Ukraine war: Inside Vovchansk - the town being flattened in Russian offensive

Flames and black smoke chugged from the windows of a two-storey apartment block in a frontline Ukrainian town.

Residents said a Russian missile or bomb had punched a large crater into the soil in front of the building, devastating their homes.

The attack had only happened a short while ago and the scene on Saturday morning was still chaotic, with people worried the fire would spread to a row of apartments next door.

"There are pensioners inside," said one man. "If the fire gets in, they will be burnt."

Firefighters had yet to arrive, but the town of Vovchansk, barely three miles from the Russian border, has become a warzone since Russia launched a surprise new offensive in the northeast of Ukraine in the early hours of Friday morning.

Shocked and crying, a lady, who gave her name as Valentyna, swept up broken glass on the ground.

"Everyone is suffering," the 59-year-old said.

Despite the danger, she said she did not want to leave.

Local community workers did their best to help respond to the explosion, entering the burning building to retrieve belongings, while warning others to stand back in case of any secondary blasts.

A woman whose apartment was destroyed in the strike had a lucky escape.

Tatiana, 71, said she had been covered in glass. Blood was seeping from a deep-looking cut towards the bottom of her left leg.

Asked how she felt, she said: "What can I feel in this situation? I don't know whether firefighters will come or not."

Gesturing towards the hole, she said: "Just look at how huge this pit is. It should be some serious shell or rocket. It is not just some mortar just look at it."

A police officer, who accompanied Sky News into Vovchansk, asked the women whether she would like to be evacuated, but she said she did not want to go as she had to deal with the aftermath of the attack on her home.

Some 3,000 residents had been living in the town, according to the mayor, though hundreds have already fled or been evacuated in the past day.

We drove into the town centre to witness the scale of the destruction.

Barely a building was undamaged - some lying completely in ruins.

Vovchansk had been occupied by Russian forces during the first months of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive pushed them out. But the town has never been left in peace, with Russian forces across the border launching artillery strikes ever since.

But they had recently become more intense, in particular over the past week before erupting into the unprecedented bombardments of the past day and a half.

Vladyslav Seminahin, a senior lieutenant with the Vovchansk District Police, told Sky News he felt outraged by the devastation.

"I feel… a sense of injustice that innocent people are suffering, losing their homes, health, and sometimes even their lives," he said, speaking as he drove with us through the town.

"We help them in any way we can."

As for whether he thought evacuated residents would be able to return, he said: "I think they will, of course. We need to wait a bit. I believe everyone will come back. Ukraine will remain within its borders. We hope for that. And we're doing everything for it."