In Cherniguiv emptied by Russian bombs, a few hours to leave or die

Cherniguiv, an important northern city on the way to the Russian invasion of Kiev, 120 kilometers from the capital, held out for seven days before being destroyed by the Russians.

With each gust, sections of walls, furniture and broken glass come loose to crash down at the base of what remains of the towers in the center of Cherniguiv, destroyed by a Russian bombardment the day before. Eyes on the ground, Sergei slaloms to avoid them, his bag of cat food clinging to his chest like a shield.

“Bodies were everywhere. They were queuing here for the pharmacy and they are all dead,” said the survivor in the same breath, still completely disoriented by the continuous howl of the sirens, warning of an imminent strike. Cherniguiv, an important northern city on the way to the Russian invasion of Kiev, 120 km from the capital, took seven days.

In the eighth, Russian troops showed that it was no longer a matter of fighting or increasing the pressure, but of crushing the city, evoking the most-seen images of desolation since Grozny in Chechnya and 1995. Thursday afternoon, the Russian jets launched from nearby Belarus began to roar, first from afar, then closer and closer.

Arriving above the residential area that also housed a clinic, they unleashed a hail of small propeller-driven devices, spinning in the air, cluster bombs, testifies AFP a resident, Serhiy Bludnyy, who has collected remains, who posted numerous images of the strike on social media.

Less than a ten-minute raid on this still populous district and two neighboring schools that served as soldiers’ rear bases left 47 dead on February 24, one of the deadliest attacks since the beginning of the war.

“But what do these bastards want?!” unleash the survivor, Serhiy Bludnyy, 48, as the terrifying rumble of bombers cuts through the sky again.

The Russian army, which had already broken through to the northeast from Sumy, tried to operate by taking Cherniguiv the intersection with the Russian offensive axis from the north, which was already present on the outskirts of Kiev.

“stay hidden”

To take the city, which usually has 300,000 inhabitants, Moscow seems to have decided to empty it first. The last convoys of civilians left on Friday morning. A disciplined line of several thousand cars drove together towards Kiev, with warning lights on, all taped or a piece of paper with the visible words “CHILDREN” on the windshield.

Petro Bahatyuk, 65, failed to reunite his family to leave in time. “My heart is in pieces, my children have not come out, my grandchildren are still here, and I am coming to pick them up,” said this resident.

In a secret location, fearing to be the next target on the list, some local officials try to organize the survival of the last civilians.

“Today we are making camouflage material for our boys, the priority is to stay hidden from the enemy,” explains Deputy Mayor Regina Gusak of this headquarters.

The other two places, located in the schools targeted the day before, will be lost. Everything was packed in these, floor to ceiling piles of canned goods, warm clothes and in a corner, mattress protectors, for children and the elderly, afraid of losing control of their bladders during the bombing.

Volunteers from the Red Cross also gathered there. “It fell on a house, there’s a fire, we’re going to look, unknown toll,” interrupts one of them before running out in recognition – and into the open air. Ukrainian soldiers are invisible.

Cherniguiv is at the mercy of himself, rescued even more than defended, by a handful of armed volunteers from the “terroborona”, civilians who have joined the territorial defense, paramedics and a few overwhelmed firefighters.

“We’re going to die”

Denis Rokaz, 25, electrician, keffiyeh and combat goggles on his head, crisscrossing the city with a friend in his car, techno at full speed over the sound of sirens and explosions that he no longer pays attention to. “The missiles are night and day anyway. But we’ll fight and help if we can,” the shooter launches, immersed as in a video game, opening his trunk.

Inside is a teddy bear, a medley of drugs and first aid equipment, but also a rocket launcher.

The sensational resistance of the Cherniguiv residents, who just four days ago filmed pushing back with bare hands the first two Russian tanks lost on the road, seems to belong to another era.

Late Friday afternoon, everything accelerated and the residents got stuck in a mousetrap.

Exploded by a rocket, a burning oil depot shrouded in a cloud of unbreathable smoke the entire southern part of the city, the part through which one could still escape.

To the north, west and east, Russian tanks have taken up positions in the plains and undergrowth, pounding everything that comes close, AFP journalists noted.

At the end of the day, the only drivable axis, an antediluvian bridge in the south that spans a river, is in turn pounded.

At the entrance of the bridge, a few civilian cars try anything for everything, while a Sukhoi, a slender, black silhouette, rushes in their direction at a low altitude.

At the first bomb, dropped a few tens of meters from them, everyone collapses on the asphalt, children present screaming in fear.

“We’re going to die if we stay here,” one woman yells. An overwhelmed and terrified Ukrainian police officer crouched behind his vehicle, yelling at them to pass before the next attack. He doesn’t know if the bridge still works. He doesn’t know what awaits them on the other side.

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