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'The terror against civilians continues': CNN goes into Kharkiv
05:06 - Source: CNN
Kharkiv, Ukraine CNN  — 

In a metro station in Kharkiv, a young woman holds up a toy car, a stuffed bear and a juice carton to a group of elementary school-age children.

“These are objects we come across in our daily lives,” Julia Gorlenko, from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, explains. “They’re bright and colorful. But they can also be dangerous.”

She points at a replica model of a small plastic munition that a child might easily mistake as a toy. “This one can rip off your head, your hand or your leg.”

Coloring-in exercises illustrate the differences between everyday childhood objects and potentially fatal explosives.

As Russia continues its weeks-long bombardment of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv’s children are getting a harsh lesson in the realities of war.

Gorlenko is teaching them how to identify Russian explosives. The children are given coloring-in exercises that show them the difference between a grenade and a small football, or a gift box and a stick of dynamite.

“We used to play with all the toys in the sandpit,” says one of the children, 6-year-old Semen, “but now I will be afraid to take them. If you take a toy out of the sandpit, (something) might explode.”

Children in Ukraine's second largest city have lived through weeks-long bombardment from Russian forces.

Life underground

Gorlenko’s lessons take place in a Soviet-era underground station, where thousands of terrified families have sought refuge since Russia’s invasion began on February 24.

Kharkiv, which sits just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border with Russia, has been bombarded with artillery shelling that has hit civilian sites including schools, residential buildings and shops. The most spectacular strike was on the administrative building in its central square just over a month ago but since then there has been near daily shelling of residential areas across the city.

Thousands of terrified families have sought refuge in Kharkiv's metro stations since Russia's invasion began in late February.

Zeena Petukhova, 36, and her husband were celebrating their daughter’s first birthday when their fifth-floor apartment was struck by a mortar four weeks ago. “We were eating cake when we heard a very unusual sound and we knew we had seconds to run to the corridor,” she says.

Zeena shielded her daughter, Alysa, and her husband lay over them both, “like a small pyramid. This is the only reason we survived,” she recalls. The windows were blown out by the explosion and the family has slept in this corner of the metro system ever since.

Some leave the shelter during the day but life above ground can be dangerous. On Sunday, seven people died and 34 were wounded – including three children – after an attack in the Slobidskyi district in the south of the city. Residents told CNN people were sitting on a park bench when a mortar landed nearby.

Last Friday, Ukrainian officials said at least 153 children have been killed and more than 245 children injured in the country during the war. The Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office said it was still working to establish the total number of child casualties in several cities.

Two children color in the various images, a grim education in the current realities of life in their country.

Ghost town

The attacks in Kharkiv have left this once vibrant city a ghost town.

A third of Kharkiv’s 1.4 million population are thought to have fled the city, officials say. Most shops, offices and places to eat are closed and there are few people or cars on the streets. After the night-time curfew, the city is pitch black, the silence punctuated by the sound of artillery fire and air raid sirens.

Below ground, the sounds of war are still within earshot.

Babushka Liuda, 69, moved her family of 12 down to the subway on the first day of the war. “We heard so many bombs that we didn’t know where to run or how to save ourselves,” she says. “At night there is still such a barrage … I wish I could live my old age in peace.”