Yakovlivka, Ukraine – Maxim was at home with his girlfriend when shells began to crash into his village of Yakovlivka, near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Shrapnel ripped through his arm and face.
“It happened so fast, the explosions…I heard something flying above us,” he told Al Jazeera on Thursday from a hospital, where he is currently being treated.
“I was covered in rubble up to my waist and something started to burn. Tried to break free, then tried to get my girlfriend. I was so weak that I couldn’t get her out.
Civilians have been caught in heavy shelling of their homes in and around Kharkiv, a predominantly Russian-speaking city, which has been under attack since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
Emergency services managed to save Maxim’s partner, but she suffers from a severe concussion and is too weak to speak.
Another woman died in the operating theater as doctors tried to save her life.
“At least three people were killed in the Russian shelling of this village last night, a number of others were injured,” said Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Yakovlivka.
“We understand that there are still people in the village, but we just heard shelling in the distance and machine gun fire in the forests on the way.”
Piles of rubble now line the streets after shells hit houses on the hillside. At least 30 houses were destroyed.
Despite heavy bombardments and its proximity to the Russian border, Kharkiv is still under Ukrainian control.
Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday that indiscriminate shelling had “pounded all night” into residential areas of Kharkiv, which United Nations prosecutors are investigating as a possible war crime.
Many of the city’s 1.5 million residents have fled.
A hospitalized woman told Al Jazeera that Russian soldiers let her family escape, but as they walked away a bullet went through her husband’s hand.
“Why did they tell us that everything would be fine? Why was there no evacuation? she said, distressed.
‘Welcome to Hell’
Thousands of cars full of terrified families are fleeing south from Kharkiv.
Many cars have a sign taped to the windshield reading “Children” in a desperate attempt to protect those inside.
“We leave everything behind. We’ve been trying to get out for five days but couldn’t get out because of the shelling. It is simply hell. We go to Dnipro and after that we don’t know,” Kharkiv resident Olena told Al Jazeera.
Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people fleeing the conflict are housed in public buildings on the outskirts of Dnipro, about 220 km (137 miles) south of Kharkiv.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from a public school used as a temporary shelter, said scores of people fleeing Kharkiv and Mariupol in the southeast, as well as the Donbass region, had arrived at the facility. . They will soon continue their journey to try to reach the nearest border.
“There are a lot of people here… a lot of children,” Abdel-Hamid said.
“Those fleeing Kharkiv told me how they spent days and days in the shelter without food, in the cold, without being able to go out at any time,” she said.
The UN has warned that at least a million people have fled Ukraine in the week following the Russian invasion.
On the road south of Kharkiv, a man named Oleksii showed Al Jazeera his car which was damaged when a Russian rocket landed near his home. Rows of clear tape covered what was once the back door window, just above a large bullet hole.
“I just talked to friends in Kharkiv; they tell me it’s worse than yesterday, they are bombing civilian areas. So many buildings are on fire,” Oleksii said.
People have painted road signs with blasphemous and furious insults towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Awaiting an advance of the Russian army, a sign reads: “Welcome to hell”.