With a small broom and dustpan in hand, Olga Prenzilevich clears debris along the road in a quiet kyiv suburb next to a cordoned mound of charred vehicles and misshapen wreckage.
But he can’t erase the terrible memory of seeing the government helicopter carrying Ukraine’s interior minister plummet through the fog and crash into the kindergarten building. Or the frantic rush to save the children afterward, their little bodies on fire.
“I’m still in shock,” says the 62-year-old custodian, the acrid stench of burning still in the air.
Nearby, Oksana Yuriy, 33, watches investigators photograph the scene to try to piece together how Wednesday’s crash happened.
“I thought this was a safe place”said. “Now I understand that there is no such thing”.
This is the hard lesson Ukrainians have had to learn in a week of mourning for at least 59 dead in places many considered safe from the violence of the war against Russia, now in its 11th month.
Since February, they have seen lives lost from missile strikes and battlefield fighting, and civilians dying in schools, theaters, hospitals and apartment buildings. They have suffered irretrievable loss: a loved one, a place to call home, and for some, any hope for the future.
But last week he seemed to have a special cruelty.
It began over the weekend, when a barrage of Russian missiles slammed into an apartment complex housing some 1,700 people in the southeastern city of Dnipro. The January 14 bombing killed 45 civilians, including six childrenthe deadliest attack on civilians since the spring, in an area once considered safe for many who fled frontline areas further east.
Then came the Wednesday helicopter crash in kindergarten in the kyiv suburb of Brovary who killed 14, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, other members of his ministry, and the plane’s crew. A child on the ground was killed and 25 people were injured, including 11 children.
Monastyrskyi, 42, was traveling to the front line when the Super Puma helicopter went down in the fog, although no official cause has been determined.
Flowers were piled up Friday on the fence outside the kindergarten. A 73-year-old woman hung up a plastic bag full of aloe vera plants after reading that she could help heal burn victims.
But not all the mourning was in Brovary or Dnipro.
In a cemetery in the town of Bucha, near the capital, Oleksy Zavadskyi was buried after falling in battle in Bakhmut, where fighting has been heavy for months. His fiancée, Anya Korostenstka, threw dirt on his coffin after he was lowered into the grave. She then collapsed crying.
“The courage of our military and the motivations of the Ukrainian people are not enough”President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a news conference Thursday at the Mariinskyi Palace in kyiv.
He had appeared a day earlier in a video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he called on his high-powered audience to remain silent to honor those killed in the helicopter crash. Her wife, Olena Zelenska, who had traveled to the conference to rally support for Ukraine in person, wiped tears from her eyes when she heard about the accident.
At an event Thursday at kyiv’s luxurious Fairmont Hotel, US Ambassador Bridget Brink told attendees that some embassy staff had been killed in fighting on the front lines.
“I know that many Ukrainians in and out of government are suffering right now,” he said, urging his audience of diplomats, businessmen and journalists not to lose faith.
“If you look at it day by day, it’s almost too difficult,” he added. “In the larger sweep of things, it’s a different story.”
Inside a hospital ward in Dnipro, where she was recovering from last weekend’s missile attack, Olha Botvinova, 40, celebrated with birthday balloons and cards. It wasn’t her real birthday, she said, but she believes she was born a second time simply by surviving.
“We plan to continue living”said.
He had fled war-torn Donetsk in 2014 when Moscow-backed separatists seized the city. In the spring of 2022, they had to flee again, this time from the city of Kherson after it fell to the Russians.
He thought he would be safe in Dnipro.
The missile attack destroyed the kitchen and bedroom walls of dozens of apartments. Inside, life is preserved as it was moments before the explosion: In an eighth-floor kitchen with bright yellow walls, a bowl of apples was untouched.
Many residents still do not have windows. Oleksii Kornieev returned from the Eastern Front to help his wife clean up.
“Our family’s mood is low,” he said, saying they must deal with power outages amid freezing temperatures. “But we are glad to be alive.”
Clothes, pillows, blankets and mattresses were being delivered to distribution points in the city.
“Yesterday they had everything, and today they have nothing,” volunteer Uliana Borzova said of the residents.
“I’m trying to hold on”he added. “Because otherwise, we will all drown in pain”.
(with information from AP)
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