In Ukraine’s Bucha, a ‘wounded soul’ aches one year after liberation

Updated: Mar 31, 2023, 06:31 GMT+00:00

By Dan Peleschuk BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Strolling under a peaceful blue sky, 71-year-old Kateryna Kosych can't help recalling how Russian troops killed and looted after violently occupying her charming town for a month last year.

Graves of unidentified people killed by Russian soldiers during occupation of the Bucha town, are seen at the town's cemetery outside Kyiv

By Dan Peleschuk

BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) -Strolling under a peaceful blue sky, 71-year-old Kateryna Kosych can’t help recalling how Russian troops killed and looted after violently occupying her charming town for a month last year.

Among the victims in Bucha was her 47-year-old son-in-law – a wound that festers despite the relative rejuvenation of the town since its liberation one year ago on Friday.

“And it won’t heal soon,” said Kosych, as a brigade of street cleaners briskly swept a tidy sidewalk nearby.

The leafy suburb of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv became synonymous with Russian brutality after a military retreat last March revealed ravaged streets littered with civilian bodies. Ukrainian authorities put the civilian death toll in areas of the Kyiv region liberated from Russian forces at 1,137, including 461 killed in Bucha alone.

International investigators are collecting evidence in Bucha and in other places where Ukraine says Russian troops committed widespread atrocities in their invasion that began on Feb. 24, 2022. Moscow denies the allegations.

Russia’s forces abandoned their assault on Kyiv a month into the war, withdrawing from Bucha in the north and other areas. Fighting rages on in the east and south.

Today Bucha is full of life. Young families criss-cross central streets and the sounds of construction clatter in the crisp spring air.

On a recent afternoon, tractors trundled up and down Vokzalna Street, where an internationally-funded reconstruction project is aimed at erasing the traces of war.

Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk, who likened the rebuilding to a bustling anthill, said residents are eager to close a deeply painful chapter.

“It’s this kind of incredible desire for nothing to visually remind us of what the Russians did and left in their wake,” he told Reuters.

“It’s in the heart, soul and mind of every Bucha resident.”

But the scars of war are strewn across the town, where some high rises remain battered and a scrapyard is full of cars and military vehicles destroyed during last year’s fighting.

Fences along Yablunska Street, where dozens of residents were killed, are still riddled with bullet holes.

Meanwhile, Russian missiles and drones threaten in the skies above – including during a recent attack which 29-year-old Daria Yesypchuk witnessed with her family.

“We heard it all,” she said of the overnight drone strike. “My husband even saw how they shot them down.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday called the liberation of Bucha and other towns around Kyiv “a symbol of the fact that Ukraine will be able to win this war”.

But while most in Bucha believe in victory, said Andriy Holovin, a priest at a Ukrainian Orthodox parish, the emotional wounds could take generations to heal.

“We should understand that it’s easy to rebuild walls, but it’s much harder to rebuild a wounded soul,” he said.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; Additional reporting by Anna Voitenko; editing by Tom Balmforth and Grant McCool)

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