In the suburbs of Kiev, “it’s terrifying, everything is on fire, people are being shot” – Liberation
9 months ago
The Bilohorodka Bridge, fifteen kilometers northwest of Kiev, doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. It is not very long – about forty meters – nor very wide – two lanes – nor very nice – dirty concrete. It overlooks the small river Irpine, whose waves are difficult to guess. But the Bilohorodka Bridge has a double peculiarity: it is mined and is the last one connecting the Ukrainian capital to the west of the country. †The principle is simple. If Russian tanks and armor intervene, we’ll blow it up† explains Alexis, 46.
With a bulging stomach and a pleasant smile, Alexis, a pre-war car salesman, is one of ten members of the Territorial Forces who have lined up on the bridge, on the Kiev side. They have brand new Kalashnikovs and Molotov cocktails on a dike. They haven’t been attacked yet, but they expect it. Russian troops have made progress in the region over the past three days. “If you had come last night, you would have seen all the bundles of explosions, the fighting wouldn’t stop,” he says. This Monday morning only regular artillery fire strikes. The Russian soldiers are ten kilometers away, in the village of Shevchenkov. A little further north they advanced to the outskirts of the capital.
“Hottest sector in the region”
A few kilometers from the bridge, in the center of Bilohorodka, worried-faced men wait in a small corridor to enlist with the territorial forces. Behind the offices and their computers, soldiers who have replaced the municipal officers receive them in turn. Nikola, 43, is their leader. Dressed in civilian clothes, a pistol strapped to his thigh, he is the military leader of a region going from Hostomel airport to the towns of Boutcha and Irpin, adjacent to the capital. “This sector is the hottest in the Kiev region”, he said.
Since the first day of the invasion, February 24, Moscow’s troops have made the conquest a primary objective. If successful, they can attack the capital from the northwest, or expand to the outskirts and besiege it while the other troops advance from the north and east of the country. In either case, the main route of exile for the people of Kiev who want to reach Poland or cities in the west, which have been spared by the bombings for the time being, will be cut off.
From the dawn of February 24, Russian helicopters have dropped soldiers near Hostomel Airport, also known as Antonov, to turn it into a beachhead where troop transport planes could have landed. Ukrainian special forces pushed them back several times. They withdrew in the middle of last week. “The Russians are in Hostomelexplains Nikola. They hide in houses, their tanks next to them. They kill the men who stayed and steal everything they could, food, money, jewelry. They won’t even let us pick up the wounded and the dead.” The city’s mayor, Yuri Illich Prylipko, was killed on Monday while distributing humanitarian aid, according to a statement from local authorities.
‘No safe way to escape’
The Russian army also captured the town of Boutcha, less than three miles to the south. It was in this city, known for its Soviet-era sanatoriums, that they had suffered a major setback on February 27: about fifteen armored vehicles involved in the street of the station were destroyed by attacks by drones of the Ukrainian army, leaving only smoldering carcasses, corpses and fleeing soldiers. But they came back with tanks and won. The fighting has since been concentrated in the neighboring town of Irpin, separated from the capital by a destroyed bridge. “Irpin still holds, our soldiers fight there”, said Nikola.
In a small office in Bilohorodka’s town hall, Oksana, 38, has a closed face, padlocking her features to try to hide her grief. She was called up as a reservist in the early hours of the war and sent to the front. She left her four children, aged 4 to 17, with her parents in her house in Boutcha, rue de la Gare. She hasn’t heard from her since late last week. “The phones don’t work anymore. I know they have no electricity and gas. They had food for a week, but they’ve been there for nine days.”
The soldier shows a video on her phone: a Russian tank and a soldier walking next to it. “They are in the schoolyard, where my youngest son goes. The Russians are shooting at civilians, on foot or in cars. They won’t let the Red Cross into town. My children have no safe way to escape.” She picks up her phone and wants to show another video dated January 31, her son’s 4th birthday party. Laughing, he unwraps his present, a kind of foam axe. She collapses and cries silently.
“We have lost everything”
In Kiev, on the western edge of the city, tired, gray but relieved faces emerge from the road through the forest. They come from Irpin after spending days and nights in cellars or cellars. Families with babies, the elderly, young women, more rarely single men. They sometimes pull suitcases on wheels, but often only have a few small bags. Ambulances or cars pick up the wounded, like this man, his left cheek and hand covered with hastily made bandages stained with blood. Volunteers hand out coffee and mineral water.
Natacha, 38, her husband Mikhail, 50, and their daughter Iana, 14, rest at the foot of a construction bar. “It’s terrifying out there. Everything is on fire, people are being shot in the street.” says Natasha. She would have tried to run away before, but Mikhail was hospitalized. They met a few hours earlier. He stands next to the bags they may have taken, has a sallow complexion and wears pajama bottoms and slippers. Their house in Irpin was bombed, the roof collapsed and the windows were ripped out. “We’ve lost everything, everything we’ve worked for, but we’re still alive.” confides in Natasha. Artillery strikes echo in the forest, a young girl jumps up and hides her face in her hands.