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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former EWU coach, family in Ukraine hunker down in anticipation of Russian tanks: ‘This was a bad day for this city’

A view of the central square is seen Tuesday following shelling of the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Russia on Tuesday stepped up shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, pounding civilian targets there. Casualties mounted and reports emerged that more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery recently hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, the capital.  (Pavel Dorogoy)
By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

The enemy is nearing their doorstep, but the anxiety level is unchanged.

As battles moved closer Tuesday to his neighborhood, Chris Hansen knows it’s just a matter of time until he and his wife, Victoria, and her daughter, Sonja, will see the white “Z” markings of Russian tanks outside their apartment. Their city of Kharkiv in Ukraine was again under fire the entire day via bombs, missiles, howitzers and tank warfare.

“This was a bad day for this city,” the former Eastern Washington University football player and coach said. “It just was.”

But Hansen and his family are adjusting to life in a war zone.

“I wasn’t nervous through the day, I just know they are coming and they are probably going to be here tomorrow,” he said.

“I would just prefer to have the tanks show up rather than have the carpet bombing and the missile bombing the city has seen. The Ukrainians have been doing a great job of defending this town.”

Hansen said his wife and stepdaughter are also keeping an even keel.

“They seem pretty good and aren’t that nervous, honestly,” Hansen said. “We’ve just kind of accepted it, and we just hope that we are going to get out of this OK.

“I suppose we should be more anxious. It is what it is.”

They’ve decided to ride out the storm in their apartment, and just see what happens next.

“Most of our neighbors are staying in their apartments also,” he said, “so it must have been the right decision.”

After coming within 5 miles of their neighborhood on Monday, the fighting got especially close on Tuesday morning. A Ukrainian tank was destroyed and a market caught on fire on the street that runs by their apartment complex – just 2,592 feet away. One of Hansen’s bosses at Silver Bay Seafoods based in Seattle, co-founder Richard Riggs, sent Hansen the calculations based on knowing his address and getting reports from Ukraine via Twitter.

“I knew the fire at the market was close, so I got onto Google Earth and looked it up,” Riggs said from Sitka, Alaska. “I sent that to Coach this morning, and asked him, ‘Is there something happening right next to you?’ About that same time, he was sending me a message about it. He had it pegged at about three-quarters of a mile away.

“We’ve been doing that a lot in the evenings. He’ll tell me what is going on and I’ll tell him what I read is supposedly going on. But he’s there, and that’s more accurate than anything.”

The day ended with Russian jets overhead dropping bombs on the city center of Kharkiv, about 2 miles from where they live.

Early in the day, the Kharkiv Region State Administration Building was hit by a missile – and the unnerving explosion was on video for all the world to see, including Hansen. The Associated Press reported six people were killed in the bombing at the building on Freedom Square.

Air raid sirens could be heard coming from the battle-ravaged northeast corner of town, as well as near the city center.

Two nearby power stations were knocked out overnight, and Hansen said both were located near hospitals. He heard of one hospital farther south getting hit directly, reportedly from Russian cluster bombs.

Accompanying the tank battles have been Russian jets providing cover. Hansen said 12 to 15 bombs were dropped in one skirmish about 5 miles from him.

“I thought tonight they were going to get closer,” Hansen said. “I just don’t want jets over my head dropping bombs. Who knows what will happen?

“I feel like there is a really good chance they’ll get further into the city tomorrow, and I don’t know if it will be our neighborhood.”

By early Tuesday evening, he had lost internet service, and power and natural gas service was out across the street from him. But for now at least, they have all other services, and have enough food and 8 gallons of water in case those services cease.

“The only thing that is open are grocery stores and a very few pharmacies,” Hansen said. “But because of the power outages, today they are on the wrong side of the street.”

Hansen, a United States citizen in the process of seeking citizenship for his wife, has had contact with representatives from the U.S. Embassy, and more recently the State Department. He’d like to get out of the country, but only if his wife and stepdaughter can come. So until that can happen, he has indicated to the authorities their desire to roll with the punches.

Hansen has been impressed with the fight the undergunned and undermanned Ukrainian army has shown.

He hopes it continues, but is ready for anything. Monday night taught him that, he said as he prepared to take a nap.

“I thought it was going to get quiet (at about 9 p.m.), but it didn’t happen. It was kaboom all to the northeast.

“The first explosion was the biggest explosion I’ve seen yet. We saw the flames and the red of the explosion. And it was loud – it was something like a cruise missile hit something. The ground was starting rocking – that area was just bombarded.”

Hansen is growing weary of the constant sounds – especially the first two days of the invasion. He can hear it coming from all directions, and hears reports the city is almost entirely encircled by Russian forces.

“I listened to an area get bombed for three hours – three hours of consistent boom-boom-boom, then b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b. Five minutes later, and then its boom-boom-boom.”

Diplomacy is the family’s best hope, and Monday’s meeting between the two countries near Belarus was the start. As far as Hansen was concerned, it went as well as could be expected.

“As an outsider looking at it, I had no hopes at all that there would be a document signed that would end this war,” he said. “Russia sent junior executives and Ukraine sent representatives just above junior executives. They were going to stand there, get (mad) at each other and yell, then after four or five hours they say we need to meet again.

“Nothing in my mind said the war was going to end, but it was a good, solid first step toward possible diplomacy. (Wednesday) will be step two – do I think they’ll be in agreement? No.”

But he knows even if that happens, there is more war ahead.

“In the meantime, that 40-mile long Russian convoy of howitzers and guns will show up (in Kyiv), and be used. In my heart, it appalls me.”