by Askold Krushelnycky, Mykolaiv
Barely able to suppress her tears, Tetyana Khayitova pleaded: “Please tell me that miracles are sometimes possible.”
She, her daughter, Valeria, and her sister-in-law, Irena Khayitova, on Friday, were on the fourth day of a dreadful vigil near the ruins of the main administration building of Ukraine’s port city of Mykolaiv, which was devastated by a Russian missile, which demolished most of the structure killing and wounding dozens of people last Tuesday (March 29) morning.
Tetyana’s husband, Stanislav, was one of some 200 people in the building when it was hit and on Friday as corpses continued to be pulled from under the rubble she was still hoping that he had somehow survived.
As we looked at the building Russian shells exploded close by and a rocket flew overhead. We ran to a basement doubling as a shelter near the remains of the ruined building. Here we waited for sirens to sound the all-clear, while the three women told me their story. Broken glass from surrounding buildings, including the local government offices, crunched underfoot as people scurried to the entrance to the shelter.
By yesterday 28 dead bodies had been pulled out of the rubble and more than 30 people were in hospital, some with serious injuries, from the missile strike. Tetyana, 52, said her husband was in charge of maintenance and security at the 10-storey building which had housed the regional administration and the office of Mykolaiv region’s charismatic governor, Vitaliy Kim.
While Kim admitted that his life had been saved because he was late for work that morning, Stanislav Khayitov had gone to work early and was in the building when it was hit shortly before 9am. “We live nearby and heard a terrific explosion that blew open the doors of our apartment.
“I immediately called my husband. The phone rang but there was no answer. I and my daughter ran here and we saw that the part of the building on the ground floor with Stanislav’s office was completely destroyed.”
Soon after they arrived they were joined by Stanislav’s sister, Irena, and the three have spent most of the days – limited by the 8pm to 6am curfews – watching as rescue services carefully remove the rubble and search for victims.
“They have only pulled out dead people and we’ve been told there is very little chance that Stanislav could have survived. But they say that some of the floor his office was on has collapsed into the basement below. I’m hoping that Stanislav its in a cavity under the rubble and is still alive,” Tetyana said.
Valeria, who is 15 and still in school, folded an arm around her mother and said: “We’ve been told there isn’t much chance that my father is alive. But we pray and we hope. We will keep returning here until we find out.”
Stanislav’s sister said that he and his fellow workers knew that the building was a target. The administration HQ in the eastern city of Kharkiv, another city that has been relentlessly bombarded by the besieging Russian army, was destroyed by a rocket strike in the first days of the war.
Irena, 33, said: “He couldn’t stay away because he was the person that made that building function. He was in charge of the power systems, communications, heating, the security cameras around it and everything else. He knew the risk but he never contemplated staying away.
“We have watched only dead people being pulled out of the rubble although everyone hopes a live person will be rescued. I hope my brother is one of them.”
The army press officer escorting me to the ruined building, First Lieutenant Dmytriy Pletenchuk, said: “Everyone who worked in that building knew the risks they were running. After the missile struck I spoke to some of the survivors and they said they continued to come to their offices because they wanted to do their part to keep the city running despite the daily attacks by the Russians. In that sense they are all heroes.”
Lt Pletenchuk later told The Times that the Russian artillery and rocket strikes had not caused any casualties. Governor Kim had become a target for the Russians because the inspiring videos he posts regularly reporting what is happening in his defiant city had made him a well-known figure not only in Ukraine but beyond. Because they frequently mock Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his army they are know to infuriate the Kremlin.
But Lt Pletenchuk added: “The morning of the attack was also the start of possible ceasefire talks between Ukraine and Russia that were held that day in Turkey. The Russians have made a habit of attacking civilian targets just before such talks because they seem to think it will frighten people into putting pressure on our leaders to surrender or make concessions. It has the opposite effect and only makes people more determined to destroy the Russians and drive them out.”