Traders in shelled Donetsk market left to 'eat ash'

15th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Oleksandr picks up a handful of rusty screws and nails, all that is left of his market stall that was ripped apart in a volley of mortar fire in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

It's the second time in just a few months that he has escaped with his life in the face of a deadly bombardment, but says that this time he has lost everything.

Oleksander joined other stallholders sifting through the smouldering cinders of their ruined businesses on Monday after the bloodiest day since a fragile truce between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels was signed 10 days ago.

"Everything is ruined," said Valery Azarov, as he surveyed the devastation in Putilovka market, a victim of the battle for control of the city's airport just a few kilometres away.

"There's nothing left here. Now we can only sell and eat ash."

The shelling in the working class district of Kievsky left six civilians dead and 15 wounded, and saw AFP journalists and OSCE monitors come under fire.

About 20 small market stalls were destroyed, their blue awnings in shreds. The roof of the red-brick indoor market was set ablaze, collapsing in a pile of blackened fibreglass.

In the neighbouring streets where tree trunks were shredded by shrapnel, people were fixing damaged windows and sweeping up debris.

Oleksandr said he had been working at Donetsk airport before it was stormed by rebels the day after the May election that brought President Petro Poroshenko to power, unleashing a wave of air strikes that left the transport hub in ruins.

"On May 26 I had just enough time to escape the bombing of the airport, and now here... My friends tell me the shells follow me."

The 39-year-old said Sunday's bombardment had wiped out at least $20,000 worth of merchandise, adding despondently: "I've lost everything. I don't know how I will feed my family."

- 'Everything was burning' -

His friend Volodymyr, 42, donned gloves to help him clear up.

"The market was full of people when it started," said Volodymyr, adding that it was not clear who was behind the bombardment.

Most people had time to take shelter in the basement of the covered market, he said, but one grandmother was killed on a nearby street.

"When we came out, everything was burning. We didn't even have any water to fight the flames, though we tried with a few buckets."

Petro Ignatov, 80, blamed what he described as the "fascists" in the Kiev government which has been battling to crush the separatist uprising in the industrial region known as Donbass since April.

The conflict has left him as one of only two residents -- the other also a grandfather -- still living in a nearby block of about 40 apartments.

"Everyone else has gone, my children are in Crimea," said Ignatov, proudly recounting how as a technician in the mines for 50 years he helped create Ukraine's industrial hub in the Donbass.

"My mother's family was wiped out when the Nazis burned them alive in their villages. And now they are back here. If I was 30 years younger I'd be taking up a gun."

At the market, Irina Azarova, 52, wiped away tears with her blackened hands as she angrily pointed the finger at the man she now blames for her ruin.

"I was a shopkeeper, now I am a nobody. Thank you Mr President."

© 2014 AFP

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