Last month, Dmytro Kuzubov put on his headphones and walked around Kharkiv for hours. He felt that the war would start soon and he wanted to visit some of his favorite places. Kharkiv is his hometown: a vibrant, youthful city of nearly 1.5 million people steeped in academia, art and literature.
The attacks started a few days later. Unable to take control of the city, Russia has resorted to destroying it. As in Syria and Chechnya, Russia aims to demoralize the city’s inhabitants with overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower. It is following a similar plan in other Ukrainian cities, such as Mariupol and Mykolaiv.
“The most horrible thing was the whistle of jets. I will remember them all my life,” said Mr. Kuzubov, who has since fled Kharkiv, along with hundreds of thousands of others.
This was a kindergarten classroom.
This was somebody’s living room.
Pavel Dorogoy/Associated Press
And this was the site of the Old Hem, a popular pub in the building’s basement, where a statue of Ernest Hemingway greeted patrons out front.
“It was one of my favorite places. A lot of stuff happened there — screaming, fights, drinking, funny songs,” said Alex Sedov, a third-generation Kharkivite. “It was a great place, and I’m very sad it’s gone.”
Russia has attacked Kharkiv with artillery, rockets, cluster munitions and guided missiles on at least 13 different days, a relentless barrage, lately targeting the city at night. Most Kharkiv residents are Russian speakers, and many are ethnic Russians.
At least 500 civilians have been killed, according to the city’s emergency services agency. The true number is likely higher, and rescue workers continue to dig through the rubble.
Source: East View Geospatial (base map data)
“Kharkiv is not yet completely destroyed, but we hear constant shelling, constant bombing,” said Natalka Zubar, a 57-year-old I.T. professional who has remained in the city. “It’s a place of constant airborne terror.”
The city is full of historic monuments, home to 24 universities and some 200,000 students and professors, Ms. Zubar said. The main Kharkiv National University building still stands but has been damaged from nearby explosions.
Windows of one of the main university buildings were blown out.
The economics department was hit directly.
And the university gym was destroyed.
“You would see so many young people on the streets; it gave the city this kind of energetic, vibrant feeling because of the youth,” said Maria Avdeeva, a disinformation and security expert. “Imagine tomorrow, life goes back to normal in Kharkiv. Where will they live? Where will they go to university?”
For Ms. Avdeeva and other lifelong residents, the annihilation of the city is incomprehensible. She remains in Kharkiv, documenting its destruction. Last weekend she walked around in search of stores still selling food.
“It was Saturday, usually you would think: Go to a shop, go to a cafe. What a Saturday should be like,” she said. “It’s nothing of that kind now.”
On March 1, a rocket struck directly in front of the Kharkiv regional administration building, an imposing structure in the city’s main square that flew the Ukrainian flag from its roof. The education department, the finance department — “almost everything which is connected to the functioning of the Kharkiv region” — had offices in this building, Ms. Avdeeva said.
The building is not only important, it is meaningful, too.
“It is the symbol of Kharkiv, and everyone who is coming to Kharkiv takes pictures here. There is no way you can come to Kharkiv and not notice this building,” said Ms. Avdeeva.
The adjacent square was also heavily damaged in the strike. Originally named after the founder of the Soviet secret police, the square was renamed Freedom Square after Ukraine gained independence in 1991.
“They are destroying our historical heritage and our architectural heritage. They want to destroy it all, they want to demoralize people,” Mr. Kuzubov said.
A week before the invasion, Mr. Kuzubov and his friends went to see the movie “Rhino” by Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker, at the newly opened Nikolsky Mall.
At around 10:30 p.m. on March 9, a rocket crashed through the roof, leaving shattered glass and debris everywhere inside.
This is the mall now.
This was a tram depot.
Sergey Bobok/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
This was a school.
Some of Russia’s strikes in the opening days of the invasion were aimed at military targets. Since then, they have been indiscriminate. Hundreds of apartment buildings have been hit, including this one in Saltivka, a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Kharkiv.
“They are maximizing the terror. They are shelling or bombing random objects now,” said Ms. Zubar. “But we would rather die fighting for the city than leave.”