Andriy Gerasimenko on Monday cleared rubble in the central market of Sloviansk, a city in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region devastated by Russian strikes the day before.
The city has been under shelling for more than a week as the front lines draw closer after Russian forces gained full control of Lysychansk on Sunday and its twin city of Severodonetsk in late June.
The two cities were the last in the neighboring Lugansk region to fall into Russian hands after weeks of intense fighting and shelling that largely destroyed them.
When a rocket landed and set the Slovyansk market on fire, “thank God I was already home,” says the 38-year-old, a cigarette in his mouth.
“I think what’s waiting for us is going to get worse, I’ve already thought about leaving,” Gerasimenko said.
Natalia Butok had just come out of the market when the explosion happened.
“I heard boom-boom and saw a fire,” said the vendor, one of the few who returned to the market on Monday.
“I hope the future will be better,” she said.
Viktoria Koloty, 33, does not share her optimism. She had already evacuated her children from Sloviansk and has now come back “to take everything we can from home”.
“Nothing good will happen, the best thing is to leave,” she said.
On Sunday alone, a rain of rockets and other explosives in the city killed at least six people and injured 19.
– ‘Show that to Putin’ –
Valentina Stelmakh’s house was charred in a fire, its roof and part of its brick walls collapsed.
Standing in her debris-strewn yard, she says her life was saved because she, her brother and sister-in-law were all in the building’s basement when they heard the violent explosion.
“How are we responsible? But why do they want to kill us? Stop it!” said the 64-year-old woman, breaking down in tears.
“The chickens, the dog and the cats were killed, but what did they do?” she said, not far from a lifeless rooster in the middle of the rubble.
Her neighbor, whose home was spared the blast, opened the gate and pulled out a large piece of metal with a heat-formed tip.
“It’s a hurricane,” he said, referring to a category of Russian missiles. He said he found this part of a device that exploded on his street on Sunday.
Residents of another city in the Donetsk region, Kramatorsk, also collected rubble on Monday. Equally coveted by Russian forces, the city has been hit by several rockets in the past few days.
On Sunday evening, one of them dug a three-meter-high crater in a small street where many houses were damaged and workers repaired damaged power cables on Monday.
“We have to show that to Putin,” said one man as he walked past the gaping hole.