Carpet bombing is random – devastatingly destructive and completely random.
But when you’re an advancing army, it’s a deadly and effective tactic, and it’s used mercilessly against the townspeople of Soledar.
The city in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas River has seen its topography change dramatically in the past 72 hours as the Russians intensify their attack on the region.
Zelenskyy promises Russian wins are ‘very temporary’ – Ukraine live updates
There are now craters and huge pits in the city’s parks and shopping streets, and outside several apartment blocks.
Offices, shops, the main administration center, the sanatorium and residential houses have all been left with holes and holes.
And all the time we’re in town, there’s a constant rumble of war: grad missiles (Russian weapons) go out, grad missiles come in.
The residents we meet are a mixture of those who seem completely accustomed to the booming thunder of rockets being launched and landing, and those who are understandably tense.
There’s a dark, ominous cloud over Soledar, and it’s not the weather. They can almost smell the advance of the Russian army, and if this continues for the last few days, some very grim times lie ahead for them.
‘No mother’s heart can accept this’
Nila is cheerful and friendly when we meet – and almost certainly still in shock and mourning over the loss of her 28-year-old daughter Valentina, who was killed two months ago in shelling in Mariupol, when she was trying to cook food on a fire. Outside.
Nila hugs her daughter’s photo as she shows it to us and kisses him.
“This is all we have left of her memory,” she says, correcting herself. “No, her memory is in my heart and in my head. But my heart cannot accept it. No mother’s heart can accept this.’
She places flowers and her daughter’s favorite candies in front of the photo. She couldn’t even bury Valentina. A friend buried her in a courtyard in Mariupol.
“We’re doing this because we can’t visit her grave,” Nila tells us. She cries briefly, almost seeing it as a weakness. “We have to be strong,” she says. “We live for my other daughter and our grandchild.” She is one of the strong, strong women of Ukraine.
She takes us to her flat on the second floor. Outside – no more than five meters from the block – is a two-meter crater where a bomb had landed about 48 hours earlier.
“Here’s what’s left of our flat,” she says, looking up at blown-out floors and broken frames in her block.
Her balcony is now “open”. No glass remains intact and half a wall is missing.
She, like several others, has moved into the basement and the extraordinarily sturdy Soviet-built bunker below, to escape the increasingly relentless attacks of the Russians they once thought of as ‘family’.
They certainly know how to build bunkers – perhaps knowing how cruel and catastrophic war can be.
The basement is curiously homey, with light and heating and piles of provisions. There is a parakeet and a very large dog, but also mainly women and children and some older people who seem very quiet and subdued.
The liveliest person there is a 10 year old girl named Diana who is bubbly and friendly and excited to see us. She still holds on to her dream of becoming a singer and entertains the adults there, and us, with her music.
She does a beautifully catchy rendition of a TikTok tune she learned, which is in Russian and seems to be about eating pasta.
It does not matter. It makes the adults laugh, and they definitely need something to laugh about. The irony of a Russian song that brings gaiety is lost on this beautiful, innocent and remarkably happy girl who charms us – as do her fellow basement dwellers.
‘I’m glad there’s no school’
“Of course I wish the war would end,” she says solemnly. “The explosions are scary…but it’s okay. I’m glad there’s no school,” and she flashes that endearing grin as her mother chides her from the sidelines.
There are three explosions above the ground while we are downstairs in the basement with Diana singing to us. We don’t hear them, and neither do they.
Let’s hope it stays that way, but the Russians are making progress in the Donbas. It’s slow, but they’re making progress. They want to conquer as much of the Donbas as possible, it seems, and one half – Luhansk – is already in sight.
It’s unlikely they’ll stop now – unless they’re forced to.
Alex Crawford teams up with cinematographer Jake Britton and producers Chris Cunningham, Artem Lysak, Nick Davenport and Misha Cherniak.