KHARKIV, Ukraine — Yurii Kuzinskiy meant to take a nap in his bedroom. But in the haze of a hot Friday afternoon in late May, he fell asleep on a lounge chair in his kitchen.
It saved his life.
Around 5 p.m. last Friday, a Russian missile crashed into his bedroom, pulverizing his home into an unrecognizable pile of dust and rubble. Only the kitchen corner where Kuzinskiy was sleeping was spared.
“F------ destiny,” said Kuzinskiy, 58, who escaped from the debris with only a few scratches after he woke up to his roof caving in. “Everything is gone. But I am here.”
Although Ukraine pushed Russian forces back from Kharkiv in a successful counterattack this month, Russian troops are holding on in the north and are still close enough to continue shelling the outskirts of the country’s second-largest city, terrorizing residents like Kuzinskiy.
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said in a recent update that even as Moscow prioritizes gaining ground in the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas region, Russian forces are intensifying artillery attacks around Kharkiv, aiming to regain control of territory north of the city.
Those attacks escalated Thursday as the booming sound of missile strikes echoed throughout Kharkiv every few minutes. Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor, urged people to take shelter and said nine people were killed and 19 were injured.
“The enemy is once again insidiously terrorizing the civilian population,” Synyehubov said. “It is too early to relax.”
NBC News has not independently verified the number of people killed.
The renewed attacks so far have largely spared the city center, where cafés are reopening and public transportation is returning. But the ongoing strikes illustrate the grating toll of what is turning into a prolonged war of attrition.
“What they [the Russians] can’t take, they just ruin,” said Roman Dudin, head of the Kharkiv branch of Ukraine’s Security Service, speaking to NBC News in the basement of an undisclosed building. Intelligence officers here have kept their office addresses secret to avoid being targeted by Russian missiles.
“Ukrainian troops have pushed them back, and now they are being aggressive,” he said. “The attacks will only end when they have no equipment left.”
After three months of war, missile strikes have become routine for many here.
“At first, we were crying all the time. We were scared. We were always lying down on the ground because of airstrikes,” said Svetlana Yeryomenko, 64, who was reading in her second-floor apartment in March when a missile hit, trapping her under her ceiling.
Yeryomenko spent weeks in the hospital recovering from injuries, and she still has trouble walking.
“Now, I just tell myself, ‘If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,’” she said. “It will only be safe when the war is over.”
In Kuzinskiy’s neighborhood, locals helped pick up pieces of shrapnel sprayed out along the road. Neighbors swept up broken glass from the windows of nearby houses that had been blown out due to the shockwave.
Kuzinskiy was looking for his 9-year-old cat, Sonia, in the rubble. But when he found her, she was already dead. A piece of shrapnel had torn through her side. Her eyes were still open.
“There’s no point in waiting,” Kuzinskiy said, as he stopped to brush the soot off his eyelashes.
Then he began looking for a spot outside his front gate to bury his pet.