What starts with a simple walk through the countryside ends up becoming a visit to a Dantesque setting. Apparently, it is just one more forest of the many that surround kyiv, but this one ended up becoming ground zero of Russian humiliation. The Kremlin troops not only failed to take the Ukrainian capital after the invasion on February 24, but on the night of March 27 they fell victim to a fierce attack. At 11 pm, according to some neighbors, the local army destroyed from the air and with artillery part of the huge camp that the invader had deployed between the towns of Bucha and Borodianka.
The bombardment was of such magnitude that it destroyed everything in a 200 or 300 meter radius. There is no data on how many Russian soldiers were camped, but given the size of the territory they occupied over many hectares, it could be thousands. Nobody among the inhabitants of the area knows how many burned to death, victims of the Ukrainian projectiles or of the explosions that were generated in the arsenal that was in the place. It seems that it is the only thing that the authorities have taken, the corpses.
At the beginning of the track that leads to the place, remains of civilization appear. One might think that they are memories of a group of campers without a conscience. A boot, a piece of plastic, a piece of clothing, food scraps… A few hundred meters further on, the scene changes. Sundays couldn’t be so many or so dirty. Indeed, it is not a haven of leisure. Several signs nailed to the edge of the path warn of the possible presence of mines.
Huge burrows dug into the ground the size of a garage begin to appear. The ramps indicate that they were used to camouflage vehicles. Some of these holes, covered with logs and branches, have become true underground cabins. In some there are still sleeping mats. Scattered around, there are also booths built with branches and covered with tarpaulins to guarantee a certain amount of privacy. They look like toilets. More clothes. More boots. Precarious clotheslines. Green wooden and metal boxes. They are ammunition. And the first dilapidated military truck appears among the pines. Seeing it, no one can imagine what nature hides ahead.
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There is no trace of human life. Yes of death. It shows up unannounced when what remains of the huge settlement has spread to the right and left and over a kilometer. Two crossed sticks sunk into the ground mark the point next to a small burial mound. Another of the many tombs that, far from the cemeteries, can be seen anywhere in this war. Here I catch you, here I kill you, here I bury you.
“It’s from a Russian soldier,” agrees Slava, the neighbor who acts as a guide. Further on, there are six empty graves along with the remains of what were also improvised crosses. “These were Ukrainians and they dug them up,” he adds. For them there was a second less undignified farewell. Slava warns after a while that there is little left for the final fireworks. He takes some pride in being able to teach the proof of the debacle. He announces it as the one who prepares the tourists in the Notre-Dame cathedral that the desired moment arrives to look out from the heights among the gargoyles over Paris.
First, a bizarre little dump. Washing machines, televisions and other gutted appliances. “They are remains of what the Russians were stealing from houses and that they could not take,” he says with a touch of hatred. His explanation coincides with that of other inhabitants of villages that were under Russian occupation. They report constant looting by unassisted uniformed men who sometimes even took clothes to combat the winter rigor and food to keep from fainting.
Food did come to this forest camp. Remains of individual rations with the Russian Army logo are visible on the package. There is even a copy of the Moscow newspaper Red Star on Friday, March 18. “Vladimir Putin: We will fight for the right to be and remain Russia” is the main headline on the cover along with a photograph of the president. In other articles that are announced on that front page, there is talk of Western fabrications in the style of “Goebbels” or the “historical roots of Ukrainian Nazism.”
Ahead, a huge circle appears, obliterated by the intensity of the attack. A clearing among the army of logs devoured by the flames. Others were split down the middle or splintered in an almost artistic way. A brief walk there, and the reporter’s mistrust at the promise that he was going to visit something of interest evaporates in the middle of a setting of a real war movie.
The charred masses of dozens of trucks and other vehicles remain. Some are a ball of junk. Others look more recognizable, but covered by a measles of impacts that allows light to pass through the sheet metal as if it were a sieve. Scattered on the ground, there are ammunition and projectiles of all calibers and conditions, documentation of the weapons that have miraculously been saved from burning, remains of uniforms, charred metal trunks…
This environs of Bucha, Borodianka and other suburbs of kyiv had been occupied, subdued and razed by the Russians for a month. Given the failure of Putin in his attempt to invade the capital, they were preparing to withdraw at the end of March amid local counterattacks. But a bitter farewell awaited them. It was in the midst of that March 27 apocalypse that, Slava recalls, “night became day.”
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