Deaths averted in Ukraine missile strikes after flight from earlier attack

MYKOLAIV, Ukraine Oct 23 (Reuters) - Russian missiles smashed into a suburb of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine early on Sunday, devastating two apartment blocks, but nobody was killed because most residents had already moved away after a similar attack in the vicinity six months ago.

"All of the people who had small children decided to leave immediately" after the April attack, said Svitlana, 46, as she salvaged belongings from her glass-and-plaster strewn apartment.

"The pensioners had also decided to leave."

Her neighbour, Oleksii Begun, 35, said only about 15-20 flats in their 119-unit, 10-storey building were currently occupied after a Russian cluster munition hit a private home nearby in April, killing one person.

"It's a horror," he said, surveying the devastation wrought by Sunday's attacks.

The explosions in the Karabelnyi district of Mykolaiv, a ship-building centre at the confluence of the Southern Buh and Dnipro rivers, continued a weeks-long Russian aerial offensive that has targeted civilian infrastructure, especially energy facilities, just weeks before the onset of winter.

'WE ARE ALIVE'

The first projectile struck at 1:35 am on Sunday, Begun said, ploughing into the roof of the five-floor apartment house opposite his block. It blasted a hole in the top two stories, smashed windows in both buildings and showered rubble across the courtyard separating the two.

The second missile followed about eight minutes later, obliterating a playground and a small store inside the courtyard, he said, spewing a tornado of bricks and twisted metal and hurling several cars 30 meters into his building.

Mykolaiv regional officials identified the missiles as S-300s, anti-aircraft weapons that Russian forces have been firing at ground targets.

Sunday's attack was enough to convince Begun, a shipyard worker, to send his wife and two children to stay with his parents in western Ukraine. But, he said, he would remain to care for their second-floor apartment.

Experts say targeting civilian facilities is a war crime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says hitting energy facilities is legitimate payback for a Ukrainian attack on Russia's bridge to Crimea, the peninsula his forces seized in 2014.

Choking back tears, Liudmyla Tuchevska, 48, said her family had fortunately been absent when the missiles struck and that she had learned of the attack from a social media chat.

Tuchevska showed up to clear up their home with her cat secured inside a transparent backpack, which she refused to open because of the sharp glass carpeting the floor.

Dropping a pile of dusty curtains and blinds outside her front door, Tuchevska said she and her husband would move to their daughter’s home, but would not flee Mykolaiv despite the near-daily Russian attacks.

"We are alive," she said. "And the walls are still here."

Reporting by Jonathan Landay Editing by Gareth Jones

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