With trembling hands and labored breath, Serhii Slobodiannyk meticulously searched his fire-damaged apartment, seeking to salvage any of his family’s treasured belongings following a Russian missile attack on Kyiv.

“Everything I had worked for over 30 years was destroyed in less than a second,” says Slobodiannyk, still dressed in the clothes he managed to throw on in his burning apartment on January 2.

He and his wife, Olena, had moved into the building in Kyiv’s Solomianskyi district in 1984. Now the structure is uninhabitable — ravaged by fire, part of its facade torn off, and a huge crater gouged next to it by the missile that struck at 7:40 a.m.

Two of the building’s residents were killed and 54 were injured in the January 2 bombardment that also killed two others elsewhere in the capital. The barrage was part of Russia’s recent winter campaign against urban areas in the nearly 2-year-old war.

It was the first attack in months in which an apartment building suffered such heavy damage in Kyiv, where air defenses have been strengthened considerably since the start of the war.

The attacks have left many residents rattled and anxious.

In Slobodiannyk’s apartment, family photos hung on the charred walls, burned books were strewn on the shelves, and a damaged exercise bike stood useless in the corner.

The 63-year-old moved painfully, his feet still sore from being cut by shards of glass as he and his wife scrambled to safety in the smoky minutes after the flat was set ablaze. They had to climb to the ninth floor and escape via the roof because the fire engulfed the stairwell, blocking their way out.

On January 3, Slobodiannyk and his wife were among over 100 residents and volunteers who gathered at the building in freezing temperatures and snow to clear away debris and save anything they could.

Curious onlookers also stopped by, approaching the massive crater to taking photos and videos in an attempt to grasp the scale of the destruction. New Year’s decorations could be seen in the windows of blackened apartments.

It was the second big missile attack that Russia unleashed in less than a week, as air raid sirens provided a grim soundtrack to the holidays for millions across Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had launched at least 500 missiles and drones in the last five days.

Bohdan Stanekevych, who was not home when the missile struck, inspected the ruins of his first-floor apartment on January 3.

When part of the Kyiv region was occupied in the first days of the invasion in 2022, he and his family stayed in their other house near Bucha, spending most of the time in the basement, and he had believed that was the most difficult time of the war. Until now.

“Today you’re alive, and tomorrow everything is gone. How can you find strength here?” he asked.

As his apartment burned on January 2, Slobodiannyk said he believed he and his wife were going to die.

“We were preparing to say goodbye to our lives because it was so hard to breathe,” he said.

But they and their neighbors were found by emergency crews, who led them to safety.

On the building’s fifth-floor, in the apartment above his, a woman who was a university professor was killed by flying glass.

“I can say that I am coming back today with victory,” Slobodiannyk said, adding that he survived when the blast hurled a carpet over him, shielding from the broken glass.

“It was like a tornado,” he recalled. Now they are moving in with family members.

His wife, Olena, described their survival as a one-in-a-million chance.

“Our relatives survived the Second World War, and we are going through this,” she said with a nervous smile.

Hanna Arhirova

Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine

Efrem Lukatsky (AP) and Hanna Arhirova (AP)