After months of fighting, the city of Bohorodychne, in eastern Ukraine, has been transformed into a field of ruins where only the meowing of cats can be heard. Until a man leans out on a balcony.
The town, located in the Donetsk region, was totally destroyed after months of shelling. The Russians occupied it during the boreal summer, but the kyiv troops recaptured it in September in a counter-offensive.
During the fighting, not a single house was saved. The blue church, riddled with bullets, is almost completely destroyed. Its golden dome now lies shattered on the ground.
In the village school, which had about a thousand inhabitants before the war, the floor is covered with books and notebooks. Among the tables is what the Russians left behind: mattresses and some uniforms.
The streets are littered with rubble and pieces of wrecked cars. Some roaming dogs follow visitors without barking.
A cat meows desperately, but when one gets close, it runs off.
– Human presence –
Suddenly, at the corner of a road, a man leans out on the balcony of a windowless house. Yuri Ponomarienko kindly welcomes the visitors. His face is gaunt and despite the frigid temperatures, he doesn’t wear many clothes.
This 54-year-old man, a native of Bohorodychnehad sent his wife and daughter to Poland four days before the start of the February Russian invasion.
Then he himself fled when the fighting began in Bohorodychneliving in different still preserved cities and towns of eastern Ukraine.
After the fighting was over, he returned to the village where he had spent most of his life. At first he spent a day here and another there, until a week ago she moved into a house that is not hers. His was completely obliterated.
“I think I’m the first to come back to live here, although I think there’s still a mother and son who never left the village. I felt that I had to go back, I had to do it, ”says Yuri.
Settling into a small room of five or six square meters, he built a home heater out of bricks that radiates comforting warmth. A thermometer hanging from a wire reads 18 degrees.
The silence of the town is broken by the noise of an engine. Viktor Sklyar, in his 50s with a jovial face and piercing blue eyes, arrived with his wife and young daughter to collect what they could from his brother’s house at the entrance of Bohorodychne.
“Those Russian soldier pigs had taken up residence in his garage,” he explains, pointing to the food scattered on the floor and the soldiers’ kettles.
“I guess there were three of them, they were sleeping in the basement,” he adds, pointing to a dark room covered with a grimy gray mattress.
The house is in chaos, everything has been knocked down and destroyed. According to Viktor, the soldiers took the television, the microwave oven, clothes, an ax to chop wood… and fired a shot at the fridge, he recounted indignantly, showing the hole in the door of the appliance.
The worst thing is that they killed the dog and threw its remains in the garage. “It was a Saint Bernard. A Saint Bernard”, Viktor repeats anguished.