Shelling ravages east Ukraine, with or without truce

KRAMATORSK: Standing on broken glass in her wrecked living room, Valentina Balabai thanked her love of animals for keeping her and her husband alive that morning.“When the shells hit he was out walking my dog and I was feeding some stray cats — otherwise we’d both be corpses,” the blonde pensioner told AFP.Just hours earlier Ukraine’s Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko had announced he was relaunching Kiev’s military offensive against pro-Russian insurgents after 10 days of a supposed ceasefire had failed to halt daily fighting.Now Ukraine’s brutal conflict had torn through the lives of the residents of tree-lined Skadinova street in the rebel-held city of Kramatorsk.“People were just going to market and then the firing started,” Balabai said as her husband Yuriy hammered wooden boards across their smashed-up windows. “Two bodies were lying here, two there, and another over the road.”Mortar craters pockmarked the asphalt and several shop fronts were blown out and homes badly damaged.Smashed glass and blood stains marked the place where locals said a minivan taxi had been hit, killing four people instantly. A set of false teeth lay in the street.Ukrainian politicians have been under increasing pressure from an anxious public in Kiev to renounce the ceasefire and come down hard on the rebels.Now, desperate to appear tough, they claimed they had launched a ferocious all-out attack using tanks and fighter bombers on rebel positions.An AFP crew travelling north through rebel-held areas from the regional capital Donetsk, however, saw no sign yet of the alleged onslaught.In Kramatorsk, once an unremarkable provincial city of some 170,000, residents said that in reality the end of the truce by Kiev had changed little on the ground.This was not the first time — and it would not be the last, they said — that the town had come under fire.“They announced a ceasefire but still continued to shoot,” shopkeeper Yevgenia Maluta said.Staring up at a gaping hole where a neighbour’s balcony had been, she said that she only expected the situation to deteriorate.“I think that things will get worse now.” Anger was not just directed against the authorities in Kiev however.Blinking through his thick glasses, local resident Sergiy said he had no idea who was responsible for that morning’s bombardment.“Who knows who shot. It’s impossible to say in a situation like this,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.He was angry though that rebel fighters were based in buildings around the residential area.“If they want to defend the town then they should go out to the front and defend it, not hide here among the civilians,” the wizened pensioner said.In a nearby courtyard filled with wild flowers, a group of women gathered on a bench to swap details on how much damage their homes had sustained. And to lament about life.“How can we live like this?” demanded Valentyna Pshechenko, waving her walking stick.“We’re not getting pensions, there is no food in the shops and we’re forced to hide in cellars.” “Do we really look like terrorists?”

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