The main base of our 40 Battalion was first shelled on the evening of 28 January 2015. The bombardment lasted several hours, stopping at midnight, when my friends and I returned to our bedroom on the second floor of the building. Two of my neighbours — Major Olexander and Colonel Volodymyr — confidently assured me, as a less-experienced officer, that the danger had passed and we could safely sleep. At the time we did not realise that this was not some random attack by “separatist” troops, but the first step in a three-week offensive supported by regular Russian forces, with the aim of capturing the city of Debaltseve.

Debaltseve night
Debaltseve at night. My photo.

And so having been assured everything was OK, I sank down in my bed to grab some sleep. But seconds later I sprang up in surprise, having spotted a hole in my sleeping bag and in the wall nearby. I stood beside the bed, staring at the ripped sleeping bag, trying to figure out if I might somehow have caused the damage myself. Then a thought struck me: “Could a shell fragment from the bombardment have hit my bed?”

And indeed it was true. When I turned my gaze to the window to check the possible trajectory of such a fragment, I saw a hole in the wooden window-shield — and the window itself also had a small hole, the diameter of a human finger. The shell fragment hit the window first and then flew over my bed — ripping the sleeping bag — before hitting the wall opposite and rebounding into the wooden panel of the bed. It took me hours to locate that fragment but I found it and took a photo.

Debaltseve shelling fragment bed
The shell fragment in a downright wooden panel of my bed and a hole in the wall. My photo.

As previously mentioned, the shell fragment was small, but razor-sharp, and it had flown with deadly speed. This fragment was from a rocket launched with a powerful long-range Russian MLRS BM-27 Uragan, or its equivalent MLRS BM-30 Smerch, equipped with restricted cluster warheads, which explode in the air, sending thousands of lethal fragments to kill anyone caught in the blast radius below. Our wooden window-shields could not protect us from them.

Cluster munition fragment Debaltseve
That cluster munition fragment in my bed. My photo.

From that night I slept on the bed no more! Two weeks later, on 13 February, the whole bedroom was completely destroyed by enemy mortars and rockets.

(Edited by Christopher Summerville)