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Ukrainian who survived Russia missile strike says ‘guardian angel’ kept her alive

Olena Kurilo, whose bloodied face has become a symbol of the invasion, says she would rather die than submit to Putin

Olena Kurilo stands outside a hospital after the bombing of the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022, as Russian armed forces attempt to invade Ukraine from several directions, using rocket systems and helicopters to attack Ukrainian position in the south, the border guard service said. (Aris Messinis/AFP)
Olena Kurilo stands outside a hospital after the bombing of the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022, as Russian armed forces attempt to invade Ukraine from several directions, using rocket systems and helicopters to attack Ukrainian position in the south, the border guard service said. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

CHUGUIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian woman who survived when her home was destroyed in a Russian bombardment has said she was “very lucky” and must have a “guardian angel.”

Olena Kurilo, whose bloodied face has become a key image of the first day of the Russian invasion, was among 20 people wounded by flying shards of glass following a blast in the eastern Ukrainian town of Chuguiv.

“Never, under any conditions will I submit to Putin. It is better to die,” the 52-year-old teacher said, her face covered in bandages.

“I only managed to think in that second ‘My God, I’m not ready to die,'” Kurilo said.

“I was in shock, I felt no pain.”

She said she “never thought” that such an attack would come, but now that it has she was in no mood to surrender.

“I will do everything for Ukraine, as much as I can,” she said.

Firefighters work on a fire on a building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

Chuguiv was among the first places to report damage after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine early Thursday.

A missile crater, some four to five meters wide, was scoured into the earth between two devastated five-story apartment buildings. Firefighters battled to extinguish the remains of a blaze.

Several other buildings on the street were seriously damaged, their windows shattered and door frames hanging in the frigid morning air.

Residents said a 13-year-old was among those killed in the town, but there was no definitive death toll from the authorities.

People stand outside a destroyed building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

Sergiy, 67, tried to use the leg of an Ikea table to block up his smashed window. He had received a few bruises but said he was fine.

“I’m going to stay here, my daughter is in Kyiv and it’s the same there,” he said.

Sergiy thought the target had been the nearby military airfield, close to Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv and just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.

“It was one of the targets that Putin had cited, I’m not even surprised,” he said, refusing to give his surname.

“We will hang in there.”

A man uses a carpet to cover a body stretched out on the ground after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022 (Aris Messinis/AFP)

Thick black smoke could be seen billowing from the direction of the airfield — one of a raft of strategic locations across the country pounded by Moscow’s firepower in an opening barrage.

Teenager Anastasia clutched her gray cat as she watched her grandfather in a wheelchair being loaded onto a minibus waiting to rush them to a nearby village.

“We could never have expected this. We’re going to the village, we hope the war will spare us there,” she said.

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