DONETSK: Civilians queuing for aid handouts in Ukraine’s rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Friday became the five latest casualties of a conflict which makes daily life a gamble, for those who haven’t already fled.
Municipal workers in the self-proclaimed separatist capital in eastern Ukraine used white sheets to cover the shattered bodies of the victims in front of the Kuybyshev Cultural Centre, a known aid distribution point.
Kalashnikov-toting rebel fighters locked down the area, accusing Ukrainian loyalists of deliberately targeting civilians in the bloody nine-month conflict.
Amid the chaos of blown-out windows, buildings pockmarked by shrapnel and the constant thump of artillery, no one seemed to notice the dead man still sat behind the wheel of his car.
“A member of my family died here. He brought people in his car so they could collect humanitarian aid. The shell hit his car, he was torn apart,” Vera, 56, told Agence France- Presse.
“It was targeted fire because people queue here every day,” said Alexandra, 50. “Everyone knows about it.”
A few hundred metres (yards) away on Matrossov Avenue, another shell stopped the number 14 trolleybus in its tracks.
Two elderly people lay face down, dead on the pavement, their blood slowly turning the snow pink.
“The shells were getting closer since this morning. This one hit the middle of the street,” said Alexander Khandurin, seeking shelter in the doorway to his apartment building.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe took photographs and measurements, before leaving as the shelling increased.
Pedestrians ran across the street, stopping only to crouch next to a wall as the explosions got closer.
The sadness and desperation of Donetsk’s residents was etched on the faces of passengers aboard a public transport minibus as it drove past the stricken trolleybus,
Civilians have borne the brunt of a recent intensification of violence, with 19 killed in Donetsk in 24 hours, one of the bloodiest tolls since the beginning of the conflict that has killed at least 5,100, according to the United Nations.
Civilians living in these northern Donetsk neighbourhoods have suffered almost daily casualties because of their proximity to intense fighting around the nearby airport, itself now a ruin.
One elderly woman contemplated the trolleybus shell through her broken windows.
“It happened half-an-hour ago,” she says, struggling to describe what happened.
Unable to continue talking, she disappeared behind a blanket used to keep out the freezing Ukrainian winter wind and to hide her emotions.
Shrapnel also struck buildings on nearby streets.
“Look! A child was sleeping here!” cried a woman, pointing to a bed surrounded by cuddly toys beneath a blown-out window.
“It’s been increasing since a week. It’s every day,” said Valentina, 65. “It starts in the morning and lasts until nighttime.”
“So we stay put over there,” she added, pointing to a sheltered spot between two doorways. “That’s why we’re still alive. We tell the boy it’s fireworks.”
She and her family have stayed put so far, though six other families have left her building
But as the shelling intensifies, she increasingly asks herself an unanswerable question: “What are we going to do?”