By CARA ANNA and MSTYSLAV CHERNOV
KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — She had gone out to feed the cats when the shelling began.
It was afternoon, a residential neighborhood, a time to get errands done. But there is nothing routine about life near the front line in Ukraine.
Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city and a short drive from the Russian border, lives with the low thunder of distant artillery and the sickening booms of shells exploding much closer to home.
Natalia Kolesnik, like other residents, learned to live with the risks. Then, in a grassy courtyard on a hot and sweaty Thursday, the shelling caught her.
She was one of three bodies on the littered ground.
One body appeared unrecognizable. A second, with a torn yellow dress and a blue slipper blown off, lay beside a splintered wooden bench. Next to it, there was a box of half-eaten fruit, cherries and apples, speckled with blood.
Inside a purse left on the bench, a mobile phone rang.
Kolesnik was nearby.
Her husband, Viktor, arrived in shock. He didn’t want to let her go. He stroked her head.
“Dad, that’s it,” his son Olexander said, watching as first responders waited to close the body bag. “She is dead. Get up.”
“Don’t you understand?” his father asked.
“What don’t I understand?” the son said. “This is my mother. Dad, please. Dad, please.”
Kneeling, Viktor embraced what was left of his wife, one arm cradling her shoulder, his stubbled chin pressed against the grit on her face.
He picked up her left hand and placed it again, covering it with his own.
The pleading continued. Viktor again shoved his son’s hand away.
“I can’t go.”
“Look, you are covered with blood. People need to carry her away.”
Viktor began to close the body bag himself, then the first responders took over.
As neighbors watched from the edge of a field, and as authorities began their now-routine hunt for shrapnel, Viktor was left alone on a bench to cry.
“Why were these people killed? Terrible. I’m sick of it,” neighbor Sergey Pershin said. “Every night we wake up 10 times and wait when they start shooting. What are these bastards doing? There are residential buildings here. Why are they shooting here? There is nothing here.”
It was just one day in Kharkiv, where hundreds have died in 19 weeks of war. As Russia reassembles its troops to try to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine, it is safe to say more dead are to come.
As of Sunday, the United Nations human rights office had verified at least 4,889 civilians killed across Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, a number it said likely represented a vast undercount.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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