Since the start of war in ukraineOlha Shelest had not shed a single tear. Not when the Russian bombing of Chernigov began shortly after the invasion began, nor when they blew up the only standing bridge connecting the city with the world. He did not do it when a dozen people were killed while queuing for bread, nor when he discovered that only three of the 36 urban schools they have survived intact the vicious fire of the last six weeks. “Yesterday I went for a walk and I cried for the first time,” says this 47-year-old woman on the other end of the phone. “This city was so beautiful! We had churches and historical monuments, one from the 11th century. Up to 7,000 tourists visited us every day in summer. Now almost everything is severely damaged. we have lost it forever”.
In Chernigov the moment of decompression has come. Those who could not escape the city, about half of the population, return to the streets without too much fear of dying. The Russian troops withdrew from the entire region on Monday from the northeast of the country to their bases on the other side of the border, leaving a trail of death and destruction here too. Both in the provincial capital, incessantly attacked with missiles and artillery and besieged for weeks like Mariupol, and in the villages on the outskirts, occupied until two days ago by the Kremlin military. “Here they were not fighting an army, here they were bombing civilians”, said the mayor of Chernigov, Vladyslav Atroshenko. Until he does nothing Russian was the majority language in this city of 300,000 inhabitants. Today about 70% of urban buildings lie destroyed or damaged, according to initial estimates.
Failure of the Russian Army
The failure of Vladimir Putin’s army in all the North of the country it’s loud have not been able to take Kyiv neither Chernigov neither sumi, from where it also began to withdraw on April 4, as confirmed by the Ukrainian authorities. Not one of the northern capitals. But in her withdrawal, with which seeks to concentrate its forces in the eastwith the Donbas as priority objective, his soldiers leave behind a bleak landscape and endless questions among the civilian population, accustomed to their Russian neighbors taking over the city’s markets, located just 100 kilometers from the border. “And why all this? We were not his enemies. We didn’t do anything to them. How can they hate us so much to have done this to us?”, asks Shelest with a voice that conveys anger and sadness in equal parts. The school he runs, the Chiernigov Magnet School, is one of the few that has remained intact.
The humanitarian aid has begun to enter the city, after traffic on the road leading to kyiv has been restored. And some stores have reopened, although you have to queue for up to two hours, according to the sources consulted. He has also returned Water and the electricity in parts of the city. But a myriad of problems persist. Starting by how to bury the dead because the cemetery is mined, as reported by the authorities, so the corpses continue to be buried in makeshift pits until they can be properly buried.
“When I heard on the radio that the Russians were withdrawing, I felt a huge relief. Our nightmare seems to be over,” says Tymoshchenko Nadiya, 67. This pensioner says that she spent entire days trying to get food and supplies, holding out in queues even when anti-aircraft sirens sounded. “Many people left the city when they could, risking everything because there were no humanitarian corridors. Some were directly killed by the Russians, others were killed by the mines they had left behind.”
A second Bucha
The scariest day for her was when the Kremlin soldiers They tried to enter the city. “There started to be skirmishes on the outskirts. All the windows were blown out, there was shooting everywhere in the northern neighborhoods.” And as many managed to flee, she was left alone. “The I spent the last week completely alone in the basement. I only had the dog. He was terrifying. I prayed to God that my house would not be bombed, ”he says in an interview via WhatsApp. “I was also very afraid for my relatives in the villages, directly occupied by the Russians. They were stealing from houses, killing cattle and taking what they could.”
The cruelty of some stories that come from there is reminiscent of Bucha, the scene of the largest massacre of civilians to date in this war. Hence the people of Chernigov now feel a real devolution for their military. “Seeing the crimes in Bucha, the people of this city we kneel before our soldiers because if it weren’t for them we could have become a second bucha”, says Shelest, the school principal. “This war had taught us that Russians are not our brothersas they insist on saying, but now we know they’re not even human.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.