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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Missile strike in Kyiv rattles residents after weeks of quiet

Police officers navigate their way through wreckage outside a residential building at the site of a Russian missile strike in central Kyiv, Ukraine on Sunday, June 26, 2022.

By Valerie Hopkins

Olha and her husband, Roman, stood on a concrete platform, carefully avoiding debris and shards of glass, staring at the smoldering building that contained the apartment they moved into one year ago.

A group of firefighters was trying to put out a blaze that had destroyed part of the structure, while emergency workers carried a stretcher from the eighth floor down the stairway.

Olha and Roman had chosen the neighborhood of Lukianivka in Kyiv because it was known as the Ukrainian capital’s “quiet center,” said Olha, 32.

But Sunday morning, they woke to a series of explosions that jolted them — and many other residents — out of their bed and the relative sense of security that had prevailed in the city since the Russians were pushed out of its periphery in early April.

“In Ukraine, you cannot feel safe anywhere,” said Olha, who was afraid to give her last name.

Her mother, Nataliya, had recently arrived from Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, hoping for respite from the “constant” explosions, which increased drastically there last week.

“It is like a nightmare,” Nataliya, 63, told her daughter.

At least four Russian missiles hit the neighborhood Sunday morning, a day after a barrage of missile strikes across Ukraine. The attacks came as leaders of the Group of 7 of the world’s wealthiest democracies prepared to meet in Germany, and Ukrainian officials said they believed Moscow was trying to send a message to Ukraine and its Western allies.

A 7-year-old girl was rescued from the rubble in Kyiv, authorities said. Her father was killed, and her mother, a Russian citizen, was injured. The top three floors of the nine-story building in the Shevchenkivskyi district were destroyed, they said.

Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor, said the strikes were an act of “symbolic aggression” before a NATO summit meeting taking place in Madrid this week.

But for the ordinary people living in quiet, residential neighborhoods like Lukianivka, the fear and destruction are not symbolic.

Oleksandra Kvitko, a psychologist who lives in the neighborhood, said she was afraid when she heard the first explosion. She took her two young children and hid in their apartment’s bathroom.

“We were sitting in the bathroom and there comes another explosion — my walls and doors were shaking,” she said. “I was playing word games with the children. I could hear the walls trembling and realized there is nothing I can do, so I just kept saying, ‘You start with A. You start with H.’”

When she went back to her room, she screamed into her pillow. “It really was a very nervous situation,” Kvitko said. “But when the mother is calm, then the children are calm.”

Russian missiles also struck Kyiv early this month, wounding at least one person. Before June, the last missile strike in Kyiv had been in late April on the same apartment complex, hitting a building adjacent to the one where Roman and Olha lived. Both suspected that their building was hit this time because it was near a munitions factory.

Ukraine was already on edge after 50 missiles rained down across the country Saturday. But the strikes Sunday in Lukianivka, a neighborhood in the very heart of Kyiv, raised new fears in a city that has roared back to life since April.

By the end of May, more than 2 million Ukrainians were living in Kyiv, according to the city’s administration. About half had returned from abroad or from the west of the country. Many restaurants, cafes and shops have reopened and the city’s grand Khreshchatyk Boulevard has been thronged with people on sunny weekends.

On Sunday, the streets were still full, but on social media, some residents of Kyiv expressed anger — along with intense fear and also defiance.

“Almost every Ukrainian from the war zone knows this lifehack: when you hear the whistling of the rocket, you better start counting,” Marina Stepanska, an award-winning film director, wrote on Facebook.

“Every second is approximately a kilometer. When it hits, you can tell if the explosion is far from you or too close. When it’s far away, you still have time for your coffee,” she continued.

Svitlana Royz, a prominent child psychologist, wrote of the need to overcome the pervading sense of “helplessness, absence of control and total horror,” saying, “that’s exactly what we can’t give to them.”

“We must learn to live in war,” she said. “Because we do not know exactly how many more incidents there will be after which we need to stabilize ourselves.”

But inside the Lukianivka apartment complex, Nataliya was feeling besieged, like she had lost her home for a second time.

“When will it end?” she asked her daughter.

Nataliya, a doctor who asked that her surname not be used, had lived in an apartment in the northern part of Kharkiv’s Saltivka region, which was under heavy bombardment by Russians.

She fled west, but several weeks ago finally decided to return to Kharkiv after Ukrainian soldiers pushed Russian troops out of the city. She decided that she could get used to the sound of regular explosions, but they became “constant” last week, so she fled this time to her daughter’s apartment in Kyiv.

Nearby, Dmytro Dzhizhinski was on the phone with his mother, trying to calm her down.

He had woken up Sunday morning to turn off the air conditioning in his apartment. As he turned the dial and looked out of the window, his building was struck. He ran into the hallway to find his neighbors and to try to shelter if another strike came.

Dzhizhinski, 26, works as an analytics head in a California-based company. Like many in Ukraine’s well-developed IT industry, he fled to the country’s west when the war started before returning to Kyiv a few weeks ago. He surveyed the apartment complex, which had been built recently and housed residences, cafes, shops and a playground.

“It was going to be even nicer,” he remarked. “They were still finishing everything before the war started.”

He said he planned to remain in the complex for now.

“I think I will stay; my apartment is OK,” Dzhizhinski said. “But we understand it can happen again at any moment.”

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