The explosions started in the middle of the night, shaking the house to its foundations. Roof timbers splintered and windows shattered, sending shards of glass hurtling above the three sleeping children into the opposite wall.
It was around 2 a.m. and Iryna Martsyniuk had stayed up late watching a video on her laptop while her children slept. She didn’t know what it was that was hitting her house – mortars, rockets or missiles. All she knew was that in the dead of night, everything was exploding.
It wasn’t the first time the village of Velyka Kostromka, just a few kilometers (miles) from the southern front line in the war in Ukraine, was being hit. But this early morning attack was the most intense, and most widespread.
Local residents picked up jagged pieces of shrapnel. A farmer raked over a small crater left by an explosion in his potato field.
In Martsyniuk’s home, an initial blast woke up the children. In tears, 7-year-old Maksym hid under his blanket. His twin sister Karyna and their 6-year-old brother clasped their mother in terror as she tried to calm them. The roof splintered and collapsed. But the ceiling above their heads held fast.
She grabbed the children and ran toward the entrance. But the corridor wasn’t there any more. Instead, they saw the starry night. Five times they tried to leave the house, and five times they failed as more ordnance exploded around them.
They hid inside, terrified, until the explosions subsided, but then found they couldn’t get out the front door. Instead, they climbed out of the house through a back window and ran down the road to a relative’s house. None of them was hurt.
The family’s home is now beyond repair. A once towering walnut tree in the front garden lies splintered and broken. The roof has caved in, and piles of rubble lie around the front door. Inside, a child’s drawing of a happy family outside a yellow house just like Martsyniuk’s lies on the floor, shrapnel tears in the paper.
Martsyniuk is now staying with relatives in the village. Elsewhere in the village, local resident Anatolii Virko picked up pieces of shrapnel scattered around fields and villages, and surveyed the damage to an abandoned house whose property he uses to tend to his beehives. He pulled back plastic sheeting to reveal an old Russian piano standing in the front yard. Placing the pieces of shrapnel carefully on the top of the piano, he began to play. “Yes, it’s a war,” he said. “But music is eternal.”