First rocket strike sparks solidarity wave in Ukraine city

·4-min read

In Zaporizhzhia, trees were in bud and life was peaceful in this southeastern city, despite the war raging nearby -- until a rocket hit last Thursday, prompting a huge outpouring of solidarity.

Gennady Kungurtsev, 71, was in the loo and his wife Katerina, 66, was making coffee when the walls of their home shook at about 9:00 am.

Bit of shrapnels burst into the room, notably embedding themselves in the fridge, which protected Katerina.

The roof was shattered, the garage door bent inwards, the metal garden gate torn off its hinges.

No-one knows why they were targeted in a neighbourhood far from any industry, warehouses or military infrastructure.

It was the first Russian strike on homes in Zaporizhzhia, a large city in the south which has become the main crossroads for those being evacuated from the east and the besieged southern port city of Mariupol.

On TV, the army's spokesman in Zaporizhzhia Ivan Arefyev said a Russian army air-to-surface missile had hit the area, wounding three people, one of them a child who suffered "serious injuries to the leg".

"I don't know what they were targeting. I can't explain it," said the couple's son, Anatoly Kungurtsev who arrived seven minutes after the strike, full of sarcasm about the "strategic value" of his father's tools and old shovel which, he says, must have put them on Moscow's hit list.

Across the road, the neighbours weren't so lucky -- their house reduced to a pile of rubble. Although their old yellow Lada was spared, it still took a battering in the attack.

And the force of the blast blew out all the windows next door.

- 'All for one and one for all' -

But one day after the war burst into this quiet neighbourhood, dozens of people could be seen working together to clear the debris, to pile up the rubble and salvage what could be saved, working alongside the electricians and civil protection agents sent by City Hall.

Many had no ties to the neighbourhood, and didn't even know anyone living there but had turned up in a show of solidarity.

One is Yevgeny Chernobay, a huge 17-year-old who looks like he's 25, his massive upper body honed by bodybuilding and boxing.

"A friend rang me to ask him to come this morning," the brawny but shy teen told AFP.

"Now it's all for one and one for all" in Ukraine, he said.

"Everyone needs help".

Anatoly Kungurtsev says he's had countless calls since people heard what happened to his parents.

"They're offering help, money, manpower," he said as he rummages through two large bags filled with sharp, twisted bits of metal from the rocket.

- 'Brought out the best in us' -

One of the pieces is a serial number which includes characters from the Cyrillic alphabet used in both Russia and Ukraine.

In a war where information is a powerful weapon used by both sides, it is impossible to clearly say whether the rocket was Russian or Ukrainian given that both sides use the same Soviet-era weapons.

One man hints that it may have been a stray projectile fired by Ukraine's anti-aircraft defences, but he doesn't seem very convinced.

Another person helping out is local steelworker Alex Koshelenko who has the day off work.

"If we can help, why not," he says, repeating a phrase heard across the country as people have turned out to help their fellow citizens.

AFP has come across volunteers going out to rescue elderly people trapped in the worst-hit areas, while others have taken food and medicine to those sheltering from the Russian bombardment.

"War has brought out the best in the Ukrainians," he told AFP, saying the people wanted to show that "things are different here" than in Russia.

"On the ruins of what Russia has left us, we are building a new country with new values."

Like many others, Anatoly Kungurtsev believes the conflict will transform his nation.

"Ukraine will be an incredible country after the war," he told AFP, using a phrase uttered by many -- none of whom could ever conceive of Ukraine being defeated.

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