KHERSON, Ukraine – The corpse of Natalia Kristenko lay covered in a blanket outside the door of her building for hours overnight. City workers were initially too overwhelmed to retrieve it as they responded to a barrage of deadly attacks that rocked the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.
The 62-year-old had left her home with her husband on Thursday evening after drinking tea when the building was struck. Kristenko was killed instantly from a head injury. Her husband died a few hours later in hospital from internal bleeding.
“The Russians took the two most precious people from me,” said their daughter, Lilia Kristenko, 38, clutching her cat in her coat as she watched in horror on Friday as responders finally arrived to carry her mother away. at the morgue.
“They lived so well, they lived differently,” she told The Associated Press. “But they died in one day.”
A barrage of missiles hit the recently liberated city of Kherson for the second day on Friday in a marked escalation in attacks since Russia withdrew from the city two weeks ago.
The city was shelled 17 times before noon on Thursday, and strikes continued into the evening, killing at least four people and injuring 10, according to the Kherson military administration. Soldiers in the region had warned that Kherson would face intensified strikes as Russian troops dig across the Dnieper.
Dozens of people were injured in the strikes that hit residential and commercial buildings, setting some on fire, throwing ash into the air and littering the streets with shattered glass. The attacks have wreaked havoc on some residential neighborhoods previously unaffected by the war which has just entered its tenth month.
After Kristenko’s parents were beaten, she tried to call an ambulance but there was no phone service, she said. Her 66-year-old father clutched his stomach wound and cried “it hurts so much to die”, she said. He was eventually taken by ambulance to hospital but died during the operation.
On Friday morning, people sifted through what little remained of their destroyed homes and shops. Containers of food lined the floor of a smashed meat shop, while across the street customers lined up at a cafe where locals said four people had died the previous night.
“I don’t even know what to say, it was unexpected,” said Diana Samsonova, who works at the cafe, which remained open throughout the Russian occupation and has no plans to close despite the attacks. .
The violence is aggravating what has become a serious humanitarian crisis. When the Russians withdrew, they destroyed key infrastructure, leaving people with little water and electricity. People have become so desperate that they are finding salvation among the rubble.
Outside a badly damaged apartment building, residents filled buckets with water that pooled on the ground. Mortuary workers used puddles of water to clean their bloody hands.
Valerii Parkhomenko had just parked his car and entered a cafe when a rocket destroyed his vehicle.
“We were all crouched on the floor inside,” he said, showing the ash on his hands. “I feel bad, my car is destroyed, I need this car to work to feed my family,” he said.
Outside the bombed buildings, residents picked up debris and frantically searched for relatives as paramedics assisted the injured.
“I think it’s so serious and I think all countries have to do something about it because it’s not normal,” said Ivan Mashkarynets, a man in his twenties who was at home with his mother when the building next to him was struck.
“There is no army, there are no soldiers. There are only people living here and they are shooting (again),” he said.
The government has said it will help people evacuate 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 in a street to consider the aftermath of the bombardment. “For now, the Ukrainian army is there and with them we hope it will be safer.”
Associated Press writer Mstyslav Chernov in Kherson contributed reporting.