The city has not come under massive bombardment but is the target of random strikes at any hour, day or night, and they can be deadly

“Close the window, smoke is getting in,” a policeman yells. Vyacheslav Pavlov and his elderly mother live on the ninth floor in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv and the next-door flat is ablaze after a Russian rocket attack.

The city has not come under massive bombardment but is the target of random strikes at any hour, day or night, and they can be deadly.

The eastern and north-eastern districts are hit the most and that’s where 86-year-old Tamara Pavlovna and her son live on Working Hero Street.

Some 20 apartment towers rise up along the road, each 11 storeys high, surrounded by gardens dotted with swings and slides for children.

Three rockets struck within a few seconds on Friday, just after 4:00 pm.

One destroyed a sex shop on the other side of the street.

A second hit a residential tower and the third left a hole in the ground next to the pavement.

No one was hurt.

‘Saved by the door’

Police told the old lady she had to leave her home, with barely time to stuff a few items into a small backpack.

The lift is broken and Pavlovna goes down the stairs wearing a white head scarf.

Outside, she sits waiting on a bench, a little lost and stressed.

“My son has been looking after me for eight years,” she says.

“He does not want to leave and I cannot take the decision alone.

“For a month and a half, the Russians have been bombing here in this district, non-stop.”

The border with Russia is 30 kilometres off, as the crow flies.

At the start of the invasion in late February, Moscow tried to seize control of Kharkiv, in vain. Ukrainian forces repelled the assault several kilometres from the town after bitter fighting.

Ukraine has since retaken several small areas to the southeast, but Kharkiv remains within the reach of Russian artillery.

On Working Hero Street, firefighters have trained water hoses on the blazing apartment and clouds of black smoke climb skywards.

Next door, Pavlov has duly closed the balcony window and is smoking a cigarette on the landing.

“When the second strike hit the neighbouring apartment, the door saved us by blocking the flying glass,” he explains.

‘Terrifying night’

Further east on Peace Street, a rocket smashed into a hotel-restaurant the previous evening.

Surveillance cameras from a leather shop across the road timed the strike at 22:02.

On the black and white video images, a white fog appears suddenly and pieces of wood fly as if in a hurricane. The headlights on two nearby cars start to flash.

Most of the restaurant has been destroyed.

In the leather shop, Ivan is knocking nails into planks of woods to seal up the blown-out windows.

“Every pane of glass has been broken, everything is damaged, the door has been ripped off.

“We’ll try and patch it up today to protect the shop. Shell splinters have torn away the metal like paper. The whole ceiling came down.”

“This is the ‘Russian world’, he says, refusing to give his full name.

In the car park behind the shop, two representatives of a protestant church arrive carrying bags of supplies for a family. Their seven-year-old child is asked by the churchmen to pray every day.

“My child went to bed at 8:00 pm,” says Yelena, whose apartment is right behind the hotel restaurant.

“At 10 it all started, everything shook,” she recalls.

“There were two strikes, later there were more, we were no longer able to sleep and spent all night in the corridor.

“It was a terrifying night,” she says, black bags under tear-reddened eyes.