There is a street in the Ukraine that does not require soldiers, but an army of psychologists. A place in the country where weapons, ammunition and the military were necessary to confront the Russians, but now, 20 days after the withdrawal of the last invader, he only wants to talk about the horror experienced to anyone who puts a microphone in front of him. As water and electricity return, the almost three kilometers long Yablonska Street joins other avenues as symbolic as Sarajevo’s Mesa Selimovica Boulevard or Lebanon’s Rue Maarad. This name is already part of the history of infamy, for the amount of terror inflicted in so few days and so little space.
Yablonska Street is named after Tatiana Yablonska, the great Ukrainian painter who died in 2005, a symbol of Soviet cultural power. From February 27 to the first days of April, when the Russian troops settled here, it was the main street of Bucha, a town 30 minutes from kyiv, today reduced to rubble. Walking through the more than three kilometers in length is a walk through all the horrors imagined beyond the war conflict: executions, multiple rapes, looting, mass graves… After the deaths of some 400 people, the European Union has converted the place and neighborhoods adjacent in the main incriminating evidence to try Vladimir Putin’s troops for war crimes.
At 220 Yablonska Street live 65-year-old Liubov Volodimurina and his 20-year-old daughter Karina. Now that the tanks left their garden, they began to do something that Ukrainians are excited about: laying flowers. “The snipers were there,” he says, pointing to the top of the Soviet building where they live. They set five o’clock in the afternoon as the deadline, but when they got drunk they shot at cars or the windows of houses where they saw movement of curtains. He didn’t listen to reason, they were like zombies. The first day they said they had come to free us, but as the days went by and the Ukrainian Army attacked more they began to be more aggressive”, he explains. Another day they started shooting at the vehicles, but a neighbor told them to stop and they shot him in the chest. “They had a reflective armband, so when they saw movement they would shoot,” he recalls. “Not even the Nazis[who during World War II passed through Bucha twice, when they went to Moscow and when they returned]did so much damage,” she says dejectedly with the shovel in her hand. [quedurantelaIIGuerraMundialpasarondosvecesporBuchacuandoibanhaciaMoscúycuandoregresaron)hicierontantodaño”diceabatidaconlapalaenlamano
A few steps further on, at number 190, an elderly couple who prefer not to give their names repairs the demolished fence. “They entered here by putting the tank in the patio,” she says, pointing to the marks of the armor on the ground. Then they broke the windows and opened the door of the house with a bullet that entered through the lock, went through the living room and embedded itself in an old kitchen where tomato soup is now boiling. For days the couple cleaned rubble, covered the broken windows with cardboard, repaired the roof and finished fixing the door lock. “I can’t sleep at night. I think they will appear at any moment giving blows. I dream that they take me with them, or that they kill my husband, ”she says on the verge of tears.
Three weeks ago, Yablonska Avenue, renamed the “Avenue of Bodies”, was unwalkable. The asphalt was dotted with corpses and covered with electrical poles, rubble and burned and crushed Russian tanks that portrayed a chaotic flight. Today the street looks clear, but lifeless.
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At number 173 lives Natalia, 39, who doesn’t have a hard time talking either. Hers is one of her hard stories for two reasons: for several weeks eight Russian soldiers stood in her living room, bathroom and kitchen and threatened to kill her when they learned that her husband was a military man. The second is that she knows that such brutality was due to a neighbor tipping off that a Ukrainian soldier lived there. Precisely the collaborators who helped the Russian Army have become the obsession of the authorities to locate and prosecute civilians who provided some information for treason. “They checked the phone and discovered photos of my husband in uniform and that he had sent information to his superiors about the Russian presence and they beat him and tied his hands. When they forced him to undress, he took advantage of a mistake and managed to escape. So they attacked me and my son, ”she recalls. “They said they would shoot me and I spent several days like that.” Meanwhile, her husband spent five days sleeping rough until he arrived in kyiv and turned himself in to the Army and today he is at the front in a place he cannot reveal for security reasons, she explains. Natalia was saved from being shot, she says, when a superior of hers told her: “I have not killed anyone in Syria and I do not want to kill you.” The woman herself concludes: “I get scared when I hear any noise, I can’t concentrate and I’m suspicious of all my neighbors. The life I have now is not life.
At the height of number 85 of the street there is a construction of the Ministry of Agriculture that the Russians used for more than a month as a command center. Interrogations and arrests were made in the two-story building with the entrance protected by sandbags. Twenty days after his departure, there are dozens of containers of prepared food, some boots and some boxes that were used to store the ammunition. Among the abandoned objects there is a briefcase with test tubes with chemicals such as DDT, sarin, mustard gas, ammonium or formalin and a protective mask against all these substances. In a corner of what was the Russian control center there are bottles of vodka, cognac and Jack Daniel’s, showing that the horror goes through neighborhoods.
A few meters away, at number 65, an elderly couple is chatting on the sidewalk. Without having to force the conversation, Petro, a retired mechanical engineer from the Antonov factory, points to the well where his murdered neighbor was buried for five days. There, he says stretching out his arm, there was another body and there another one, he points out. When he talks about the worst moments of the occupation, he remembers the day he went to the Russian command center and saw his neighbor bleeding to death. Nicolai had confronted the soldiers and they had cut off his member, he says opening his hands, “and everything was horrible because of the blood”. “Almost all the Russians were very young Chechens, 17 or 18 years old,” he adds.
When he opens the doors of his house, it shows a room in which the water seeps since a projectile blew part of the roof. “My food and television were stolen, but what could I do?” she says with a shrug. When he lowers them, the 72-year-old engineer’s emaciated body bursts into tears like a child.
A few steps away, Yablonska 17, one of the few tall buildings on the street, is another hive of trauma. Much of the façade is destroyed and locals here were killed by the Russians at close range. A neighbor fed up with journalists bursts into tears when she shows the grave where a mother and two neighbors buried the body of her son. She risked burying him before the dogs started biting him, she details the blonde-haired woman who she doesn’t want to give her name either. “Several girls were raped. We all saw them. They touched them, put them in cellars and had fun abusing them, ”she says through tears. There are streets that summarize a war and cellars from which you never leave even if the war ends.
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