Ukrainian firefighters on a risky mission to save lives and homes

Thick gray smoke billows from the roof as firefighters reach the brick house, one of several houses hit by Russian shelling in a residential part of Kostiantinivka.

The city in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province has come under intense bombardment in recent days as the Russians attempt to seize nearby Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces have been pinned down during a grueling battle that began last summer.

According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian forces are attacking Kostiantinivka with cluster bombs and rockets. Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk province, said one person was killed and at least three civilians injured after several rounds of Russian shelling on Saturday.

An attack on the city a day earlier injured eight people and destroyed or damaged more than a dozen homes. The barrages have overwhelmed local firefighters, who are taking great risks putting out fires in buildings and cars even as the shelling continues.

The air is heavy with smoke and the pungent smell of explosives as firefighters deploy a hose. They smash the windows of the brick house and spray water from the outside.

There are no people inside, but a dog is trapped in a cage in the backyard. A firefighter opens the gate and the dog runs out through the smoke and debris.

The head of the unit tells his team to stop what they are doing.

“Attention everyone. Air raid!” he shouts.

The fire department takes cover behind the house. They sit still as explosions go off nearby. One lights a cigarette.

It is unclear whether the blasts are a new wave of attacks or secondary blasts caused by fires in the area. Either way, the explosions get too close and the leader of the team orders everyone to return to the truck.

As they run down the dirt road, another loud explosion rocks the neighborhood and sends a plume of smoke into the sky not far from the house they just left.


Associated Press Author Karl Ritter in Kiev contributed to this report.


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