Bloodied but unbowed.
A Ukrainian teacher whose injured visage became one of the early defining images of the Russian invasion credited her survival Thursday to a “very strong guardian angel” — as tens of thousands of residents fled their homes to try to escape the onslaught.
Olena Kurilo, 52, emerged from the hospital in Chuguev, outside the city of Kharkiv, covered in bandages after a missile strike sent shards of window glass flying into her face, the independent Moscow Times reported.
“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.”
Kurilo — who was photographed with her face cut and bloodied and gauze wrapped around her head — said her home was “completely destroyed” by the blast, according to a video clip posted on Twitter by Euronews.
Firefighters arrive to extinguish flames in an apartment that has been severely damaged by a Russian bombardment in Chuhuiv, Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Justin Yau/Sipa USAFirefighters work on a fire in a building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuhuiv on Feb. 24, 2022.AFP via Getty Images
“There are no windows, no doors. One door even flew out. Even the floor has been completely ripped off,” she said.
“I am just very lucky. I must have a very strong guardian angel for me to have stayed alive.”
There was no immediate official word on casualties from the attack, but residents said a 13-year-old was among those killed.
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The explosion left a crater about 15 feet wide between a pair of badly damaged, five-story apartment buildings and 20 people remained hospitalized, the Moscow Times said.
Kurilo said her home was “completely destroyed” by the blast.Justin Yau/Sipa USA Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.A Russian bombing severely damaged an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.AFP via Getty Images
One resident, identified as a 67-year-old named Sergiy, speculated that Russia had targeted a nearby military airfield about 25 miles from the border.
Kurilo repeatedly said she “never thought that such a thing could happen.”
“I myself am a director and educator. We studied the history but we never that this would happen on our land,” she said.
Despite the threat posed by Russia’s invasion, Kurilo vowed to remain and fight, saying, “Never, under any conditions, will I submit to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. It is better to die.”
A view of a damaged flat after an airstrike hit an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
“I will stand up and go. I will do everything for Ukraine, as much as I can, with as much energy as I have,” she said.
“I only managed to think in that second, ‘My God, I’m not ready to die’,” Kurilo said.Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
“I will always only be on my motherland’s side.”
But an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes, with several thousand crossing into neighboring countries, primarily Romania and Moldova, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.
The highway heading west out of the capital city of Kyiv was jammed across five lanes of traffic, with travelers terrified that they could wind up being bombed while stuck in their cars, Reuters reported, as Russian commandos and Ukrainian forces struggled for control of a key airfield fewer than 10 miles from the capital.