KHARKIV – Kharkiv resident Valentyna Hromonenko was doing laundry in her yard on the afternoon of Sept. 9 when she heard a loud explosion followed by the scream of her 11-year-old grandson Maksym.
“My grandson was inside, vacuuming. He shouted: ‘Grandma, something is falling on me,’” Hromonenko, a grandmother of four, told the Kyiv Independent. Her three other grandchildren have fled Russia’s war to Poland with their mother.
“He got very scared. He cried and couldn't say a word. Grandpa took him away (to safety),” she went on.
Recalling what she had experienced just an hour earlier, Hromonenko was crying, too.
“The noise was awful. Everything flew and fell,” she said, “I couldn’t stop thinking that the roof would fall on us.”
Hromonenko’s family witnessed one of Russia’s recent strikes on Kharkiv, a regional capital in northeastern Ukraine located only around 40 kilometers away from the Russian border. Russian forces have shelled Kharkiv relentlessly since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In the afternoon of Sept. 9, Russian troops fired Uragan multiple rocket launchers at Kharkiv, causing significant damage to multiple houses, sports facilities, a gas station, a children’s community center, a school, and a kindergarten.
According to local authorities, the Russian attack injured 14 people, including three children.
One of the rockets hit a building right next to Hromonenko’s house. The shock wave from the explosion destroyed three walls and broke the windows of her home.
“Brick by brick, I have been building this place for 30 years. All on my own, with the money I earned,” Hromonenko said, as she continued to cry.
“Russia has taken everything from me,” she said, referring specifically to her home and her job. Hromonenko worked at a local hotel before the war, which no longer operates due to ongoing Russian attacks.
“I want them to feel what we have been feeling for half a year now,” she continued. “I want them to try to live the way we do now. It is unbearable. Why do they do this to us?”
Despite Russia’s false claims that it only targets military sites in Ukraine, Russian forces continue to brutally attack civilian infrastructure.
“I have no idea where they saw military infrastructure here,” Hromonenko went on. “Grandmothers with children live here.”
Tetiana Oleshko, the head of the kindergarten that was damaged by Russian strikes that day, was inside when a Russian rocket hit the sports ground in front of the school.
“No military was ever there. It is not strategic infrastructure, it’s a kindergarten – a very good one and very modern,” she said, bursting into tears.
Sept. 1, the first day of the school year in Ukraine, was unusually quiet at Oleshko’s kindergarten as it did not open its doors. Out of the over 280 children that attended the kindergarten last year, only 14 have remained in Kharkiv – the rest have fled the city with their families.
Oleshko noted that, had the children been there during the attack, the scale of the disaster would have been massive.
“The section of the kindergarten for the youngest children, on the first floor, was hit the hardest. It’s for children that are only two years old,” she said. “Thank God they were not there.”