The lips of Anna Maria Romantsuk, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, are still trembling after the bombing of her school, “Gymnasium No. 34” in Kyiv, early this morning.
“I was scared,” she says, in broken English, her face pale as her mother Oxana tries to comfort her. “I just hope everything goes well.”
A short distance from there, a corpse covered with a sheet, right next to the huge crater opened by the Russian rocket that fell between the school, a kindergarten and various apartment buildings of the Soviet era.
The shockwave shattered all the windows of the school, one of the best in the Pontil, in this suburb of northwestern Kyiv that was once buzzing with life. The same fate befell the neighboring kindergarten adorned with a huge, painted squirrel: the windows broke and the roof sank.
Anna Maria and Oxana were at home when the blast occurred, as schools were closed after the Russian invasion on February 24 and classes were held online. However, the residents of the district explained that civilians were resorting to the school to protect themselves from the bombs and they do not understand why it was targeted.
“The manager wrote to us and asked us to come and help, to clean the broken windows,” said Tetiana Teretchenko, 41, with a broom in hand. Her daughter, also 14 years old, is crying. “We were hoping to go back to school. We did distance learning, now we do not know what will happen.”
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed and 19 others were injured in the attack. Among the injured are four children.
For Unicef, the children of Ukraine face “an immediate and growing threat.” At least 103 have been killed since the start of the war, four of them in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian authorities. Six high schools and four primary schools have been damaged by the conflict and hundreds of thousands of children have fled the country. Millions more, however, remain in Ukraine.
The situation in Kyiv is not as critical as in other besieged cities, such as Kharkov and Mariupol. However, the capital has also been under repeated attacks by the Russian army in recent days.
“It’s absolute absurdity,” said Vladimir Klitschko, the mayor’s brother, who visited the site of the attack. “Is there a military base here?” wonders.
The explosion also destroyed the facade of an apartment building and its interior looks like a doll’s house from the outside. Outside, in a place where children usually played, pieces of cement and burned cars.
“A soldier should fight a soldier, not civilians. The worst of all is that young children and women are being killed,” said Roman Vasilenko, 53, a resident who said the door and window of his house were broken by the blast. .
Vasilenko shows a certificate that he worked as a “liquidator” – he was one of the first people to go to Chernobyl after the 1986 nuclear accident. He also shows reporters photos of his daughter and grandchildren who left country and now live in Romania.
Through the holes that were left in the walls after the windows of Gymnasium No. were broken. 34, one can get an idea of life before the war: a poster with the alphabet nailed to the wall, next to the blackboard. At the site, dozens of volunteers are clearing the rubble, hoping that one day the school will be operational again.
The repeated sound of rockets reminds us that the school is only a few kilometers from the front line, where Russian soldiers are trying to encircle Kyiv.
For Ukrainians, this war makes no sense.
“My grandfather is Russian, I’m Ukrainian. I do not understand the purpose of all this. Why kill so many people?” says 33-year-old Ina, another resident of the area. “A man was killed in the apartment building. The children are hiding in the school. Why should they suffer?” the woman continues.
Fear of a Russian attack on Kyiv has emptied the capital of 3.5 million people. Half of its population left. But for Tetiana Terechenko, it is impossible for her to leave. “Where to go? This is our city. We do not want to leave it.”