CHUGUIV: A son wept over the body of his father among the wreckage of a missile strike in a residential district in the eastern Ukrainian town of Chuguiv as the country woke up today to a Russian invasion.
“I told him to leave,” the man in his 30s sobbed, next to the twisted ruins of a car.
Nearby a woman screamed curses into the wintry sky.
A missile crater, some 4m to 5m wide, was scoured into the earth between two devastated five-storey apartment buildings.
Firefighters battled to extinguish the remains of a blaze.
Several other buildings on the street were seriously damaged, their windows shattered and doorframe hanging in the frigid morning air.
It was among the first reported damage after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine early today, with explosions heard in several locations across the country in the early morning hours.
Sergiy, 67, tried to use the leg of an Ikea table to block up his smashed window.
The leg stuck out into the air.
He had received a few bruises but said he was fine.
“I’m going to stay here, my daughter is in Kiev and it’s the same there,” he told AFP.
In Sergiy’s opinion, the missile has targeted the nearby military airfield, close to Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv and just some 40km from the Russian border.
“It was one of the targets that Putin had cited, I’m not even surprised,” he said, refusing to give his surname.
“We will hang in there.”
Thick black smoke could be seen billowing from the direction of the airfield – one of a raft of strategic locations across the country pounded by Moscow’s firepower in an opening barrage.
A policeman said the toll from the bombardment was still being “evaluated” without giving more details.
Teenager Anastasia clutched her grey cat as she watched her grandfather in a wheelchair being loaded onto a minibus waiting to rush them to a nearby village.
‘Hope the war will spare us’
“We could never have expected this. We’re going to the village, we hope the war will spare us there,” she said.
Ukrainian military personnel and trucks swarmed around the town as the government in Kiev insisted its forces would do all they could to protect Ukraine.
Across Ukraine’s vulnerable eastern front civilians and soldiers scrambled to react as one of the world’s most powerful militaries began what authorities warned was a “full-scale invasion”.
Some 300km to the south in key port city of Mariupol – close to the frontline where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine – authorities were rushing to evacuate civilians as fighting raged.
Local official Alexiy Babchenko said they were starting to move people out of two areas to the nearest railway station – but the violence was too heavy to begin in another location.
“It is under heavy artillery,” he told AFP.
Yevgeny Kaplin, head of the humanitarian organisation Proliska, said attacks were going on across the entire frontline that had divided Ukrainian forces from an enclave held by Russian-backed rebels.
But poor communications were hampering information coming about victims.
“The offensive is underway along the entire demarcation line in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions,” he said.
“Fighting is happening everywhere. We cannot yet receive information about victims, because there is no communication in this area.”