Second birthday. Shelling of Kyiv through the eyes of its residents from Zhylianska Street
It’s 8:30 on Monday morning. The sound of an air raid alarm pierces Kyiv, but since the city has not been hit by the missiles for a long time, people proceed with the start of the working week as usual. Someone makes breakfast, irons clothes and gets kids ready for school. Someone, despite the sirens, is already on the way to work. At the same time, dozens of Russian missiles are approaching the capital. The first explosion is heard — the rocket hit the city centre.
After the first explosion in Kyiv, Yuriy, a resident of the apartment building on Zhylianska Street near the business centre Tower 101 was still in bed reading the news. An explosion in the centre made his apartment shake.
"I was still lying in bed, but my wife had been up already doing some stuff around the house. When I heard the first explosions on Volodymyrska Street, I opened Telegram and checked on the news," Yuriy recalls the last few minutes before the explosion that destroyed his apartment.
"Then I heard another rocket whistling, not too loud, but I couldn’t guess where it was flying from. At first, I felt a slight breeze which in a few milliseconds started to crack, and then the window got broken and everything else. This cool breeze, I think, was because of the cold air from outside getting into the room."
On 10 September, at 9:30 am, a rocket hit a building located in the yard where Yuriy’s apartment is. He recalls the events of that day standing in his living room which was damaged the most out of the whole apartment.
"We were lucky that there was no one in that room. Before the explosion, my wife wanted to start working on the computer in the living room. The computer is destroyed by the way. Here we found the metal fragment from the missile, and there, you see, there is a glass shard sticking out of the wall," Yuri points to the ceiling. "I can’t find time to finally get the ladder and pull the shard out of the wall."
The temperature in the living room is now the same as outside because the blast wave blew out all windows and doors in the apartment. The entrance to the balcony is covered with a curtain thrown over a plastic beam. The light gets through a thick burgundy fabric in several places – these are the holes from the broken glass.
"I hope it’s not annoying you," Yuriy says and picks up a pack of cigarettes. "It’s fresh air anyway," I answer. "Yes, fresh indeed," Yuriy laughs. "A bit chilly but the weather is not bad."
Yuriy has been living in this third-floor-apartment with his wife for four years. Two years ago, the couple finished renovating the flat. In a room where we are talking, I notice a high bookcase completely filled with books. The bookcase stands next to the broken window so you can actually see it from outside.
Yuriy recalls that after the explosion he couldn’t feel any fear or shock. He rolled out of the bed, came back to senses, put on his shoes because there was glass everywhere and started looking for his wife.
"I shouted, ‘Ira, where are you?’ and she answered back, ‘Why are you yelling, I’m here, everything is alright."
They got dressed and went outside.
About a minute after the explosion, a car went on fire outside in the yard. In another couple of minutes, firefighters arrived and started putting out the fire. Then the police, emergency services and military personnel arrived. The utility service workers went around the building, checking every apartment to see if anybody was injured, taking the residents outside and helping those who were injured or in shock.
"The police was recording the incident. We have 45 apartments in the building, they had to interview everyone. One policeman, poor guy, was standing and writing down the testimonies, holding a folder in his hands. I told him, ‘Here’s a bench, sit down’. ‘I’m already used to this,’ he said back to me".
The emergency service workers told residents that they cannot return back to their apartments in the next two hours after the explosion. Floors, apartments and attics were checked in case of fire or other damage. Some residents just left standing in the yard but the majority went to hide in the nearest shelter. Yuriy stayed outside to talk with the neighbours.
"We were guessing where the rocket came from, where it exploded and what type it was. It was a regular chatter. Well, according to the situation, of course, this is our reality now. Then I returned to my flat, took a phone video and started tidying up. I was not thinking about the air raid siren anymore, I didn’t even remember when it stopped."
A few fresh scratches and plasters are seen on Yuriy’s hands. He explains that he got them when he was removing the glass. He thinks he was very lucky not to be injured by the glass shards during the explosion since he was lying in the bed right next to the window.
"We sleep on a bed with two mattresses, and it’s quite high. The window that got shattered either got caught on the mattresses or somehow bounced off them but didn’t fall on me. It’s as if the glass flew over me, made salto mortale and fell near the wardrobe. Maybe if the mattress was a bit lower it would have been different then."
Glass shrapnel left cuts over my body
Another resident of the building, Andriy from the fifth floor, was less fortunate. Shards from the broken glass left cuts on his head, back, arms and legs.
The bright, freshly renovated rooms in his apartment are filled with golden sunshine. Andriy didn’t manage to clean up yet, and the floor is still covered with hundreds of glass pieces. The glass sparkles in the sunlight and cracks under the feet.
"A second before the explosion, I stood near the balcony," says Andriy. "I looked out of the window and saw a neighbour who was walking his dog outside. We also have a dog and I thought ‘How come that he takes his dog for a walk when the air raid sirens are still on.’ Then I turned away from the window, made a step and heard a whistling sound. In a second I saw a bright flash.”
A balcony frame fell on Andriy, after being torn from the wall by the blast wave. Traces of blood are still visible on his clothes, scratches on his head.
Almost everything in his apartment was broken: furniture, doors, appliances and sanitary ware in the toilet and bathroom. The only thing that didn’t break were the two posters left standing on the dresser.
At the time of the explosion, Andriy’s girlfriend and his dog were in apartment with him.
"My ears were ringing, there were sparks in the room and you can smell something burning in the flat. I could not understand whether this was the end or whether there would be another explosion. I immediately got up and ran to look for my loved ones. My girlfriend was in the bathroom, so she was unharmed, but she was scared and crying. We did not find the dog right away, so we thought that something had happened to him. But the dog was on the balcony, he jumped out on the balcony from fear."
Just like Yuriy, Andriy didn’t have time to worry or ponder, so straight after the explosion they started packing things.
"We didn’t understand where the rocket landed, we heard the sounds of the building collapsing but it was unclear whether it was our house. We were afraid that the explosion could have damaged the gas pipes or electricity wires or that the house could not withstand the strike or the fire begins. So we collected the most essential things: laptops and chargers for work and some dog stuff and ran outside."
"We didn’t think of anything at the moment, we were just happy that we stayed alive and almost unharmed," Andriy takes out of his pocket and shows metal fragments that he found on his bed in the other room. "Even the glass shards, if they cut through the skin a little deeper, they could caused a much bigger injury."
Outside, Andriy, his girlfriend and his dog went to the park and sat on a bench for a while to catch their breath. The air raid alarm was still on so they decided to go underground to shelter in the metro for a few more hours.
I got to shelter a minute before the explosion
In the entrance of the house, I met a girl carrying boxes. She came to help her sister Olena clean the apartment after the explosion and pack things. The girl was struggling to hold back tears when talking about that day.
"When the shelling started, I was in the flat with my mother; my husband went to see a doctor," Olena recalls. "We heard explosions in the centre but I first ignored them and decided not to go to the shelter. I was preparing breakfast, I boiled the kettle and wanted to make a sandwich."
She shows a packet of black tea and a cup in which she wanted to make a brew that morning. She shakes the dust and small glass shards from the kitchen top and puts a cup with a missing handle on.
"A minute before the explosion I got a weird sensation, like premonition, and asked my mum to go and hide in the bathroom with me," Olena says. Thank God that we went in there. As soon as we closed the bathroom door, there was an explosion. We heard the glass breaking and something rumbling. We waited for a minute, heard our neighbours screaming and ran outside."
"At that moment, every cell in my body was trembling, my legs shaking, and my brain refusing to believe what had just happened," Olena’s mother says. She takes her daughter’s hand and starts crying. "Thanks to my daughter, I have a second birthday. It was she who insisted on going and hiding in the bathroom."
The kitchen in the apartment smells delicious — as if I came to have a family dinner and not talk about the explosion.
"Volunteers brought us some food," Olena explains.
She says that after the explosion she didn’t collect her things but immediately ran to the basement with other neighbours. When she got hold of her senses, she rang her husband.
"I said, ‘We were shelled. Come home quickly.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I have heard, I’m on my way.’ In 10 minutes, my husband was here. He took my mother to an ambulance because he was very agitated and needed a sedative. Then we sat in the basement together and waited until the air raid sirens were off."
Emergency service workers, according to Olena, arrived very quickly, straight after the explosion. They went down to the basement to see if anyone sheltering there had heavy injuries and needed a doctor. The rescuers asked us not to leave the shelter due to the risk of repeated attacks. Besides, we heard the sound of shattering glass from the office building nearby, so we knew it was dangerous to stay outside.
"We stayed in the basement until the end of the air raid. Then the emergency service workers let us into our apartments to pick up the documents. During the second air raid, we went to the shelter again. And already in the afternoon, we managed to clean up a little inside our flat. We removed the glass from several rooms, put the corridor doors back in place and covered the windows with film so the rain couldn’t get our belongings wet. We stayed overnight with our relatives, and the following day we returned to continue tidying up and to pick up some clothes for the next few days."
"We were lucky that we were in the bathroom during the explosion because some people were hit by the falling doors or injured by the glass shrapnel. The neighbour in the flat below us was standing in the kitchen by the window — she got badly injured. Everyone thinks that their apartments won’t be affected," Olena takes off orange rubber gloves to wipe off tears with her fingers.
"All my emotions got switched off at that moment, I was acting like G.I. Jane. I have got to run, sit, pack up, clean up, cover up. But all this time, I was thinking only about one thing: thank God that we are alive."