Vladimir Likhvan fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine hoping to find safety in Europe, only to watch helplessly as his new home was destroyed in the fire that tore through a high-rise apartment complex in Valencia, Spain, on Thursday, killing at least to 10 people.

Mr. Likhvan, 37, his sister Victoria Tudovshi, 42, and their 13-year-old daughter lived in a rented home on the 10th floor of the taller of the two buildings that was destroyed by Thursday’s fire. They had recently arrived in Spain after a year living with relatives in Lithuania.

Like the two dozen other Ukrainian families also living in the building at the time of the fire, the brothers had begun to build a new life in Spain, far from the dangers and destruction of war. But on the Sabbath, they and many of their neighbors were left without worldly possessions except the clothes on their backs; They were homeless, shopping for toothbrushes and other basic needs.

Just down the street, local authorities held a moment of silence for the victims in front of Valencia City Hall.

“We need help, with documents, clothes and money to buy new tools for work,” Likhvan said.

Initial suspicions about the cause of the fire fell on construction materials, and investigators attempted to determine whether exterior siding could have contributed to fueling the fire.

For now, survivors of the fire are being offered free accommodation in a hotel in the city center. A block of 131 apartments, recently acquired by the City Council, will be made available to residents who lost their homes in the fire, according to a statement from the City Council.

But outside a former tobacco factory which the council was using on Saturday morning to offer practical and psychological support to survivors, it was unclear whether the new homes were being offered free of charge or not.

Vicente Barberán, 55, who works in restoration, is still paying the mortgage on the house that just caught fire. “Another mortgage would ruin me,” he said.

Raimundo González, 38, and Virginia Pérez, 35, bought their apartment in 2014.

“We still have 30 years of mortgage” to pay, said González, who works at the port of Valencia.

On Saturday morning, José Soriano, president of the local bar association, which is organizing an effort to provide free legal advice to victims, said survivors “face many financial and administrative problems, from applying for new passports to figuring out what happens.” “. to their mortgages.” He added that the National Police offers to accelerate the replacement of lost identity documents.

The causes of the fire and the reasons for its rapid spread are still unknown.

Luis Sendra, dean of the Official College of Architects of the Valencian Community, cited images published in Spanish media of an awning that caught fire on a seventh-floor balcony before the building was engulfed in flames.

“The flames from the awning were blown by the wind against the aluminum sheets on the exterior of the building,” Sendra said. “If the temperature rose to 400ºC, it is possible that the aluminum would have broken, and if the insulation inside the sheets was flammable, it would have caught fire.”

Sendra explained that Spanish legislation allowed the use of flammable materials such as polyethylene as insulation within aluminum sheets, until changes were made in 2019 following the 2017 fire at London’s Grenfell Towers. Insulation must now be fire resistant in all new construction projects.

Mr. González and Ms. Pérez, the couple who bought their apartment in 2014, had just returned from work when the fire broke out. Fortunately, her two-year-old daughter was spending the afternoon with Ms. Perez’s parents. The couple was alerted to the danger when they heard cars honking frantically in the street. Then the lights went out.

The only thing that Mrs. Pérez, who works at the neighboring hospital, had time to grab was her little daughter’s stroller.

“I feel bad for not taking away his toys,” she said, bursting into tears.

As the fire burned, she ran downstairs to safety. Along the way, Mr. González joined other residents to help a disabled neighbor to safety.

The same harrowing story of a narrow escape was told over and over again.

Barderan, 55, who lived alone, is still alive because he went for a run 10 minutes before the fire broke out, he said. On Saturday he was wearing new clothes, but he was still wearing his sneakers.

Ms. Tudovshi worked from home as an online psychologist; Mr. Likhvan as online marketing strategist. Ms. Tudovshi’s daughter was enrolled in a local school and was delighted by the opportunity to learn a new language and live near the sea in “the country of her dreams,” according to Mr. Likhvan.

Likhvan said that shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, he had just left the building to drop his niece off at language classes when he received a call from his sister, who had stayed home.

“He said it smelled like smoke,” Likhvan said, speaking on behalf of Tudovshi, whose Spanish is rudimentary. Within seconds, Ms. Tudovshi knew where the smell was coming from. She turned on the screen of her phone to show her brother an image of black smoke entering her apartment.

He told her to run.

Ms. Tudovshi narrowly made it out of the building alive. Unable to climb the stairs, which were shrouded in smoke, she had no choice but to take the elevator with her two dogs and three other neighbors, also saving her pets. The elevator stopped working on the first floor. Luckily, the doors opened.

Ernesto Navarro, 55, a postal worker, was returning from work when he saw the smoke from afar. Minutes later, realizing his house was on fire, he called his wife, Inajet Rida, and told her to come out.

“I left the apartment in slippers,” said Rida, who on Saturday morning was wearing a tracksuit and a pom-pom hat she had chosen from charity boxes that well-wishers had brought to the hotel where many of the survivors are now staying. .

Not everyone was so lucky.

“We have friends who didn’t come out,” González said solemnly, referring to a couple, their newborn baby and their two-year-old son, who were among the dead.

“They had just returned from giving birth,” Mr. González said.

By Sam