KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — Natalia Kristenko’s dead body lay covered in a blanket in the doorway of her apartment building for hours overnight. City workers were at first too overwhelmed to retrieve her as they responded to a deadly barrage of attacks that shook Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson.
The 62 year-old woman had been walking outside her house with her husband on Thursday evening, after having enjoyed tea, when the building was hit. Kristenko was instantly killed by a head wound. Her husband, who was suffering from internal bleeding, died hours later in hospital.
“Russians took the two most precious people from me,” their bereft daughter, Lilia Kristenko, 38, said, clutching her cat inside her coat as she watched on in horror Friday as responders finally arrived to transport her mother to the morgue.
“They lived so well, they lived differently,” she told The Associated Press. “But they died in one day.”
In a dramatic escalation in attacks since Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson two weeks ago, a barrage of missiles hit Kherson on Friday for the second time.
The city was shelled 17 times before midday Thursday, and strikes continued into the evening, killing at least four people and injuring 10, according to Kherson’s military administration. Kherson was warned by soldiers in the area that Russian troops would be advancing across the Dnieper River, causing increased strikes.
Many people were hurt in strikes that struck residential and commercial buildings. Some were set on fire, others burned, while others blew ash into the atmosphere and littered the streets with broken glass. Some residential areas were destroyed by the attacks, which occurred in a war that is entering 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 was clutching his stomach wound and screaming “it hurts so much I’m doing to die,” she said. He was eventually taken to the hospital by ambulance, but he died during surgery.
People sifted through the remnants of their burned homes and shops on Friday morning. Containers of food lined the floor in a shattered grocery store, while customers lined up across the street at a coffee house where four people were reported to have died the night prior.
“I don’t even know what to say, it was unexpected,” said Diana Samsonova, who works at the coffee shop, which remained open throughout Russia’s occupation and has no plans to close despite the attacks.
The violence is compounding what’s become a dire humanitarian crisis. As the Russians retreated they destroyed key infrastructure leaving people without water or electricity. People have become so desperate they’re finding some salvation amid the wreckage.
Residents dug buckets of water outside an apartment building that had been badly damaged and poured it on the ground. Workers at the morgue used water puddles to clean bloody hands.
Valerii Parkhomenko was just about to park his car and go into a coffee shop, when a rocket struck his vehicle.
“We were all crouching on the floor inside,” he said, showing the ash on his hands. “I feel awful, my car is destroyed, I need this car for work to feed my family,” he said.
Residents of shelled apartment buildings frantically searched for their loved ones, as paramedics helped the wounded.
“I think it’s so bad and I think all countries need to do something about this because it’s not normal,” said Ivan Mashkarynets, a man in his early 20s who was at home with his mother when the apartment block next to him was struck.
“There’s no army, there’s no soldiers. There are just people living here and they’re (still) firing,” he said.
Although the government claims it will assist people in emigrating if they so desire, many claim they don’t have a place to go.
“There is no work (elsewhere), there is no work here,” said Ihor Novak as he stood on a street examining the aftermath of the shelling. “For now, the Ukrainian army is here and with them we hope it will be safer.”
Reporting by Mstyslav Chernov, Associated Press, Kherson