To Bucha, symbol of death and atrocity, life returns

BUCHA, Ukraine — A breeze rustles through cherry blossoms in bloom on nearly every block of this small town, the white petals fluttering...

BUCHA, Ukraine — A breeze rustles through cherry blossoms in bloom on nearly every block of this small town, the white petals fluttering through the streets where a new pavement covers damage caused by Russian tanks a few years ago. barely weeks.

Spring has come to Bucha in the six weeks since Russian soldiers withdrew from this dormitory community outside kyiv, leaving behind mass graves of massacred citizens, many maimed, and streets shattered and destroyed buildings.

A semblance of normal life has returned to the city. Residents have returned to Bucha in recent weeks, and the city has moved to repair the physical damage caused by russian invasion troops and their weapons. Now, in the verdant spring streets of the city, it’s hard to imagine the horrors that unfolded here.

On a newly paved street with freshly painted white lines, the rotating brushes of a street-cleaning machine swept away what was left of broken glass and bits of shards of iron. In one of the neighborhoods where many of the approximately 400 bodies of Ukrainian citizens were discovered in April, technicians were laying cables to restore internet service. In one house, a resident was removing pieces of destroyed Russian tanks that still litter his garden.

Sweeping away as many traces of the destruction caused by the Russian occupation as possible was an important step in healing the wounds suffered by Bucha residents, said Taras Shapravsky, a city council official.

Mr Shapravsky said 4,000 residents remained in the town while it was occupied, terrified and many hiding in basements without enough food. Even after the withdrawal of Russian soldiers, many residents remained traumatized.

“They were in a very bad psychological state,” he said. “The specialists explained to us that the sooner we eliminate all possible reminders of the war, the sooner we can get people out of this condition.”

Mr Shapravsky said telephone reception was restored a few days after the Russians left, then water and electricity. He said around 10,000 residents had returned so far, about a quarter of the pre-war population of this small town 20 miles from kyiv, the capital.

In a sign of things getting back to normal, he said the marriage registry reopened last week and almost every day couples were applying for marriage licenses.

Bucha was a town where many people moved for quieter lifestyles, a place where they could raise families away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, to which many traveled for work. It was a place people from Kyiv could drive to on a good weekend for lunch.

Six years ago, Sergo Markaryan and his wife opened the Jam Cafe, where they served Italian food, played old jazz and sold jars of jam. He described the cafe as almost like their child, and he decorated it with an eclectic mix of hundreds of images and sets of customer photos.

When Russia invaded, Mr Markaryan, 38, drove his wife and 3-year-old son to the border with Georgia, where he is from. As a Georgian citizen, he could have stayed outside the country, but returned to Ukraine to volunteer, sending food to the front lines.

Two weeks ago, when the electricity was restored, Mr Markaryan returned alone to Bucha to see what was left of the coffee and repair the damage caused by Russian soldiers.

“They stole the knives and forks,” he said, checking off the missing items. He said the soldiers dragged chairs from the dining room for use at checkpoints and stole the audio system. And, he said, despite the toilets working, they had defecated on the floor before leaving.

Two days before its scheduled reopening last week, the cafe and its outdoor terrace looked immaculate and Mr Markaryan was testing the espresso to see if it was up to snuff.

“A lot of people have already returned but some are still scared,” Mr Markaryan said. “But we all definitely got a lot stronger than we were. We faced things that we never thought could happen.

Across town, in a row of closed shops with pointed roofs and boarded-up windows, Mr. B—a former cocktail bar run by Borys Tkachenko—has been patched up and turned into a cafe-bar.

Mr. Tkachenko, 27, returned to Bucha a month ago, repaired the roof which, like most buildings on the street, appeared to have been damaged by shrapnel, and found that the machine espresso was still there. It reopened to sell coffee – or in the case of customers who were soldiers or medical workers, give it away.

Mr Tkachenko, who had worked in clubs in Florida and Canada and studied hospitality in Switzerland, opened the bar with his savings last December. Russia invaded two months later.

He said he knew they had to leave when his 14-month-old daughter started running around their flat, covering her ears and saying “boom, boom, boom” to the sound of explosions.

Mr. Tkachenko drove his family to the border with Slovakia, where they eventually made their way to Switzerland. He returned to Ukraine to volunteer, helping to send supplies to the front and to displaced civilians.

“We had big plans for this place,” said Mr. Tkachenko, who despite everything had a broad smile that matched a tattoo on his arm, “Born to be happy,” said of his bar.

He said that when the war was over, he would probably join his wife and daughter in Switzerland.

“I don’t see a future here right now,” he said.

While the frenetic activity of city workers and residents has helped clear the city of much of the debris of the Russian occupation, the scars of what happened here run deep.

At the corner of a quiet street, a bouquet of dandelions and lily of the valley had been arranged on a flowered scarf in a modest sidewalk memorial.

Volodymyr Abramov, 39, said the memorial honors his brother-in-law, Oleh Abramov, who was taken from his home at gunpoint by Russian soldiers, ordered to kneel and to pull. (Oleh Abramov and his wife, Iryna, were the subject of a Times article published this month.)

“He wasn’t even questioned,” he said.

Mr. Abramov’s house was destroyed by Russian soldiers who threw grenades into his house. But he said it was nothing compared to the suffering of his 48-year-old sister, Iryna Abramova, who lost her husband as well as her home.

“I’m trying to help her and take care of her so she doesn’t kill herself,” he said. “I tell her that her husband is watching her from heaven.”

Mr Abramov, a glazier, said he was now considering whether he should rebuild his house. “I want to run away from here,” he said.

Outside the town morgue, where French and Ukrainian investigators are still working to identify bodies from the massacres by Russian troops, a small group of residents gathered, hoping to find out what had happened to the family members.

Yulia Monastyrska, 29, said she came to try to get a death certificate for her husband, whose body was among those discovered in April. His hands were tied, he had been shot in the back and legs, and one of his eyes was burned, she said.

Ms Monastyrska said her husband, Ivan, was a crane operator who disappeared while she and her 7-year-old daughter, Oleksandra, were hiding in the basement of their building.

Oleksandra, wearing glasses and sneakers with princesses on them, leaned against her mother as she listened to details that were now clearly familiar to her.

“As far as I know, everyone wants to come back here, but they’re still scared,” Ms Monastyrska said. “We were born here, we lived here, a lot of good things happened here.”

Yulia Kozak, 48, accompanied by her daughter Daryna, 23, and Daryna’s 3-year-old son Yehor had come for a DNA test to see if there was a match between the unidentified remains of her missing son , Oleksandr, 29 years old. , who had fought in the war against Russia in 2017.

Prosecutors found his military ID card, dirty and moldy, in a basement where the Russians were holding prisoners.

Sobbing, she said the last time she spoke on the phone with her son, in March, he told her he was being shot. In his apartment, there is a bullet hole in the window, on which the sign of the cross had been engraved.

Mrs. Kozak, a cook, said she planned to stay in Bucha until she was reunited with her son.

“I’m sure he’s alive, 100% sure,” she said. “I feel he’s somewhere, I just don’t know where.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: To Bucha, symbol of death and atrocity, life returns
To Bucha, symbol of death and atrocity, life returns
Newsrust - US Top News
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