Veronica, 9, will remember the day for the rest of her life. On Monday, a shell landed in her living room. Mercifully, she and her parents were in their kitchen, a separate building, when it struck.
The explosive ripped out the bathroom wall, and stripped the ground floor to its foundation. The concrete panels holding up the second floor now sag — they're on the verge of collapse. The wooden staircase to the bedrooms trembles underfoot. Veronica’s room is strewn with detritus, its windows shattered by the shockwave.
The overriding fear for the people here in Novoluhanske, in eastern Ukraine, is not a full Russian invasion, but an escalation of the shelling they have already been living with for eight years.
They live in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Donetsk Oblast, or region. Just a few hundred meters from here are the frontiers with the Russian-backed breakaway enclaves. The bombardment coming from those territories in the past five days is the worst the residents of this village have ever seen.
On the same day Veronica’s home was attacked, a shell landed in Roman Shirokiy’s driveway around the corner. He had heard the shelling, and was moving his car into the garage, hoping to shield it. The shrapnel ripped through his body, and he was killed.
He couldn’t be buried in his hometown, because the Novoluhanske cemetery was surrounded years ago by the fighting on the "contact line" — the frontline that separates pro-Russian rebels from Ukrainian forces — and is too dangerous to use. His wife wailed uncontrollably as he was laid to rest in the neighboring village.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has now declared that this village — and all of the Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts — is part of two new, independent countries. The drama and uncertainty of that decision only amplifies the abandonment felt by the people of Novoluhanske.