Andriy Gerasimenko was on Monday clearing the debris at the central market of Sloviansk, a city in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine ravaged by Russian strikes the day before.
The city has been shelled for more than a week now that the frontline is getting closer after Russian forces gained full control of Lysychansk on Sunday and its twin city of Severodonetsk at the end of June.
The two cities were the last in the neighbouring Lugansk region to fall into Russia’s hands after weeks of fierce fighting and shelling that left them largely destroyed.
When a rocket fell and set the Sloviansk market ablaze, “I was already home, thank God,” says the 38-year-old man, a cigarette in his mouth.
“I think that what is waiting for us will be even worse, I have already thought of leaving,” Gerasimenko said.
Natalia Butok had just come out of the market when the explosion occurred.
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“I heard boom-boom and saw a fire,” said the saleswoman, one of the few who returned to the market on Monday.
“I hope the future will be better,” she said.
Viktoria Koloty, 33, doesn’t share her optimism. She had already evacuated her children from Sloviansk, and has now come back “to take everything we can from home”.
“Nothing good will happen, the best thing is to leave,” she said.
On Sunday alone, a rain of rockets and other explosives in the city left at least six people dead and 19 injured.
‘Show this to Putin’
The house of Valentina Stelmakh was charred in a fire, its roof and part of its brick walls collapsed.
Standing in her courtyard littered with debris, she says her life was saved because she, her brother and sister-in-law were all in the basement of the building when they heard the violent blast.
“How are we responsible? But why do they want to kill us? Stop it!” the 64-year-old woman said, bursting into tears.
“The chickens, the dog and the cats were killed, but what did they do?”, she said, not far from a lifeless rooster in the middle of the rubble.
Her neighbour, whose house was spared by the blast, opened the gate and pulled out a large piece of metal with a heat-deformed tip.
“It’s a Hurricane,” he said, referring to a category of Russian rockets. He said he had found this part of a device that exploded on Sunday in his street.
Residents of another city in the Donetsk region, Kramatorsk, were also collecting debris on Monday. The city, equally coveted by Russian forces, was hit by several rockets in recent days.
On Sunday evening, one of them gouged a three-metre (10-foot) crater in a small street where many houses were damaged and where workers were repairing damaged electrical wires on Monday.
“We have to show this to Putin,” one man said as he passed in front of the gaping hole.