kyiv, he has refocused the push onto Ukraine’s eastern flank.
Kharkiv is one of the strategic footholds now under near-constant bombardment by troops dug in outside the city gates.
“You know how when a dog hears a bang it starts to tremble all over even if the noise is far away? I’m like that now,” said 69 year-old Zinaida Nestrizhenko, huddled on the roadside with her pet cat rescued from her home.
“Everything, every part of me is trembling,” she said.
On Sunday afternoon AFP reporters heard two incoming bursts of bombardment, then saw five different fires raging in apartment blocks above shops in the previously handsome downtown district.
All around government buildings are already demolished from previous Russian airstrikes to hammer the beleaguered city, home to 1.4 million before the war.
On Sunday an official said a fleet of 33 rescue vehicles was despatched with 150 firefighters to more than 15 addresses citywide after the emergency callout came around 2pm.
Lumbering cherry-red fire engines tore in every direction in the moments after the blasts hit, as pedestrians and cars scattered in panic.
The roads were lined with shattered glass and corrugated roof panellings, peeled off from the force of the detonations.
Around every corner it seemed as though there was a new site being tended by crews, frantically unravelling hoses and hooking up water pumps.
Rescue workers clambered up a towering stairwell with an angle grinder to cut open a door and access a rooftop blast.
Through the hole in that roof firefighters could be seen working feverishly on yet another gutted home down the street.
Nearby, a camel brown coat lay discarded on the pavement.
It was stained red by a puddle of fresh blood pooled in the street, mingling with rainwater drenching the city during an intense downpour. By Joe Stenson