CHASIVYAR, Ukraine. (AP) — Dozens of Ukrainian rescuers worked Sunday to pull people out of the rubble after a Russian rocket attack slammed into apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine. The attack killed at least 15 people and dozens are believed to be still trapped a day later.
The strike on Saturday evening destroyed three buildings in a residential area of the town of Chasiv Yar, inhabited mainly by people who work in nearby factories. Ukrainian emergency services said on Sunday they had so far rescued five people from the rubble and made contact with three others still trapped alive under the ruins. Another man was pulled alive from the rubble on Sunday evening.
Cranes and excavators worked alongside rescue teams to clear the ruins of a building, the sides of which were completely flattened by the impact of the strike. Rescuers continued to work in the rain despite the dangerous conditions. The thud of artillery on the nearby front line echoed miles away, sending some workers flinching and others taking cover when it got too close.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region which includes Chasiv Yar, said the town of around 12,000 was hit by Uragan rockets, which are fired from truck-borne systems. Chasiv Yar lies 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Kramatorsk, a town that is a major target for Russian forces as they advance west.
Residents told The Associated Press they heard at least three explosions and that in addition to the fatalities, many people were seriously injured in the blasts. A group of neighbors sat in the yard quietly discussing who was hurt and who was still missing.
“There was an explosion, all the windows shattered and I was thrown to the ground. I called my children to tell them that I was alive. My kitchen walls and balcony have completely disappeared,” said resident Oksana, 45, who declined to give her surname.
She struggled to hold back her tears as she spoke. She was in her third-floor apartment when the missiles hit.
“We didn’t hear any incoming sound, we just felt the impact. I ran to hide in the hallway with my dogs. Everyone I knew started calling me to find out what had happened. I was shaking like a leaf,” said Irina Shulimova, a 59-year-old retiree.
Front doors and balconies were ripped open by the blast, heaps of twisted metal and bricks lay on the floor, and smashed summer cherries lay among the shattered window panes.
A 30-year-old technician named Oleksandr said his mother was among those injured in the blast.
“Thank God I wasn’t hurt, it was a miracle,” he said, touching the crucifix around his neck.
Although the house he shares with his mother is now broken, he says he has no intention of leaving the neighborhood.
“I have just enough money to support myself for another month. Many people are already fed up with the refugees coming from the east – no one will feed or support us there. It is better to stay,” said Oleksandr, who declined to give his last name.
Dima, another resident, had lived for more than 20 years on the ground floor of one of the buildings that were dug out during the attack. He was going back and forth over the rubble.
“As you can see, my house is lost,” he said.
Twenty-one people were killed earlier this month when an apartment building and a recreation area came under rocket fire in the southern region of Odessa. In addition, at least 19 people died when a Russian missile hit a shopping center in the city of Kremenchuk in late June.
Russia has repeatedly asserted that it only hits targets of military value in the war. There was no comment on Chasiv Yar during a Russian Defense Ministry briefing on Sunday.
The Donetsk region is one of two provinces along with Luhansk that make up the Donbass region, where separatist rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. Last week Russia captured the city of Lysychansk, the last major stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk.
Russian forces are raising “real hell” in Donbass, despite assessments that they were taking an operational pause, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Saturday.
After the capture of Lysychansk, some analysts predicted that Moscow’s troops would likely take some time to rearm and regroup.
But “until now, there has been no operational pause announced by the enemy. It is still attacking and bombarding our lands with the same intensity as before,” Haidai said. He later said that Ukrainian forces had destroyed ammunition depots and barracks used by the Russians.
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