Skip to main content
The location of a projectile that detonated in the middle of a populated neighborhood in Kharkiv city, one of at least six, on May 26, that killed Oleksandra Korostelova’s husband, their 4-month-old son, and another civilian, May 27, 2022.

Russian Strike on Kharkiv is Ukrainian Family’s Tragedy

More Than 5,000 Civilians Killed Since Russia’s Invasion in February

The location of a projectile that detonated in the middle of a populated neighborhood in Kharkiv city, one of at least six, on May 26, that killed Oleksandra Korostelova’s husband, their 4-month-old son, and another civilian, May 27, 2022. © 2022 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

Warning: this story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to readers.
It was late May when Oleksandra Korostelova started a new job as the administrator of a beauty salon in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Oleksandra, 26, her husband, Mykhailo, 33, and their 4-month-old baby boy had fled Kharkiv in February when Russian forces began attacking the city, Ukraine’s second-largest. But Ukrainian armed forces had pushed the Russian forces back from the city’s outskirts, and Oleksandra’s family returned in early May to restart their lives.

Only a few days into her new job, on May 26, Russian forces fired a barrage of munitions, likely mortar rounds, into her Pavolove Pole neighborhood. At least one hit a park near the salon. The attack sheared the branches off trees, left pockmarks in the cobblestone path that runs through the park, and killed at least two people. Mykhailo, having heard the strikes, called Oleksandra and said he was coming to pick her up to take her home, and that he had their son, Mykola, with him. Suddenly Oleksandra heard an explosion in  her salon’s building. She ran outside with a colleague of hers and a salon client.

Mykhailo was waiting for Oleksandra outside of the building with Mykola. “We heard explosions around us getting closer, we realized we weren’t safe,” she said. “I grabbed Mykola from my husband, and we all started running.”

Between February 24, the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and August 7, at least 5,401 civilians in Ukraine have been killed and 7,466 injured, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. These figures are likely a significant undercount. During their attack on the Pavolove Pole neighborhood on May 26, Russian forces fired at least seven munitions into the park and other residential areas. Ten civilians were killed in the city that day, with 16 wounded, according to Kharkiv's deputy prosecutor.

The Korostelova family and the two women from the salon ran from the explosions and were passing an apartment building when another shell hit nearby. They stopped to shelter next to a building, under a balcony.

Oleksandra’s client was shaking, she was so scared. Hoping to calm her down, Oleksandra handed her son to her husband and gave the woman a hug.

“At that moment something landed on the roof right above us,” Oleksandra said. “The next thing I knew, Mykhailo was lying dead on the ground.”

His body was severed in half. The woman Oleksandra had just hugged also lay dead on the ground. Her colleague, who had stood about 15 meters from them, was wounded. Oleksandra had a small hole in her upper left leg. Horrifyingly, her son was missing.

“I couldn’t find Mykola, I was looking and looking but couldn’t find him,” she said.

The Emergency Service came, and they searched for the baby for three hours until they found him. The explosion had thrown him onto a balcony overhang 15 to 20 meters above the road. He was also dead. Mykola would have been five months old on May 30.

Since late February, my colleagues and I have interviewed hundreds of people who have lost limbs and loved ones in Russian attacks on cities, towns and villages across Ukraine, and they represent only a fraction of the civilian victims of this war. Oleksandra’s story captures the horror many Ukrainian civilians have been experiencing.

On June 3, Oleksandra left Kharkiv. She traveled by car to western Ukraine, together with her son from a previous marriage and her ex-husband. There she hoped to find relative safety for herself and the rest of her family, get access to any medical and psychosocial support services, and mourn her unspeakable loss.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country