ZAPORIZHZHIA – Ten hours after the Russian missile attack that destroyed a five-story apartment building in Zaporizhzhia, first responders were still looking for survivors.
A Russian S-300 missile hit the building around 1:30 a.m. on March 2. As of 11:30 a.m., the attack killed four people and injured eight, while five people, including a child, were still missing, according to local authorities.
Twenty people had been rescued from the smoking debris by the early hours of March 2.
The blast had been so brutal that pieces of cloth could be seen hanging on the trees.
Residents and remnants of their shattered lives poured out into the street while neighbors anxiously watched the rescue operation.
“We need two more men,” a rescuer yelled, standing on the building's roof, cut in half by the impact.
First responders recovered an arm among the debris, but they still haven’t identified who it belonged to, according to Veronika Gretskaya, 19, who lived on the fourth floor with her partner.
“They haven’t found (the rest of) the body,” Gretskaya said.
‘We’re in shock’
Halyna Harytonenko, a woman in her fifties who lived on the fifth floor, was killed on the spot. Her partner survived.
The two used to live in a village in Donetsk Oblast. When Russia’s full-scale invasion started, they fled to their hometown Zaporizhzhia, thinking they’d be safer there.
Iulia Petrenko, 42, lived in the same building. Her apartment was spared. She was watching the first responders work and crying for her killed neighbor, Harytonenko.
“She was a lovely person,” Petrenko said, stopping to wipe away a tear.
“Right now, we’re in shock,” she added.
She decided to stay in her apartment, despite the frequent shelling of the area. While it’s the first time the building was hit, she said her apartment’s windows had been damaged several times already.
“But it’s gonna get better; we’ll continue living,” she added. She thanked the volunteers who flocked onto the scene to help, transforming the scene of desolation into a noisy hive of repair work.
Just hours after the attack, her apartment’s windows were replaced by cardboard wood panels, cut in the backyard by a volunteer who brought his saw to help.
Olga Denisova, a 45-year-old psychiatrist whose windows were also shattered by the explosions as she lives right in front of the apartment block, was trying to guess the reason for such relentless shelling of the area. There is no military infrastructure in the vicinity.
“We have some police precincts around; maybe because of the administration nearby, or maybe this,” she said, pointing at the enormous TV tower hovering over the neighborhood.
At 11 a.m., the neighborhood is still full of families, pressing on and around the white and red ribbons around the scene.
Those blocks and the surrounding ones are full of old people, children, and women, “nothing threatening,” Petrenko said.
“Why would they do that?” she asked. “What’s the point? Only fascists behave that way!”
On the top floor of the building’s wing that is still standing, the ceiling of a flat has collapsed. There is no roof anymore, and the burned wall insulation bear witness to the violence of the impact.
The door has been blown away by the blast.
One floor below, on the fourth floor, a soldier from the Territorial Defense Forces, looking pale with a bandage around his hands, catches his breath near the front door of his parent’s apartment.
They were spared from the attack and are staying with his aunt after being evacuated in the early morning. They called him to ask to pick up the family’s food supplies – jars of pickled food – from what remained of the apartment.
“What jars?” he said jokingly. “Everything is destroyed; they’re in shock.”
He has recently returned from the front line near Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast. The strike only increased his rage about the Russians he was fighting there.
“Hate,” he said. “I feel only hate.”
Russians have relentlessly struck the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia Oblast since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, despite claiming a so-called “annexation” of the region they only partly control in September 2022.
For Gretskaya and her partner Artem Sytnik, 22, this strike was the last straw. They have decided to leave Zaporizhzhia.
They are going to Vilniansk, east of Zaporizhzhia, first to stay with Sytnik’s family and then to Kyiv. There, Sytnik hopes to open a pet store, and Gretskaya plans to join the police force.
"After this (shelling), we need to leave Zaporizhzhia," she said.