Morning Chronicle - Russian offensive hits home in eastern Ukraine

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Russian offensive hits home in eastern Ukraine
Russian offensive hits home in eastern Ukraine / Photo: SERGEY BOBOK - AFP

Russian offensive hits home in eastern Ukraine

This is the spot where Sergei died. In the modest conservatory of his family home, a ground floor flat in Ukraine's second city of Kharkiv.

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From the outside only his mother is visible. Nadezhda Aleksandrova is framed by a wrecked window, her face a portrait of grief.

From inside Sergei can be seen on the floor at her feet. He lies as if asleep, a crimson puddle of fresh blood spilling out from his pale head.

Across the garden there is a dent in the earth.

Shrapnel has sprayed past the daffodils and into the apartment on Freedom Street, ending Sergei's life at just 38.

He was smoking by the window when it hit.

"Everything started, the glass fell down and I saw him lying in a pool of blood," said Aleksandrova, retreating to the hallway, full of sorrow.

"I told him before that we should leave," said his 68-year-old mother. "He said we should stay."

Three men come to collect Sergei's remains. They bundle him up in a floral bedsheet and stretcher his corpse to a van.

The men spray their hands with fruit scented antiseptic and slam shut the back doors.

- Eastern offensive -

Russian President Vladimir Putin called off his northern offensive to take the capital of Kyiv at the end of last month.

But the invasion has refocussed on the eastern flank of Ukraine.

On Friday AFP witnessed the aftermath of several strikes in the Industrial district of Kharkiv -- just 22 kilometres (13 miles) from the Russian border.

Authorities said 10 people were killed and 35 injured as a result of Russian shelling in the district.

The charred remains of three rockets were visible -- two stabbed into grassland by apartment buildings and a third in a nearby bin.

Around a dozen football sized craters were also spotted across the area AFP saw in a short visit.

Next to a park bench in one common square there was a splattered smear of fresh blood.

Volodymyr Zhyrnov, 54, said he rushed to aid an injured woman. She was taken by the emergency services, her fate unknown.

"These hands save people," he says, recounting how he used his belt and a torn strip of his shirt to stem the bleeding.

His face still shadowed with shock, he offers his hand to shake but pulls back at the last moment.

He remembers they are both still stained with blood.

- Broken homes -

After the blasts a man appears by his car, wiping down the cratered windscreen with a rag before repairing the shattered headlights with a thick roll of tape.

Nearby a child's playground slide is pocked with holes from explosions. Residents compare shards of shrapnel which have hit their homes.

All around the area windows are punctured.

One pierced by hot metal proudly displays a blooming orchid on the mantle behind.

From another fractured pane a small white bird box still hangs intact.

40 year-old Serhii Belov was smoking by his window upstairs when he was spared from shrapnel -- a lucky escape that was not to be for his neighbour Sergei.

The basement shelters are not good enough, he says, and residents are forced to gamble with their lives under near-constant shelling as Russia's offensive scales up.

"We have to wait out all these bombings at home and pray that the bombs don't hit," he said.