The Russian missile turned Vera Kosolopenko’s small home into a burning pyre that consumed the Bible and all the other precious memories she cherished of her late husband.
“I lost everything that connected me to him,” she wept on Saturday as she stood near the smoldering remains of the house destroyed by the missile the day before. “All I have left is the portrait engraved on his tombstone.”
The 67-year-old widow is lucky to be alive.
She and two friends were drinking tea inside the house when the missile hit the roof, she said. “It was so fast. It was terrifying.
Villagers said the missile was one of five that quickly hit the leafy hamlet 26 km north of Kharkiv, near where Ukrainian troops chased away Russian forces who tried to invade the town. second largest city in the country when Moscow was invaded on February 24.
The Russians do not occupy Bezruky, located only 17 km from the border. But they occasionally sent vehicles to patrol its narrow dirt tracks before their forces were pushed back by the nearly two-week-old Ukrainian counteroffensive, villagers said.
Since the beginning of the war, Bezruky has suffered almost constant shelling which has destroyed or damaged many houses. Rocket and bomb craters dot its alleys and the rutted gravel road leading to the village, the occasional trench and bunker visible in the trees lining its edges.
Enemies were engaged in artillery duels when Reuters visited. Loud, hoarse explosions came from nearby Ukrainian guns; thuds marked distant Russian positions which sent several southbound shells whistling directly overhead.
Countless Ukrainian villages like Bezruky have been wiped out by the invasion that nuclear-armed Russia claims it was forced to launch to eradicate a threat Ukraine posed to its security.
Ukraine and its foreign supporters say thousands have died in the Kremlin’s unprovoked war of aggression that uprooted millions more and left towns and villages in ruins.
“I LOVED THIS PLACE”
Kosolopenko, a mother of five from the northeastern city of Sumy, moved in 2001 with her late husband to the village, where he had relatives. He died two years ago.
There has been no electricity or bottled gas since the war broke out. She mainly lived on humanitarian aid and eggs provided by a few hens, and cooked in her garden over a fire lit under a makeshift oven made of several bricks and sheets.
The missile, Kosolopenko said, fell at 9 a.m. Friday. It set his roof on fire in a hail of flaming shrapnel that ignited a wooden warehouse in his cramped backyard.
“We heard a huge explosion when it landed and all the windows shattered,” she recalls.
When a second rocket hit nearby, she and her friends fled into a brick-lined cellar carved into the side of her house.
Kosolopenko “took her tea with her, and I grabbed a plastic bag with a book in it, and we ran to the cellar,” said her friend, Alla Bazarnaya, 40, from Kharkiv.
Bazarnaya said she moved in with Kosolopenko in January after the pair befriended at a Kharkiv hospital where she was being treated for a stroke and her host for high blood pressure.
“The most important thing is that I felt spared by God and had to be taken away into the cellar,” she said.
The roof, the second floor and the storage room were in flames when the duo emerged.
Kosolopenko said she called a nearby fire department as neighbors wielding buckets full of water and other containers rushed to her home. They were unable to extinguish the flames.
“The fire department responded that there was shelling and they couldn’t get here,” she said. “They only arrived six hours later. If they had done it sooner, they could have put out the fire on the second floor and saved the ground floor.”
The flames reduced his home and storage room to fire-blackened shells, leaving the backyard carpeted in charred rubble and ash. Only the cinder block and brick walls remained standing.
Kosolopenko said she lost everything, including family photographs and the Bible that had belonged to her husband’s father.
“It’s so painful for me,” she cried. “I don’t know how I’m going to rebuild this house. I loved this place.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)