Fear in east Ukraine's Donetsk as shells hit homes

Donetsk - Tatyana had just stepped out of the small kitchen in her Donetsk flat when an explosion blasted through the windows, shattering all the glass.

Her tiny studio flat complete with a large stuffed dog and a portrait of the Virgin Mary, is on east Ukraine's new frontline as shelling and missile attacks reach deeper into the city centre.

The bloody war between Ukrainian forces and separatist insurgents is seeing shelling and missile attacks on residential areas of the leafy coal-mining city that once had a million inhabitants.

"I was in here, but thank God I had stepped into the bathroom," Tatyana said of the attack on Thursday afternoon.

"There was an explosion, glass was flying. The plates were swept off the table," she recollected.

The gaping windows of her kitchen and living room look onto a belt of dense woodland, from where AFP heard shelling on Friday.

Locals disagreed on who is responsible.

"I doubt that it was the [rebel] Donetsk People's Republic forces," said 51-year-old Tatyana.

"There's too many people on their side in this area, for them to shoot us."


"This is awful... I can't forgive [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko," said Natalya, a middle-aged woman in a stripy T-shirt who runs a local residents' association.

But Lyudmila, a seamstress, said she saw rebels gathering shrapnel and believed they were concealing evidence "so people don't find out where it came from - Russia."

She said she planned to go to "where there is Ukraine, where there is no Donetsk People's Republic, no Lugansk People's Republic, and no terrorism."

The damage in western Donetsk is widespread and seemingly random, hitting multi-story apartment blocks, schools and detached houses.

In one block of flats, the side wall has a roundish hole clear through to a flat on the eighth floor, surrounded by a charred black stain. Luckily the owners were away, neighbours said.

A young mother living in the area, Natalya, showed AFP a crater and what appeared to be part of a missile, in a kindergarten playground.

The city's mayor's office said three were killed in Thursday's attacks.

The reality of the shelling has pushed many residents to finally flee the city.

"We hate it here, we'll probably go away," said Natalya, a young woman in leggings with plaited hair, who said she and her four-year-old son were thrown against the wall by the force of the blast.

As she spoke, the sound of shelling rang out, sending locals running for cover.

Gaping holes

In an attack reaching into central Donetsk on Thursday afternoon, shelling damaged a hospital that treats those with jaw and facial injuries.

Windows were blown out on all the five floors. A huge hole gaped in one wall and inside, dentist chairs were twisted and tossed around wards and covered with a layer of blackish dust.

"We crawled on all fours with our patients, it was scary," said Anna Kuropatova, a nurse in charge of one of the wards.

A young man died after being dragged into the hospital with a shrapnel injury close to his heart, while three others were wounded, she said.

Kuropatova said her flat is in the frontline zone of Maryinka and for her, the hospital bombardment was the final straw after 26 years working there.

"I am leaving now - for Russia," she said.