“It was a close call” — Eyewitness account from the scene of Russian missile attack in Kyiv

"Inside, the ceiling and walls are completely cracked, offices, locker rooms, gyms, and a medical room are destroyed. Only the entrance is left of the gym. Some of the walls have completely crumbled," says Oleksandr Yegorov, director of the Lokomotiv sports complex in Kyiv. These are the consequences of the Russian missile attack on Kyiv on 23 January.

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Texty.org.ua visited one of the sites of the attack in the Solomianskyi district of Kyiv. Read our report about what happened there a few hours after the Russian missile attack.

Good morning

While all over the civilised world people were preparing for a normal working day, Kyiv residents were fleeing from missiles.

I didn't hear the air alarm, but at six in the morning I heard my boyfriend receive a phone call. Then I heard a muffled explosion somewhere in the distance, outside the city. I realised it was his mum calling to warn us about the missile attack. She wakes up early in the morning and always calls to warn about the shelling of Kyiv. Our city was targeted again.

Half an hour after her call, rockets started exploding not in the suburbs, but in the capital itself. The blue pre-dawn sky was torn apart by red flashes - somewhere between the clouds, Ukrainian air defence missiles were fighting the enemy's "X-s" and "Iskanders".

Consequences of the Russian missile attack on Kyiv
Consequences of the Russian missile attack on Kyiv

Dozens of explosions, a lull, and then the news: missiles and their fragments hit residential areas of the capital, injuring more than 20 people. The Russians also attacked Pavlohrad in the Dnipro region and Kharkiv.

In Kharkiv, a direct missile strike collapsed the entrance of a residential building. More than 50 people were injured in the city and eight died in the attack. Among them was a 21-year-old girl, just a year younger than I.

A few hours later, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Russians do not attack civilians.

The red passenger car

In Kyiv, rocket debris has hit civilian infrastructure in several districts. I am heading to the Lokomotiv sports complex, which is located not far from the capital's railway station. Part of the building, painted in bright green and red stripes (the club colours of the football club of the same name), has been destroyed down to the foundation. Pieces of tiles, glass, bricks, red and green tiles are lying on the sidewalk nearby.

Near the sports complex, a man wearing a cap, a long down coat, sweatpants and sneakers is giving an interview to journalists. The coat has a bright red and green football club logo on it. This is the director of the sports complex, Oleksandr Yegorov.

At the time of the attack, Yehorov was on his way to work, in a hurry for a morning meeting. Some of the complex's employees were already at work, but some were stuck in the subway and traffic jams that had formed during the air raid. Visitors to the complex were already gathering, people who had come to play sports, and they went to the basement, to wait out the missile threat.

Emergency workers clear the rubble of a sports complex
Emergency workers clear the rubble of a sports complex

But it was this building that was hit. Judging by the damage, it was a rocket fragment, because I did not see any traces of the fire that occurs after a rocket explosion. It hit directly into the building where people were hiding in the basement. This saved them. Even so, two people were hospitalised.

"Here's the car of the woman who is now in hospital, she drove it here," Yegorov points to a red car parked near the sports complex. - "The woman had just parked when the explosions started, she immediately went for cover.

Shortly before we spoke with Yehorov, I saw volunteers taping up this car - it was also damaged by the explosion.

The women came in this car to go in for sports. Volunteers seal the car with plastic wrap
The women came in this car to go in for sports. Volunteers seal the car with plastic wrap

The building that was hit by the missile is where most of the training sessions take place during the cold season.

"There was a gym, a tennis room, basketball, volleyball and football halls, all the changing rooms, and an office space. The State Emergency Service is not allowing us to go inside to take our personal belongings, but the damage is very serious. We are warned that the building may not be able to be restored," said Yegorov.

Spilled coffee

Several other buildings are located right next to the sports complex, including a dormitory for Ukrzaliznytsia employees, the Kyiv College of Construction, Architecture and Design, and a high-rise residential building. These and several other buildings nearby were damaged by the blast wave.

The small brick building of the dormitory, which is located directly opposite the sports complex, has no windows. About a hundred people (railway workers and their families) used to live there, but they were all evacuated after the shelling and later allowed to go home.

A dormitory
A dormitory

Nearby there is a residential building with its residents standing outside. They look up at their homes with sadness. Fourteen floors up and dozens of broken windows. From the courtyard, you can spy on someone's quiet life until this morning: laundry is drying on the balconies, tangled blinds are swaying in the wind, and someone's furniture is peeking out of the bare windows, and it is already covered with snow.

A young woman in a tracksuit stands next to the parked cars, talking on the phone. This is Katya, a resident of the apartment block. At the time of the explosion, she was in the apartment with her 5-year-old daughter and her brother. During the alarm, Katya and her child went inside the apartment, away from the windows. And just before the missile strike she fell asleep.

A residential building near the stadium
A residential building near the stadium

"I woke up from the explosion, I saw my brother brother lying on the floor, mu daughter was crying, screaming, asking where we would live now," says Katya. - "And at that moment, like a fool, I say that everything is fine, everything will be okay, nothing happened. Now we are cleaning the apartment, the child is in kindergarten, and she have calmed down a bit, they take it easier than we adults.

Like a fool, I say that everything is fine, everything is fine, nothing happened

"And how is your brother?"

"He spilled some coffee and got angry about it."

I was going to have a lesson

During our conversation with Katia, the air raid alert is announced in Kyiv again. The woman's hands start shaking, but she holds herself back and continues talking. Other residents of the building run for cover - they don't want to take any more risks.

Two local volunteer organisations, LOS SOLOMAS and Solomiansky Kotiks, are helping the emergency workers and residents near the house. If there is a missile strike in the Solomiansky district, they put out a call for help on their social media, and anyone who wants to help can join in right on the spot. They ask the volunteers to bring gloves, and all other tools will be provided.

Volunteers help clean up glass shards
Volunteers help clean up glass shards

Maria and Daryna are two volunteers who are cleaning even though there is a new air alarm, and therefore a missile threat. They are invited to go to the basement, but they just say "thank you" and continue to work. Maria, a young girl with long blonde hair, holds a bag with a pile of glass. The yard of the house is completely covered with shards of glass mixed with ice.

The air raid alert is announced again in Kyiv. The woman`s hands begin to shake, but she restrains herself

Soon, trucks with slabs of wood shavings will arrive to cover the broken windows. The house is not an emergency, so people can continue to live here. The plates will cover the broken windows until new ones are installed.

Maria, who lives in Solomiansky district, says this is her second time volunteering, so she was preparing to go to help as soon as she arrived and the alarm was over. She coordinated with her friend Daryna.

Daryna lives far away from here, but she came anyway - she is a student at a college located near the sports complex. She was going to study here in the morning, but came to help clean up the glass shards.

"Teachers, students, everyone is in shock," says Daryna - "Classes have been moved to a remote format for at least a week. But I can see that the college building has been seriously damaged - there's a big crack there," she points to the pink facade. - "And there's also a crack on the wall on the other side".

Broken glass and a crack on the college facade
Broken glass and a crack on the college facade

"What does someone who wants to volunteer need?" I ask the girls.

"Desire," Daryna and Maria answer in unison.

"And here you can get bags, gloves, tea, coffee - everything you need," Maria explains.

The residents of the apartment block

Despite the air alarm, a lot of people are bustling around the grey house. Rescuers are scurrying back and forth, clearing the rubble of the sports complex, volunteers cleaning the yard, and police officers recording the damage. I asked one of the police officers how many apartments were damaged.

"I can't tell you exactly yet," the man in uniform explains.

Even a few hours after the arrival, the affected residents continue to fill out documents for state aid.

Iryna, an elderly resident of the building with bright orange hair, took a pile of glass out of her apartment. There was also a large vase of blue flowers in the trash that had fallen due to the blast wave and broken. The vase was in the kitchen, where Irina herself had been standing a few seconds before the arrival. She decided to go out into the corridor because she heard the sounds of air defence systems.

Olena, Iryna's neighbour, also had her windows smashed. She lives on the 14th floor, and at the time of the missile strike, she was standing by the windows, getting ready for work and preparing breakfast. She saw a bright flash, and the windows in her apartment were blown out. And then she saw the destruction at the sports complex from her window.

"At first, I didn't realise that a missile shot down by air defence had probably hit there (the Kyiv authorities and the State Emergency Service did not specify whether the sports complex was hit by a missile or its fragments - ed.). I thought it was the Russians who deliberately hit it, just like they did at Lokomotyv in Kharkiv (in September 2022, the Russians hit the Lokomotyv sports complex named after H. Kirpa in Kharkiv - ed.). It was such a gorgeous sports complex. And here so many children and adults are training, I can see it from the window."

While talking to Olena, I can smell the herbal smell of Corvalol, which she must have taken earlier to calm down. She tells me that she was very nervous when misille hit the building.

"It's such a horrible story and I'm so stressed, I don't even fully understand what happened. Only now I think that it was morning, people were getting ready and going to work," says Olena. - "It was a close call, the missile could have hit our house, and even more people would have been injured".

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