Two women slowly approach a makeshift memorial in the village of Hroza. They pause for a moment, carefully laying a red rose each as tears stream down their face.
“My neighbors, my neighbors,” cries Valentina Kozienko, her face puffed red in pure agony. “A lot of our people died there.”
The 73-year-old retiree lives just across the street from the grocery store and cafe hit by what Ukrainian authorities said was a Russian missile, killing 52 people. Her house also partially damaged by the blast.
“It was a powerful strike, very powerful, I came out and everything was burning,” she recalled, the horror of Thursday afternoon’s strike still very present. “It was so scary … The corpses were burned and there was blood everywhere.”
The village, home to around 300 people before the war, was occupied by Russia shortly after the invasion began. Residents say little more than 110 had remained in the village, nearly half of those killed by the strike.
“I knew all of them, they are all from here, from our village,” she said.
Kozienko’s pain all too familiar in this settlement near Kupiansk, in the Kharkiv region.
At the local graveyard, one grave stands out. It belongs to Andrii Kozyr, a Ukrainian soldier who died a year ago in Dnipro. With Hroza back in Ukrainian hands, his son Denis was able to have him re-buried here on Thursday – many of those killed were attending a ceremony in his memory. Nearby, another new headstone with Friday’s date on it showing funerals have started.
Next to it, plots have already been locked out for those who will soon be buried. On one of those plots a plaque reads “Panteleevy family, four people.”
Hroza is the type of village where everyone knows each other, making this attack especially devastating, in some cases killing entire families, impacting every single resident.
“All the people in the village are friends,” Anatoliy Androsovych tells us, a few blocks down the street. “We lived very well, everything was fine.”
The 69-year-old lives by himself but had been relying heavily on his brother since he had a stroke. Thursday’s strike left him without that support.
“My brother Mykola was killed. May he rest in peace,” he said. “He used to take me to the hospital for check-ups. “If I ever felt poorly or had to go to the hospital or something else, I would call him… He would help me.”
“Now I don’t have a brother, and he was the only one who would take care of me,” he added. “It’s just a grief and nothing more. I don’t know who would do such a thing.”
Emergency services resumed search and rescue operations early Friday, uncovering yet another body, and collecting human remains, too small to identify on site. A war crimes prosecutor also visited the scene and police investigators cataloged what was left of the Iskander-type missile that struck Hroza.
Their moves efficient, like clockwork, in an all too familiar choreography they’ve repeated too many times.
Aid workers flooded the area, handing out warm meals and a building materials to help repair damaged buildings, others just helping residents through their bereavement.
An impressive support network that still does little to sooth the anger and anguish of those that survived.