The day had barely begun for residents of Mariupol’s eastern district when the rockets fell. Some were buying groceries at the market, some were taking a morning stroll with children, and others were having a weekend lie-in.
Yesterday’s strike is the most serious incident so far this year in Ukraine’s troubled east. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has intensified in recent days. After the rocket fire, Alexander Zakharchenko, the rebel leader, claimed an offensive to take Mariupol had begun.
Albina Gavrikova, 20, was staying with friends. She woke up to the sound of a rocket striking the apartment block. “The walls were falling in, everything was shaking, and the shock wave was immense.” She said that, as a journalist, she knew the drill about how to behave in such situations, and shouted to her friends to hit the floor and cover their heads. “I’ve never been so terrified in all my life: my entire body was covered in sweat,” Ms Gavrikova told The Independent on Sunday.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
An official count last night put the number of dead at least 30, including two children, and 96 injured, including seven children. Medical staff at the city hospital estimated that half of the 25 people who had been admitted to their care remained in a “critical” state. The number of dead and injured is expected to increase over coming days.
A Mariupol city council press release claimed that reconnaissance had shown three loads of rockets had been fired, with 40 rockets per load.
Ole Solvang, a senior researcher in the emergencies division of the NGO Human Rights Watch, arrived in Mariupol within a few hours of the shelling. Crater analysis had shown “fairly definitively” that the missiles were coming from an eastern direction, and “most likely” from the area currently controlled by Russian-backed forces. Ukraine has repeatedly alleged that Russian forces are involved in the conflict, something that Russia has denied.
Mr Solvang added that they had been unable to identify any discernible military target in the immediate area of the attack, and that locals claimed the nearest military checkpoint was two kilometres away.
Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called the incident “a reckless, indiscriminate and disgraceful attack aimed at a heavily populated residential area”. The head of the OSCE monitoring mission, Ertugrul Apakan, said that women, children and the elderly were among the victims.
Speaking at a vigil for the 13 people killed during Thursday’s shelling of a busy transport exchange to the south of Donetsk, Mr Zakharchenko claimed that an offensive to take Mariupol had begun and that, within two days, his forces would have encircled Debaltseve, another vulnerable Ukrainian-held town north-east of Donetsk. There was “no better way to pay respect to those killed”, he said.
Large parts of Mariupol were without electricity last night. Dmitry Chaly, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said that, while the shelling had halted, he could not rule out the possibility of rebels launching further strikes which, he added, could potentially reach the city centre.
Serhiy Taruta, a local MP and former regional governor who has been involved in the defence of Mariupol, was appalled by the attack. “Top commanders of the Russian army should be held responsible for the death of every Ukrainian citizen killed in this war,” he said.
Additional reporting by Charlie CooperReuse content