Ukrainian cities see massive destruction

Parts of the country are unrecognizable as people flee and buildings crumble

A Google Street View screenshot of residential buildings in Borodyanka, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

In less than three weeks, Ukraine’s apartment buildings, once warm homes to families and pets, have become impossible to live in. Infrastructure that once served millions has become inoperable, unusable. City centers full of shoppers have been reduced to rubble. Hospitals meant to provide care and sanctuary have become scenes of destruction.

[Russia-Ukraine live updates: Kyiv under fire as Ukraine, Russia hold talks and humanitarian crisis grows]

Moscow’s shelling of civilians and apparent disregard for cease-fires and humanitarian corridors have sparked international outrage. On March 9, a maternity hospital in Mariupol — a city strategically important to Russia — was bombed. At least four people were killed, including a pregnant woman. Children and medical workers were among the more than a dozen injured.

Mariupol, Ukraine

A maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, in October 2020. (Vadim Novatsky)

The World Health Organization said it had verified 29 attacks on health-care facilities and workers, including the Mariupol attack.

Mariupol, Ukraine

A Google Street View screenshot of the Donetsk Regional Theater of Drama in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Jacob Dinneen)

A week later in the same city, a Russian airstrike hit a theater where many civilians had sought refuge, according to local authorities. It was unclear how many were killed.

Satellite imagery of the community center taken on Monday showed the word “children” written in large white letters on the ground outside the building.

As Russia continues to bombard the seaside metropolis, aid groups warn that many residents are without water, food or medicine.

Experts say that the casualties and immediate destruction of these attacks are just the beginning of the humanitarian toll.

“The brutality of war isn’t in the immediate moment of violence, however horrific it may be. It is in the reverberation of these violent moments through time,” said Mark Kersten, a researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto. “That suffering lasts much longer than the time it takes us to look at an image and turn away.”

Homes destroyed

Some of the buildings hit are in residential areas, where analysts have noted there are no military targets nearby. Strikes on houses or apartment buildings often render the structure unlivable, leaving many displaced.

[Russian attacks hit at least 9 Ukrainian medical facilities, visual evidence shows]

Once a building is struck, said Maria Avdeeva, research director of the European Expert Association, a nonprofit think tank, “people don’t have heat or power. It’s not possible for people to stay there.” In Kharkiv, where Avdeeva is based and has been documenting the destruction, temperatures remain below freezing most of the time, further increasing the danger for those without shelter.


A Google Street View screenshot of a residential building in the city of Kyiv, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

A projectile struck this housing complex in southeastern Kyiv on Feb. 25 during the predawn hours.

One resident, Vladimir Skakun, 57, said he was resolved to fight and urged other Ukrainians to take up weapons. “We need to save Kyiv, the heart of Ukraine. Don’t hesitate,” he said, while standing in the ruins of what was once his home.

The moments after the suspected Russian strike were captured on a video posted to Telegram and verified by The Washington Post.

Bila Tserkva, Ukraine

A Google Street View screenshot of Richkova Street in the Vokzalna District of Bila Tserkva, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

On the morning of March 5 in the city of Bila Tserkva, 50 miles south of Kyiv, a blast hit a residential area: this cluster of low-level brick buildings built about 15 years ago.

Karina Maniukina, 16, was cooking in her home when the blast took place. Shards of glass cut her face. “I thought I was going to die,” she said.


A Google Street View screenshot of a residential area in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

In Kharkiv, on March 1, this apartment building was destroyed.

Avdeeva said it was built during the 1960s or 1970s, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. The thin walls and older frame meant “the destruction was very massive,” she noted.

Borodyanka, Ukraine

A Google Street View screenshot of residential buildings in Borodyanka, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

On March 2, a missile strike reduced this residential building in Borodyanka — 40 miles northwest of Kyiv — to debris. The Ukrainian State Emergency Service told CNN shortly after the attack that it was impossible to know how many people were trapped under the wreckage.

“People are killed in the damage. People are left homeless. People are killed in the rubble as the building collapses. But then there also is environmental damage,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of the armed conflict and civilian protection initiative at Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic. She noted that some buildings contain asbestos or other toxic materials that could be released in the destruction.

Shelling public spaces

Kharkiv has been crushed by the war. Half of its population has fled. Damage to administrative buildings and public squares targeted in Ukraine’s second-largest city has not been contained to those areas. Nearby homes have also been destroyed, Avdeeva said.

“The more damage I see — and I understand there will be more coming — I don’t understand how Kharkiv will be able to again become the city it used to be,” she added.


A Google Street View screenshot of a regional administration building on Freedom Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

On March 1, Kharkiv’s central Freedom Square was struck, leaving the main administrative building and homes in the area destroyed.

“The explosion was so strong that all the buildings on the main square are now without windows,” Avdeeva said. She added that, in addition to the nearby shops and houses that were destroyed, a children’s community center was damaged in the blast.


A Google Street View screenshot of the Palace of Labor building in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

In this video taken March 3, Kharkiv’s historic center was battered by blasts. Avdeeva said the once-bustling area of shops and office buildings also housed apartments.

Infrastructure damage

Civilian infrastructure including power plants, radio towers and bridges has also been destroyed in the war. The impact of such attacks could have significant, long-lasting repercussions.

“If you attack a power station in Ukraine, and it goes without power, just as important of a question is will hospitals be able to power lifesaving machines that keep people alive,” Kersten said.

Sumy, Ukraine

A Google Street View screenshot of a power plant in the city of Okhtyrka in the Sumy region, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

On March 5, after a heat and power plant was destroyed in the northeastern region of Sumy, the government said residents were left without heat and that half of the city of Okhtyrka was left without power. Nighttime temperatures in Sumy can drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in March.

“The bombing of a power station might mean that schools and hospitals cannot run, and people won’t receive the care they need,” Kersten said.


A Google Street View screenshot of a television tower in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

A TV tower in Kyiv was also hit, killing five people, according to the Ukrainian government. The strike temporarily stalled broadcasting in the city.

While this strike had less of a widespread effect, other strikes across the country have resulted in the loss of communication capabilities, which could have deadly ramifications. In that situation, for example, Docherty said, people might not be able to call an ambulance. Without information and government alerts on their phones, people might not know when to take shelter.

Kyiv bridge

A Google Street View screenshot of a bridge in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Google Maps)

Ukraine has also blown up some of its own infrastructure in an attempt to impede Russian troops. In Irpin, a Kyiv suburb besieged by Russian forces, Ukraine’s military destroyed a bridge, making it harder for Russia to encroach on the capital, but also making it more difficult for civilians to leave.

People fleeing the area were on foot, carefully crossing the wreckage of the bridge. Kersten said in this case, the destruction of civilian infrastructure could be seen as warranted. “The options here are not destroy the bridge and have tanks stream into the villages and towns. Or destroy the bridge and risk that some people might not be able to get across.”

About this story

Siobhán O’Grady, Loveday Morris, Sudarsan Raghavan, Whitney Shefte, Whitney Leaming, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Dalton Bennett contributed to this report. The Washington Post visual forensics team verified videos.

Editing by Reem Akkad, Matt Callahan, Olivier Laurent, Ann Gerhart and Jayne Orenstein. Design and development by Yutao Chen. Video editing by Alexa Juliana Ard. Copy editing by Adrienne Dunn.

Videos by Jon Gerberg, Whitney Shefte, Maria Adeeva via Storyful, Radio Free Europe, Francesca Ebel. Photos by Google Maps, Vadim Novatsky and Jacob Dinneen.

Updated March 22, 2022

War in Ukraine: What you need to know