Strike flattens street far from frontline in Ukraine's east

·3-min read

Yelena Gruzdeva and her children were asleep in a small Ukrainian town far from the frontline when an explosion blew off their roof, the family escaping uninjured "by a miracle".

"Everything in the house has been chopped up by shrapnel," said Gruzdeva on Wednesday as she cleared debris from their small blue-painted house on the outskirts of Dobropillia.

Located in the Donetsk region, the town lies around 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the epicentre of the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

"It was because we were lying in bed -- if we'd been walking around, (the shrapnel) would have ripped through us all," said this 45-year-old housewife.

"There was a crack and everything started crumbling."

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a single strike slammed into the street just off the main road into the city, completely flattening a house and killing one man.

Dobropillia had previously suffered only a few strikes during the course of the war, unlike ravaged cities further north such as Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.

But on Tuesday, there were at least three strikes in one day, locals said, suggesting Russia may see the town as a hub for Ukrainian forces and a target for the future.

The strike left a huge crater with the explosive wave ripping off roofs and blowing out windows in houses further along the street, although many residents of the town had already left.

In a thick cloud of dust, the family ran out and hid in the cellar, fearing further strikes, she said.

"We kept calm. We did have an idea that something like this could happen," said Gruzdeva, whose family has been lent another house to live in by "kind people".

- Three strikes in one day -

The man killed at the first house on the street was simply looking after it for the absent owners, locals said.

A Ukrainian flag still flew on a fence post next to the pile of debris.

A man smoking a cigarette as he worked on a shattered roof shouted down: "They hit us and we just laugh!"

Vitaliy Popelishko, another home owner looking at the huge hole in the facade of his house, said it was not reparable as "all the walls have cracked and it will need to be demolished".

Escaping with a scratch on his forehead, the 33-year-old coal mine employee looked pale and shocked and said his father, who was also inside at the time, was distressed.

"Here during the whole time, there have been 10 strikes. Now there were three strikes just yesterday. That means they are in a position where they can shell us," Popelishko said.

"Why do they shell peaceful houses -- who was stationed here? There aren't any military, no-one."

The explosion smashed windows in an automotive depot at the end of the street that has a large hangar which may have been the intended target, although AFP journalists saw no military vehicles inside.

"I don't know what you can call this? It's mediaeval," said Sergiy Semenets, a volunteer in the local territorial defence force who was later joined at the scene by a vehicle carrying humanitarian aid.

Things had been "going along quietly" in the town up to now, he said.

"They want to destroy Ukraine."

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