(Ukraine. Special envoys)-One year later loofah There are no bodies lying in the streets. There are no more tanks on the main avenue and you can no longer see all the windows with shards of glass. It’s now a city under reconstruction, with Ministry of Infrastructure cranes and cars circling, and cafes open selling cheesecakes. Now the large building in which the Russian troops have moved has no forced occupants, but the traces are still visible on its walls: it looks like a building with chicken pox, full of yellow pimples which are, in truth, , a kind of glue to cover the gaps and maintain the insulation.
A year later, Bucha is calm and dogs no longer eat corpses. It is not a word to say. The dogs during the black days of March ate corpses 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 part of this year of war?
President Zelensky thinks, his face changes: He goes from the energetic temperament that characterizes him to a more serious and diffuse voice.
–Bucha… I think Bucha. We have seen a lot of horrible things in this war, but I think Bucha has touched all of us – he finally said, in response to one of the questions posed 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. GlobeLiveMedia 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 were once recreational areas. The Irpín River and the forest of the same name have been for decades the ideal 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 settled there. Irpin costs more, and thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian forces blew up the access bridges to the capital, the invaders were unable to advance. Stopped there, restrained in their fury or in their impotence, they began to destroy everything. And kill: in Bucha, they started killing.
Once broadcast, the images had an impact: makeshift graves in the squares, makeshift graves in the garden, mass graves, dead civilians on the sidewalks, some with their bikes between their legs or clinging to a supply bag. A year later, there is no such thing: the bodies went to the neighborhood cemetery, lined up next to each other, with their crosses and their names. They are placed 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. These are the vehicles that were riddled with bullets or burned on the road before the bridge that connected Irpin to Bucha. There, the inhabitants who were trying to evacuate and could not drive because there was no longer a bridge, directly left their abandoned cars and drove away. This march also toured the world: evacuation corridors under the crossfire of a fierce battle. This is how a married couple with a son died on the outskirts of town, next to a church, attached to a monument to fallen Soviets in World War II. This photo, taken by a photographer from New York Times, clearly that the war – this war – had no clear rules.
On the road that goes to the bridge the cars have been abandoned. A few weeks later they were a post-apocalyptic image, a great warning postcard of what human beings are capable of. As a reminder, these cars are now stacked in a public parking lot next to the cemetery. We see them, one on top of the other, now painted with graffiti or interventions by local artists, trying to give new meaning to the pain.
There, in addition, a custom that the locals had before the war has returned today: using the parking lot to learn how to park. And here they are, among the charred vehicles, the vehicles of the new drivers, those who will have a car immediately and will travel Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel, Borodyanka… all the towns 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, while driving home, he came across a checkpoint in the middle of the street. They were Russians. He told them he lived out front and they let him in. He advanced, but after a few blocks he ran into 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 forest. At this time, a fierce firefight began with the Ukrainian defenders who were in the area. Volodomir hid for hours, until it got dark and he ran home. He hid there until the opening of the first evacuation corridor in mid-March.
When he was able to get inside, after the withdrawal of the Russian troops, he found his car completely destroyed, shot down, crushed, as if a tank had crushed it. The entire complex in which he lived – and where he returned to live today – was riddled with destruction. In the central square there were overturned or lying cars to serve as a parapet, the V identifying the Russian troops was painted on the walls, there were crates of ammunition or field food rations piled up in every corner, and there were also unexploded projectiles stuck in the ground. Today, the traces of these 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 his finger at us and pretends to kill us. His mother looks at him and laughs, bitterly, but she laughs. After a while, a friend of her son’s arrives, he has another gun, and they start firing 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. It was her husband who took care of it and he was in charge of ordering everything. “The apartment was destroyed, the windows had no glass, the door was broken and the Russians had stolen things like our laptop or a TV,” he says. She and her son did not return until September.
Just beyond the compound is one of the scariest places seen since the war began. The street passes between the trees, it is almost in the enclosure of Bucha, where the houses begin to disappear in the hands of the forest. This is the northern limit, where the Russian soldiers entered. On one side, a church. During the time of the occupation, it was taken, and snipers were installed in the tower to defend the position. Just opposite the church is the entrance to a summer camp. The boys went there to spend the day on sunny days, or they went on school trips. Today no more children go there, the place has become a military base which you can no longer enter. It makes sense: no one would want their child to play it after what happened.
On April 3, 2022, while police were visiting 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. They were only known to be residents of the city and that they had been killed by Russian forces during the occupation.
“If they arrested you, they asked you for information. And you had to give information whether you had it or not,” one of the townspeople said last year.
On the way out, when Bucha becomes just a sign in the rearview mirror, behind a gas station, you can see a strange dump. There is no rotting smell or organic waste. Two boys roam it in search of who knows what. One of them has a water pistol and the other a wooden sword. They are both from Bucha, and sometimes they like to spend the day there. “Look, it’s a manual in Russian on how to clean a gun,” one of the guys said. And then they leave. “Our parents don’t want us to talk to people,” they say as they walk away.
The landfill is actually a wasteland where everything that once made up a city can be dumped. There are broken door frames, there are windows with broken panes, there are even broken armchairs, or tables, even books. A file attracts attention. It has a blue cover and many pages, on which are written the names of the inhabitants in Ukrainian, as well as the telephone number and some random data. No one knows if he was used as a source of information, but each name, one after another, is still intimidating. Everyone on this list has had their lives changed forever. Everyone, without exception, now lives in a place different from the one they knew. Nobody can forget, even if he wants to. None will ever be the same.