Fragments from a War Diary, Part #59
I was vaguely aware of a series of explosions, but what really woke me from my slumber in the early hours of the morning was the sounds of lots of people shouting. I am staying in a hotel right in the centre of Kharkiv, which was inauspicious given that the Russians decided to bomb the city centre on the night I was staying there. The hotel is full of Ukrainian soldiers enjoying rest days, so the people shouting were the soldiers alerted to a bombing of the city centre. However what is auspicious is that I had chosen a hotel underground, seemingly in a disused beer cellar but with huge thick walls and a ceiling and down a steep flight of stairs, and with no windows. So there was no need to rush to the air raid shelter; I was effectively already in one. The hotel is also conveniently stocked with a range of Ukrainian Armed Forces flak jackets.
From the minimal information provided in a government press release, at the time of writing it is not really clear what happened. At least two aerial projectiles struck Kharkiv city centre. The Head of the Military Administration in Kharkiv has called for residents to stay indoors or even in air raid shelters for the time being, saying that a continuing attack upon the city is underway. Of course a direct strike, even on an air raid shelter, will not save you. We hope that the city’s air defence systems are fully functioning. The air raid sirens are wailing constantly outside as I write this. The hotel staff have all disappeared. None of the few foreign journalists in town seem to know where the strikes took place. I found them wondering the streets with their oversized cameras and heavy bags, looking for the story.
I used more forensic means. The government press release contained a photo of a building in central Kharkiv that I had recognised walking past it yesterday afternoon, so I headed for that building. I soon found one of the strike locations. It is on a prominent street in central Kharkiv, about 150 metres from my accommodation. At a best guess - although I am no expert - I would say that this was a cruise missile strike with a fragmentation warhead. The structural damage to the building is not severe, although it is significant. The windows have been blown out not only in the entirety of the building that was struck but in several buildings elsewhere. The strike to the building appears to have been fairly accurate. It could always have been misdirected ordnance, or ordnance that was sent off course by air defence systems. Such things can never be excluded. But the fact is that a predominantly residential building was struck in the middle of the night and the people of Kharkiv are now justifiably frightened.
I walked cautiously around the scene. The streets have been sealed off to traffic by the Police, but it is possible to pass by as a pedestrian as long as you do not linger. There were people sweeping up smashed glass with brooms, and others boarding up windows with wood. People on the streets have taken shelter in any covered building at the time of writing, including coffee shops and kiosks. The department store nearby seems to have closed its doors. Due to the Police cordons and checkpoints, there are large tailbacks of traffic through the city centre. Also the weather has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It is now chillingly cold, with the threat of rain. I hope the people who have just lost their homes in this overnight attack find somewhere warm to stay for the night.
The current civilian toll is believed to be three injured and one boy of 10 dead, crushed in the rubble. I do not know whether there will be any more significant reporting of the issue than the brief military press release already issued.
Yesterday afternoon the village of Hroza southeast of Kharkiv has hit by an Iskander cruise missile, one of the more advanced medium range missiles in the Russian Armed Forces’ arsenal. Although the Russians are believed to have run short of their superior cruise missiles, the Kalibr, that can strike targets accurately at long range, it appears that they still have a substantial number of Iskander cruise missiles. I do not know where the missile was fired from; it has a range of some 500 kilometres. Nor do I know what its intended target was. Iskander missiles carry sophisticated inertial guidance mechanism targeting systems so they seldom go off course. However what we do know is that the missile in fact struck a village supermarket during a family gathering, killing over 50 people.
What are the purposes of these attacks using apparently sophisticated cruise missile technology? We don’t really know. This is not the sort of casual shelling you find on the front line in Kherson. It appears to be a series of attacks using more advanced equipment upon civilian targets. The scene I surveyed this morning had no military value. It was just a residential apartment block with the usual coffee shops and kebab stores facing the street on the ground floor. It would stretch the imagination to suggest that both last night’s and yesterday evening’s strikes were both misdirected. Maybe these are attempts to assassinate individuals associated with the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the region. Maybe there is some other sinister purpose to what is going on. Maybe this is the beginning of a renewed onslaught upon Kharkiv before the summer fighting season comes to a close - which, judging by the sudden change in weather, might be very soon.
My hotel appears to have locked its guests inside. Nevertheless I am now going to try to escape my temporary prison and walk to work. There is still much to be done, and perhaps by reason of the chaos and disruption caused by the overnight attacks we are short staffed. When an attack such as this takes place, everyone calls or messages their friends and family to make sure they are alright. I received a number of such messages, and I am truly grateful. I feel privileged to be part of the Ukrainian family.