We had seconds to hide after Putin’s killer drones stalked and found us
“RUSSIAN drone! Run!” barked Misha, a hardened Ukrainian soldier, sending us fleeing for cover amid fears missiles could be heading our way in moments.
We scrambled for shelter after being buzzed by the Russian unmanned aerial vehicle ahead of a massive rocket and artillery bombardment that killed at least three.
Frontline troops are already well familiar with the engine’s whine from the spy drones, which scour the ruins of high-rise flats in bomb-blitzed northern Kharkiv seeking possible targets.
This time the nerve-shredding sound broke the spooky calm in the devastated Saltivka district, forewarning the soldiers of a looming attack.
Most homes here are abandoned, only a few desperate residents now living amid the ruins less than two miles from Russian lines.
Moments before the drone swoop, we saw an old man cooking on an open stove in a courtyard because his flat had no gas or power.
Seconds later, as Misha yelled “Run”, we started our dash through a maze of apartment blocks — retracing our steps towards our car.
Troops glanced at the sky in vain to try to spot the Russian aircraft.
A second soldier told us: “Sometimes you only have two or three minutes from when the drone goes up to when the shelling starts.”
Most of the homes we passed had been reduced to hollow shells and rubble by the near ceaseless Russian bombardment.
One block had totally collapsed from a suspected missile strike.
In another, the relentless rocket attacks had punched gaping holes through concrete walls.
Misha told us that in the worst bombardment he counted 80 blasts in one go — two full loads from a Grad multiple rocket launcher.
Ukraine’s second city has also been hit by Kalibr cruise missiles, Iskander rockets and tank and artillery shells.
Vlad, a member of the city’s Territorial Defence Unit, told us when we had reached relative safety that “we were lucky” to have got out.
He said: “Half an hour after we left there was a massive bombardment where we’d been.
“There were tanks, artillery and Grad rockets, everything, and it lasted 90 minutes. It was big.”
Both sides jam each other’s drones so they are not always able to send a live video feed.
Vlad said it was possible the Russians had to land their drone before they could see its surveillance feed, which may have given us precious extra minutes to get away.
He said: “Maybe that’s why it took some time.”
No troops from the city’s defence force were killed in the bombardment because the early warning of the drone gave them time to retreat to underground bunkers.
They have dug a network to defend themselves, and the north-eastern city, from a dreaded ground attack.
Half an hour after we left there was a massive bombardment where we’d been. There were tanks, artillery and Grad rockets, everything, and it lasted 90 minutes. It was big.
Vlad, a member of Kharkiv’s Territorial Defence Unit
However, Kharkiv’s governor said three civilians died and eight were injured in a nearby part of the city during Tuesday’s blitz.
More than 230 civilians have so far been killed in Kharkiv since the start of the war in February and 1,600 homes have been destroyed.
Yesterday Russian troops continued their attacks across eastern Ukraine as ruthless tyrant Vladimir Putin vowed his war aims would be “unconditionally accomplished”.
At least one woman died in a hospital hit by shells in Severodonetsk, the regional governor said.
In the frontline town of Avdiivka, in Donetsk, officials accused Russian forces of unleashing horrific white phosphorous weapons.
The incendiary bombs burn through flesh at 2,700C.
Officials said they hit a coke plant and the town centre.
Local defence chief Pavlo Kyrylenko said: “As a result of the two rounds of shelling, several fires broke out in the city.”
It came as Ukraine’s human rights chief said 400 people had reported rapes by Russian forces in the first two weeks of April.
Liudmyla Denisova said she had appealed to UN aid agencies to send them trauma counsellors to stop staff burning out.
Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian troops continued to gain some ground in Donbas, which President Putin wants to conquer by Russia’s annual Victory Day on May 9.
But Ukraine’s defenders repelled a number of incursions.
Troops were also fighting street to street in the ruins of Popasna.
Mykola Khanatov, head of the city’s military administration, summed up the situation there as “horror, sorrow, pain”.
He said around 2,000 civilians were still trapped.
Mr Khanatov said: “We are trying to organise the evacuation every day, but unfortunately we only control half of the city, the other half is occupied.”