Anger at army as small town near Ukraine rebel hub smoulders

Anger at army as small town near Ukraine rebel hub smoulders
A man stands in his burned flat after shelling in the town of Yasynuvata near the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on August 12, 2014.

YASYNUVATA - Alexandra swept up glass outside the bank where she works in a small town in eastern Ukraine where fires still burned a hour after rockets rained down on its centre.

"It was exactly at 3:00 pm," the elderly woman in a flowered housecoat told AFP. "There was smoke everywhere, everything was on fire. It was scary, the building has no ceiling now." The small town of Yasynuvata lies some 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of rebel bastion Donetsk in eastern Ukraine where government troops are waging a fierce battle to unseat the pro-Russian separatists.

As residents worked busily to put out the flames, they were in no doubt over who was to blame for the destruction.

"It's the first time they've bombed the centre so severely," said local resident Yelena. "It's all the Ukrainian army. They'll just kill us." Four apartment buildings were severely damaged and smoke was still billowing out from charred stalls in the central market when AFP reporters arrived at the scene.

An explosion had torn through the roof of the bank, while a nearby nine-storey apartment block had a huge hole on the sixth floor. Lower down on the same building, another impact hole was visible, surrounded by charred marks.

Stall holders at the market selling clothes and household goods were scooping water from gutters to help put out the fire.

"People were working here, people were trading," said the market's director, who refused to give her name.

Residents said several had been injured, including a woman who was hit by a tree. There were also reports of at least one death - a 15-year-old boy who some said had died in a fire. Firefighters at the scene declined to comment.

How do I keep on living?

As locals worked to clear the wreckage, many expressed anger at the Ukrainian army.

"I have six children, how do I keep on living? My flat is blown to bits," said a resident of the damaged nine-storey block, Vladimir, his hands blackened.

"Why are they shooting at peaceful people? We don't have those DNR (Donetsk People's Republic), those rebels," said another resident, Galina Konstantinovna, referring to the rebels' self-proclaimed state.

Across the street a shell had apparently pierced the roof of a five-storey block of flats and entered the brick-walled balcony of a newly decorated top-floor apartment, peppering it with shrapnel.

"I'm no expert but people who served in the forces say it was a Grad," said the owner, Dmitry, a tattooed 39-year-old train driver, as he scooped up fragments of rubble and threw them out from the remains of his balcony.

The missile then apparently went through to the balcony of the flat below, setting fire to a bedroom where a blackened shell remained. Much of the furniture in the room was still visibly intact, suggesting there was no explosion.

Residents showed what looked like the crushed silver metal tube of a Grad missile they said hit the block of flats.

Firefighters were still dousing a blaze in another five-storey apartment building where three floors were charred and smoking.

As they worked, a woman was being comforted by neighbours, who said her 15-year-old son had died in the fire.

Watching the firefighters, Natalya, who works for the local railway company, said that her third-floor flat was entirely destroyed.

Holding a handbag, she said she had rushed over from her work in Donetsk when she heard the news.

"I have nothing, a bag, and that's all," she said.

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