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The Ukrainian Aleppo, or unprecedented terror in Borodianka – Dispatch from Ukraine

The Ukrainian Aleppo, or unprecedented terror in Borodianka – Dispatch from Ukraine
Article by: Anatolii Shara
Few heard of Borodianka before Russia’s invasion. Now the Kyiv suburb is known to the whole world as the Ukrainian Aleppo

You probably have never heard about the small town of Borodianka before Russia’s war. Back in Soviet times, it was famous for producing various types of excavators.

Now Borodianka is known to the whole world as the Ukrainian Aleppo. I was there and must say this is an apt comparison – indeed, Borodianka looks like the bombed-out Syrian city of Aleppo, though the only thing these cities have in common is being destroyed by Russian soldiers.

There is an impromptu checkpoint at the entrance to Borodianka. Following the rules of the special security regime, we stopped the car and rolled its windows down. A young, ruddy-faced soldier approached me. He demanded our documents and asked where we were going. I explained that we wanted to see what happened to the city after the Russian occupation. After checking the documents, the soldier replied, with sadness in his voice, that the city no longer exists as such.

To our woe, he was right. Once we entered Borodianka, we saw several apartment buildings completely destroyed.

Just imagine – instead of a beautiful house, there is just a big pile of construction debris. Yesterday you had a house and today you have nothing. The road is just strewn with small particles from concrete slabs, reinforced bars are lying around, and dust is everywhere. A large excavator hauls the concrete panels, once forming these apartment buildings, into one heap. People are just standing and watching as what once used to be their home is now loaded onto a dump truck and taken away in an unknown direction.

On our way to the center of Borodianka, we did not see a single building remaining standing. The majority were wiped off the map or burned to the ground.

My brain simply refused to process this knowledge. It was simply inconceivable.

We parked our car near the destroyed Palace of Culture. Somewhere you could see burnt children’s toys. Apparently, they fell from the damaged building. Three craters are visible nearby – these are traces of an MLRS missile hit. It was hard to comprehend what the Palace of Culture did to the Russian soldiers to make them decide to destroy it.

In front of the Palace of Culture, an apocalyptic picture was unfolding: rescuers attached a steel cable to a concrete panel on the fifth floor of a destroyed residential building and tried to rip it off. The Russians dropped a bomb, which according to the sappers was a FAB-500 (a Soviet-designed 500-kilogram general-purpose air-dropped bomb with a high-explosive warhead, primarily used by the Russian Air Force) and the apartment block fell like dominoes.

Borodyanka destruction
A subsection of this apartment block was destroyed by an air bomb. Civilians were sheltered in the cellar beneath. Photo: Anatolii Shara

Dozens of people were hiding from the shelling in the cellar of this apartment block. And they are still there, under the tons of the rubble. As we stood and watched, a real-life drama was unfolding as their relatives awaited news from the rescuers. They had been standing here since morning and carefully watching as the rescuers sorted out the rubble stone by stone.

A few seconds later, the entire area near the destroyed house shuddered from the cry of a woman. Rescuers found the clothes of her little grandchildren, but not their bodies. She grabbed these pieces of clothing and held them near her chest, crying loudly. It was excruciating to behold.

Borodianka Russian attack
Rescuers put a teddy bear at the place where they had found bodies of little kids at the destroyed subsection of the apartment block in Borodianka. Photo: Anatolii Shara

Here, I met a volunteer named Vladyslav. He is from a neighboring village. He does not want to be photographed, as he had recently survived the captivity of Russian soldiers. They seized him for being photographed near a local bar with a fellow villager who had returned home from the war in Donbas. They hit him hard in the face, knocked out two teeth, and broke his nose. Vladyslav came to Borodianka to help rescuers clear the rubble. He could not remain at home when the rescue operations started. His native village was first heavily shelled by Russian soldiers from artillery, and only then did the tanks fire on what they considered dangerous. That was all Vladyslav managed to tell me — colleagues called him back to work.

I crossed the street near a pond in which corpses of dogs and cats, killed by explosions and air bombs, floated. Then I saw a woman who seemed to be sneaking up to the center of Borodianka. She seemed very nervous and was accompanied by two dogs. The woman looked around. I approached her and greeted her. She turned out to be local, her name was Natalia. She used to work at the local market with her husband. She asked me if it was possible to walk around the city since she had just left her basement, where she was hiding for 40 days together with her husband and children.

Borodianka Russian attack
Natalia is a survivor of Russian aggression in Borodyanka. She came to the center to have a look at what happened to her native town. Photo: Anatolii Shara

They had no idea what was going on. They thought that the Russian soldiers were still in Borodianka. She did not want to let her husband go out, since Russian soldiers mercilessly killed every man they met. Therefore, she did it herself while her husband was staying in the basement with the children. Their street was on the western side of Borodianka and all the houses there were destroyed.

I asked Natalia whose dogs they were. She laughed nervously and said that they were the neighbors’ dogs. The neighbors fled the city, abandoning their pets to the mercy of fate. So, the two dogs spent all those terrible days with Natalia.

I escorted her to the volunteer center at the local church to pick up some food for her family. At the church, she met her acquaintances who thought that Natalia’s family was killed. They hugged each other tightly and cried from happiness and grief. Natalia was among those few lucky ones who managed to survive.

I went further down the street and saw another ruined apartment building. Instead of two sections with apartments, there was a gaping void. Only a pile of construction debris suggests that somebody used to live here. I overheard someone crying. I followed the sound and saw a man who was taking out jars of pickles from the basement. I approached him and asked if he needed help. He shook his head and told me to get out. But then he wiped the tears away and offered to show his apartment, which was destroyed by a Russian pilot who released a powerful air bomb. We went up to the fourth floor and saw something that was difficult to describe in words. Mykola (the name of this man) offered me a tour of what was left of his apartment.

Borodianka Russian attack
Mykola. He lost his apartment because of a Russian air attack. Photo: Anatolii Shara

According to him, the bomb hit the house at about 8.30 PM on March 17. The blast flung his wife into the door and buried her under shards of broken glass and things from the broken wardrobe nearby. His son was in another room, he was thrown to the floor by the explosion, severely wounding him by pieces of falling plaster. Mykola was in the kitchen at this time, he was the luckiest one to remain almost unharmed.

His neighbors’ apartment was completely destroyed. Their bodies were already retrieved by Ukrainian rescuers after the Russians withdrew from Borodianka. While talking about his apartment, Mykola could not stop crying. He tried to wipe them with his sleeve. Eventually, he gave up, and the drops were just running down his face. Mykola desperately asked for help because he has nothing left. (You can ask the author how to help Mykola).

Borodianka Russian attack
What’s left in Mykola’s apartment after the Russian air strike. Photo: Anatolii Shara

I left Borodianka with a heavy heart. It is impossible to look at this ruined city without tears. How much hatred must Russian soldiers have in order to destroy civilians so barbarously? Borodianka cannot be restored, this town needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

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