The fear and the chaos of a missile attack in east Ukraine

24th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

There was a blinding flash, then complete darkness and thick clouds of dust. A missile had just hit Ivan Balabanov's house in rebel-held east Ukraine.

Stunned, Ivan groped around in the pitch black to find his flashlight.

His ears ringing from the explosion, he took a few seconds to regain his senses and remember what was around him.

He remembered he was in one room with his daughter while his wife had been tending to their thirteen- month granddaughter in the room next door before the explosion.

"I was confused," he says. "We could not see anything."

Suddenly he heard the sound of the baby crying. Then he realised that he could make out another noise: his wife groaning in agony.

She was surrounded by debris in the hallway, her right shoulder smashed and blood flowing from where shrapnel had pierced her thigh.

But miraculously she was still standing, clutching her granddaughter -- safe and sound -- in her arms.

Some neighbours came quickly to the rescue. They placed the injured on a stretcher made from a blanket and carried her to a vehicle that set off quickly for the hospital.

- Blood and dust -

Balabanov is a small man of 64 with sad eyes, who tells his story now sitting in the middle of his wrecked living room, wrapped in a jacket that is too big for him.

Under his feet are shrapnel fragments and chunks of plaster.

His wife's dried blood can be seen on the ground mixed with the dust from the blast.

The rocket burst through the roof of his small home Saturday night, exploding in his modest kitchen.

In the more than seven months of fighting between government forces and rebels in this blighted region the terror felt by Balabanov has become a terrifying new reality for those living here.

As both sides have unleashed ageing and imprecise Soviet-made weapons at each other, civilians have paid the highest price.

More that 4,300 people -- mostly innocent local residents -- have been killed and some 10,000 more have been wounded.

No one knows who fired the missile that hit Balabanov's house.

Up until now, his district in the west of the rebel city of Donetsk -- studded with coalmines -- has got off relatively easy and shelling here has been lighter than in some other areas.

But the Ukrainian army and the insurgent fighters face off just kilometres away and the threat and distant thud of shelling remains ever present.

Despite the damage, Balabanov considers his family lucky. Like most here, he now has his own tale of lucky escape.

"A quarter of an hour earlier, we were all sitting in the kitchen," he told AFP.

"If we had stayed there, then all four of us would have been killed."

He trembled as he thought about how close three generations of his family came to being wiped out.

"It is a miracle that my wife was able to protect the baby despite all her wounds," he said.

She will soon be out of hospital, however, as there are no places left in the casualty ward for her.

Before she came back Balabanov had planned to come back to the house to start work with a few friends and neighbours clearing the debris.

They returned the day after the attack but as they set to work eight loud explosions shook around them, sending what was left of it crashing to the ground.

Once again, Ivan says, he was left lying dazed on the ground.

© 2014 AFP

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