(Ukraine. Special envoys)-One year later bucha It does not have bodies lying in the streets. There are no more tanks on the main avenue and you can’t see all the windows with broken glass. Now it is a town in the process of being rebuilt, with cranes and cars from the Ministry of Infrastructure circling, and open cafes selling cheesecakes. Now the large apartment building in which the Russian troops settled no longer has forced occupants, but the traces can still be seen on its walls: it looks like a building with chickenpox, full of yellow pimples that are, in truth, some kind of of glue to cover the gaps and maintain the insulation.
A year later, Bucha is calm and the dogs no longer eat bodies. It is not a saying. The dogs during the black days of March ate bodies in the streets of Bucha because no one gave them food anymore and that was what they had on hand.
-For you, what was the worst of this year of war?
President Zelensky thinks, his face transforms: He goes from the energetic temper that characterizes him to a more serious and diffuse voice.
–Bucha… I think that Bucha. We have seen a lot of horrible things in this war but I think Bucha impacted all of us,” she finally says, in response to one of his questions during his last lecture.
On March 30, 2022, Russian troops left Bucha and Irpin after almost a month of occupation. On April 2, the first officials entered. On April 3 and 4 it was the turn of the first journalists to enter to record the massacre. Infobae was among them, with the same journalistic team that is now back on the scene, with the intention of seeing what was left, what was gone, what will remain. This note, like a year ago, is written from the field.
The small towns of Bucha and Irpin they used to be recreational spaces. The Irpín river and the forest of the same name were for decades the perfect place for picnics or outdoor getaways. They are located northwest of the capital, exactly one of the places where the troops of the Kremlin. Bucha was taken almost immediately, on March 2 they were already installed there. Irpin cost more, and thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian forces detonated the access bridges to the capital, the invaders could not advance. Stopped there, contained in their fury or in their impotence, they began to destroy everything. And to kill: in Bucha they began to kill.
Once released, the images had an impact: makeshift graves in the squares, makeshift graves in the backyard, mass graves, dead civilians on the sidewalks, some with their bicycles between their legs or clinging to a bag of supplies. A year later, there is nothing like that anymore: the bodies went to the area cemetery, arranged one next to the other, with their crosses and their names. They are arranged in the new part of an existing cemetery, and the earth is still soft, with the sand exposed.
At the exit of the cemetery there is another one, but this time for cars. They are the vehicles that were riddled with bullets or burned on the route before the bridge that linked Irpin with Bucha. There, the inhabitants who tried to evacuate and could not drive because there was no longer a bridge, directly left their abandoned cars and walked away. That march also went around the world: evacuation corridors under the crossfire of a fierce battle. So it is that a married couple with a son died on the outskirts of the city, next to a church, attached to a monument to the Soviet fallen in World War II. That photo, taken by a photographer from the New York Times, made it clear that the war – this war – had no clear rules.
On the route that goes to the bridge the cars were abandoned. A few weeks later they were a post apocalyptic image, a great warning postcard of what human beings are capable of. Not to be forgotten, those cars are now stacked in a public parking lot next to the cemetery. There they are seen, one on top of the other, now painted with graffiti or interventions by local artists, trying to give new meaning to pain.
There, in addition, today a custom that local people had before the war returned: using the parking lot to learn how to park. And there they are, among the charred vehicles, the vehicles of the new drivers, those who will have a car in the immediate future and will travel Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel, Borodyanka…all the towns that were occupied by the Russians.
Volodomir is 64 years old. He lives in the Bucha apartment complex where Russian troops were forcibly housed. He saw them arrive but did not see them leave. One day he was driving back to his house in his car and ran into a check point in the middle of the street. They were Russians. He told them that he lived ahead and they let him pass. He advanced, but after a few blocks he came across another Russian blockade but this time they didn’t stop him, they just they started shooting at him, as if he were the enemy. He immediately stopped the car and ran into the woods. Just then a fierce firefight began with Ukrainian defenders who were in the area. Volodomir remained hidden for hours, until it got dark and he came running to his house. There he hid until the first evacuation corridor was opened in mid-March.
When he was able to go back inside, after the withdrawal of the Russian troops, he found his car completely destroyed, shot, crushed, as if a tank had run over it. The entire complex in which he lived – and where he returned to live today – was traversed by destruction. In the central square there were cars turned upside down or placed on their sides to use as a parapet, the V identifying the Russian troops was painted on the walls, there were boxes of ammunition or campaign food rations accumulated in every corner, and there were also projectiles unexploded stuck in the ground. Today the marks of those projectiles remain, but the children’s games were once again occupied by the boys.
There is Olga’s son. He is 9 years old and plays on the slides. In his hands he carries a revolver. While we are talking with his mother, he points at us and pretends to kill us. His mother looks at him and laughs, bitterly, but she laughs. After a while a friend of his son’s arrives, he has another revolver, and they begin to shoot air bullets.
Olga left her house before the Russians arrived, on February 26. Her husband stayed a few more days, but he also escaped in time. When Bucha was released, she preferred not to return. Her husband did it, and he was in charge of ordering everything. “The apartment was destroyed, the windows didn’t have glass, the door was broken and the Russians had stolen some things like our notebook or a television,” he says. She and her son only returned in September.
Just beyond the complex is one of the scariest places seen since the start of the war. The street happens between trees, it is almost in the confines of Bucha, where the houses begin to disappear into the hands of the forest. It is the northern limit, where the Russian soldiers entered. On one side, a church. In the days of occupation it was taken and snipers were installed in the tower to defend the position. Right in front of the church is the entrance to a summer camp. The boys went there to spend the day during the sunny days, or they went on school trips. Today no kids go there anymore, the place has become a military base that you can’t enter. It makes sense: no one would want their child to play there after what happened.
On April 3, 2022, while the police were touring a recently recovered Bucha, 5 bodies were found in the basement of one of the camp’s residential buildings. They had their hands tied with a seal and signs of torture and beatings all over their bodies. It was only known about them that they were inhabitants of the city and that they were killed by Russian forces during the times of occupation.
“If they stopped you, they asked you for information. And you had to give some information, whether you had it or not,” explained one of the town’s residents last year.
On the way out, when Bucha becomes only a sign in the rearview mirror, behind a gas station you can see a strange dump. There is no rotten smell or organic waste there. Two boys go through it looking for who knows what. One of them has a water gun and the other a wooden sword. They are both from Bucha, and sometimes they like to spend the day there. “Look, this is a manual in Russian on how to clean a gun,” says one of the guys. And then they leave. “Our parents don’t want us to talk to people,” they say as they walk away.
The dump is actually a waste ground where everything that used to make up a city can be deposited. There are broken door frames, there are windows with broken glass, there are even some broken armchairs, or tables, even books. A folder attracts attention. It has a blue cover and many pages, on them the names of the inhabitants are written in Ukrainian, along with the phone number and some random data. No one knows if it was used as a source of information, but still each name, one after the other, is intimidating. Everyone on that list had their lives changed forever. Everyone, without exception, today lives in a different place than the one they knew. No one can forget, even if they want to. None will ever be the same.
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