(Tcherniguiv) With each burst, sections of walls, pieces of furniture and broken glass come off to crash at the foot of what remains of the towers in the center of Cherniguiv, gutted the day before by a Russian bombardment.
Eyes glued to the ground, Sergei slaloms to avoid them, his bag of cat food stuck like a shield to his chest.
There were bodies all over the floor. They were queuing for the pharmacy there here and they all died.
Sergei, bombing survivor
Cherniguiv, a key northern city on the way to Russia’s incursion into Kyiv, located 120 km from the capital, lasted seven days.
By the eighth, Russian forces showed that it was no longer about giving battle, or increasing the pressure, but about crushing the city, summoning the images of desolation most seen since Grozny in Chechnya and 1995.
Thursday noon, Russian jets, launched from nearby Belarus, began to roar, first from afar, then closer and closer.
Arrived above the residential area where a clinic was also located, they released a rain of small propeller-driven devices, twirling in the sky, cluster bombs, testifies to AFP a resident, Serhiy Bludnyy, who collected remains, corroborating numerous images of the strike posted on social media.
The raid of less than ten minutes on this still densely populated district and on two neighboring schools serving as a rear base for soldiers left 47 dead, one of the deadliest strikes since the start of the war, on February 24.
“But what do these assholes want? ! said the survivor, Serhiy Bludnyy, 48, when the terrifying rumble of bombers ripped through the air again.
The Russian army, which had already broken through to the north-east from Sumy, was trying to operate by taking Cherniguiv the junction with the Russian offensive axis from the north, already present on the outskirts of Kyiv.
To take the city, which usually has 300,000 inhabitants, Moscow seems to have decided first to empty it.
On Friday morning, the last convoys of civilians left. A disciplined line of several thousand cars drove together towards Kyiv, warning lights on, all with tape or paper with the words “CHILDREN” prominently attached to the windshield.
Petro Bahatyuk, 65, failed to reunite his family to leave in time. “My heart is in pieces, my children have not managed to leave, my grandchildren are still there, and I am coming to pick them up,” said this resident.
In a secret location, for fear of being the next target on the list, some local officials try to organize the survival of the last civilians.
“Today we are making camouflage equipment for our guys, the priority is to stay hidden from the enemy,” explains Deputy Mayor Regina Gusak, from this HQ.
The other two places, located in the schools targeted the day before, are lost. Everything was packed into this one, floor to ceiling stacks of canned goods, warm clothes and in one corner, mattress protectors, for children and the elderly, fear causing them to lose control of their bladders during the bombings.
Red Cross volunteers also gathered there.
“It fell on a house, there’s a fire, we’re going to see, unknown toll,” interrupts one of them before rushing out in recognition – and in the open.
Ukrainian soldiers are invisible.
Cherniguiv is left to its own devices, rescued even more than defended, by handfuls of armed volunteers from the “terroborona”, civilians who have joined the Territorial Defense, paramedics and a few overwhelmed firefighters.
” We are gonna die ”
Denis Rokaz, 25, electrician, keffiyeh and combat goggles on his head, criss-crosses the city with a friend in his car, techno at full speed above the sound of sirens and explosions to which he no longer pays attention.
“Rockets anyway it’s day and night now. But we are going to fight and help as we can”, launches, galvanized like in a video game, the militiaman by opening his trunk.
Inside, a teddy bear, a jumble of drugs and first aid equipment, but also a rocket launcher.
The sensational resistance of the inhabitants of Cherniguiv, who only four days ago filmed themselves pushing back with their bare hands the first two Russian tanks that had strayed on the road, seems to belong already to another era.
Late Friday afternoon everything accelerated and the inhabitants found themselves trapped in a mousetrap.
Exploded by a missile, a burning oil depot enveloped in a cloud of unbreathable smoke the entire southern sector of the city, the one through which one could still exit.
To the north, west and east, Russian tanks have taken up positions in the plains and undergrowth, pounding anything that approaches, AFP journalists noted.
At the end of the day, the only axis still passable, an antediluvian bridge to the south which spans a river is in turn pounded.
At the entrance to the bridge, a few civilian cars are trying everything for everything, while a Sukhoi, a slender, black silhouette, rushes at low altitude in their direction.
At the first bomb, dropped a few tens of meters from them, everyone flattens on the tarmac, children present scream in fear.
“We’re going to die if we stay here” screams a woman. An overwhelmed and terrified Ukrainian policeman crouched behind his vehicle yells at them to get past before the next strike.
He doesn’t know if the bridge still holds. He doesn’t know what awaits them on the other side.