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‘I’m in shock:’ Russia’s mass attack on Kyiv shatters lives and dreams

Fire and burnt-out cars are seen after a missile strike in Kyiv on Jan. 2, 2024. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)
by Alexander Query and Olena Zashko and Irynka Hromotska January 3, 2024 12:20 AM 8 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

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Semen Nedanov could hardly hold back his tears when he showed the Kyiv Independent what was left of his flat in the central Solomiansky district after a Russian attack on Kyiv early on Jan. 2.

“I’m in shock,” the 48-year-old told the Kyiv Independent as he waited for first responders to allow him to go back to his apartment to recover his documents.

When the missile hit, Nedanov was taking his daughter back home after another Russian missile hit her place near the Syrets neighborhood in Kyiv.

“My wife was alone here,” he recalled. “She ran out of the building wearing only her sleeping gown and boots.”

The only thing that saved her was two walls between her and the blast, he said, adding that the doors of the apartment were blown out to the corridor.

The view from the apartment of Olena Zashko, a reporter working for the Kyiv Independent, on Jan. 2, 2024 in the aftermath of Russia's air attack on Ukraine. (Olena Zashko/The Kyiv Independent)

Russia launched at least 99 missiles of various types and drones against Ukraine on the morning of Jan. 2, targeting Kyiv, the surrounding region, as well as Kharkiv in the latest in a series of large-scale missile and drone attacks in recent days that have killed dozens and injured hundreds across the country.

Ukrainian critical infrastructure and industrial, civilian, and military facilities have come under attack.

The death toll of the Jan. 2 attack against Ukraine had risen to five people as of 5 p.m., the State Emergency Service reported. The strike also injured 130 people, according to the report. Among them are children.

In front of the nine-story apartment building in the Solomiansky district, the scene was nothing short of apocalyptic.

A large part of the apartments were burned to ashes. No windows were left intact, while a large crater caused by the missile that fell in front of the building and the calcined flats were still smoldering a few hours after the attack.

At least two people were killed in the bloc, while 29 were injured as of 12 p.m., Pavlo Petrov, the local spokesperson from the State Emergency Services, told the Kyiv Independent.

Fifty-seven people had been rescued by mid-day, but first responders were still extinguishing localized fires, Petrov said.

“After the rescuers are done, we’re going to check the safety of the building so people can safely go inside,” he said.

‘We have to fight’

Yurii, a portly 70-year-old resident with a calm and defiant look, showed the Kyiv Independent his half-burned windowsill that is just to the right of an apartment practically desroyed in the fire caused by the attack.

He declined to give his name as his children are serving in the military.

He managed to carry out one of his neighbors, but the others escaped alone, he recalled. “The main thing is that everyone is alive."

He had already planned to clean, tidy, and repair his apartment but said he will sleep at his children’s place for the time being. The area had already been targeted eight times before, so he’s used to it, he said.

Russia’s attack only reinforced Yurii's resolve to fight against Russians.

“We have to fight, I think old people will get armed soon,” he said, referring to the government’s efforts to expand mobilization.  “I’m 70, but I can still hold a gun.”

Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire after a missile strike in Kyiv on Jan. 2, 2024. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)

Saving animals

Only a few steps away, Dmytro, 28, was already in line with his mother to return to their apartment to try and find the family’s cat.

“I don’t know where the cat is, the police came to evacuate us, but I hope they’ll let us back today,” he said. “With the invasion, my cat became very jumpy and scared, I tried looking for him at our neighbors but haven’t found him yet,” he added worriedly.

The missile hit around 7.45 a.m., he recalled.

“I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s what I was afraid of,'” Dmytro, who declined to say his full name, told the Kyiv Independent. He “got lucky” as a table projected by the blast protected him from the windows’ shattering glass.

A woman holds her cat in the first hours after missile debris hit a residential building in central Kyiv on Jan. 2, 2024. (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)

“I only have a few small cuts,” he said, showing his arm. “I never thought there could be this much glass,” he said. Authorities already planned to distribute plywood panels to isolate the apartment amid freezing temperatures.

Meanwhile, a mother and her young daughter both dressed in massive fur coats, burst into tears of joy when first responders emerged from the smoke holding two cages.

Giving back the two gray parrots and a guinea pig, the rescue team calmly faced the suffocating assaults of affection from the woman and the girl, awkwardly accepting the show of gratitude and the avalanches of kisses on their cheeks.

Children in front of apartments destroyed by a Russian missile attack on Jan. 2, 2024 in Kyiv. (Olena Zashko/The Kyiv Independent)

‘For what?’

Plush toys, clothes, and personal effects were scattered everywhere, while upside-down charred cars testified to the violence of the impact.

Olena Barbionova, a Russian-born elderly lady, recalled how the cars started exploding one after the other when she left the building.

She recalled how the building shook at first, with smoke everywhere and no electricity or water in the flat. She put on some clothes and boots that were lying around and ran out.

“I didn’t understand anything at first until I went outside and saw an entrance on fire, 8-9th floors on fire, and firefighters couldn’t stop it,” she said. Then, the fire spread to cars parked in front.

“It’s a holiday, all the cars are parked near the building on both sides, so the fire started to spread,” she said. “It was like a domino.”

“For what? For what?” she said, with teary eyes.

“Thank you, Putin, for my happy senior years,” Barbionova said.

Natalia Kostyuk, the 48-year-old owner of what was supposed to be a brand new salon before it was partially destroyed in the attack, felt similarly: “What a New Year’s gift,” she said.

“We didn’t even get to open it yet, all the new furniture just arrived, and the renovation was fresh,” she showed the Kyiv Independent.

“I was working so hard on it, it’s like my child,” she added through tears. “Everything is broken,” Kostyuk said. “I don’t know what to do about it.”

She had planned to open the beauty salon before Feb. 15, but there’s little doubt on the future of the building, she said.

“My uncle bought this place for me right before the invasion, it was my dream,” she said. “I wasn’t waiting for the end of the war, I wanted to work and provide job opportunities for others.”

“So much money and resources wasted,” Kostyuk said. “I was holding on but now I’m waiting for the police and crying.”

A view of the smoke rising after a missile attack by Russia on Jan. 2, 2024 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)
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