Before the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, each trip I took to the beautiful city of Chernihiv was always filled with great emotions and warm memories. I adore this city, not only because of the ancient architecture, and numerous historical monuments, but also because of the incredibly light atmosphere and extremely welcoming people, who are truly proud of their city.
Unfortunately, the streets of once charming Chernihiv are now full of destroyed buildings and makeshift graves of its residents.
In order to get to Chernihiv, we had to use a bypass road, since the main highways were destroyed by Russian invaders when over several months their forces tried to encircle and subdue the city but were repelled by its defenders.
After we finally got close to the city, we were stopped at a checkpoint. Ukrainian soldiers checked our identification documents. I offered them several packs of Marlboro Red cigarettes. Gifts like that make soldiers happy.
They thanked us and suggested we go to the Kyinka village, which is right next to the checkpoint. I asked them why we should visit it and one of them puzzled me further:
“There you will see karmic law in action.”
Neither of us understood anything, but we were intrigued and took his advice. After passing around 300 meters along the village street, we saw a real apocalyptic scene: obliterated houses and huge craters. The last time when I experienced such a mixture of confusion and rejection of reality was in Borodianka.
I wandered into the bombarded yard. The scale of destruction struck me. There I saw a couple, who was rummaging through the remains of the destroyed house.
I came closer and said hello. It turned out that these people were the owners of the house or to be more precise -- what was left of it.
I carefully them an obvious question:
The man got irritated and answered in Russian:
“What happened? Don’t you see? Their bombs destroyed everything!”
“Who did it and how?”
The man's wife whispered:
“Our brethren. Russians. The plane was flying low and dropped bombs. I saw it myself.”
This couple went to visit their neighbors a few houses away. There was no sign of trouble. Everything was calm. And suddenly a Russian plane showed up, flew low over the village, and dropped two bombs, that actually destroyed their house. The owner started shouting:
“You know. We are Russians by passport, by spirit. I am from Arkhangelsk, she is from Vladivostok. We have always trusted Putin. When he announced the beginning of the special operation against the Nazis and thieves in Ukraine, we were so relieved… We were waiting for them… Russian soldiers. Since there have been so many of these Nazis in Ukraine.”
I was bewildered, because it sounded like typical Russian propaganda drivel, but managed to come up with a logical question:
“Did you see these Nazis in real life?”
The woman took her husband’s hand and whispered in Russian:
“I beg you, don’t say another word. They will kill you.”
The man pulled his hand back and shouted:
“Of course, I saw them. They, these 'banderivtsi'This triggers the tooltip speak Ukrainian, wear vyshyvankas, and shout Nazi slogans like 'Slava Ukrayini' ('Glory to Ukraine')… That’s how Ukrainian Nazis greeted each other… You know, we all were coming from the Soviet Union, we were all like family: Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians… But these banderivtsi…”
I decided to stop this stream of consciousness and asked:
“So who bombed your house?"
The man hesitated and answered so I could barely hear:
“Russians. I saw it myself.”
“So what it has to do with banderivtsi?” I wondered.
He angrily threw the shovel away, started cursing and left. I asked the woman:
“Don’t you see the correlation between the terms 'Putin' - 'war' - 'your bombed house'?”
She stared at me in silence.
Why do Russians keep causing damage to those who are actually their biggest fans? Probably, that’s what that soldier meant at the checkpoint by “karmic law in action.”
While we were leaving the bombed yard, I saw a man from the neighboring house approaching me. He asked me right from the start:
“Was he telling you the old story about banderivtsi?”
I nodded in response. He added:
“All his life after he moved to Ukraine from Russia, having earned money at gold mines, he hated Ukraine. On Ukraine’s Independence Day he displays his Soviet flag and blasts Soviet music. We asked him why he moved here and he replied that he likes the local climate. The rest didn’t matter for him. However, now everything he owned was destroyed by his own brothers – the Russians!”
We entered Chernihiv. Right from the start, we saw a smashed dormitory, near which rescue teams were working. Its completely burnt-out walls made a depressing impression.
In the center of the city, we met two young people – Serhii and Nastia, both 18 years old. They agreed to show and tell us about the most ruined places in the city.
During our conversation, it turned out that they were coming from Kyinka village, which we had just visited. Serhii asked us if we had seen a destroyed house close to the checkpoint. I nodded.
The guy replied in Russian:
“I wonder what this guy expected. It was his brothers-Russians, who did this. The old man is a true separatist and not hiding it. Everybody in the village knows him. At the same time, just so you know, he fiercely hates Ukrainian soldiers, but still keeps coming to them for food. And they help him nevertheless. That is the difference between Ukrainians and Russians.”
A few minutes later we neared a skyscraper, or what was left of it, to be precise. On 3 March, Russian aircraft dropped bombs on this building. Serhii told us what exactly happened. Right when the Russian plane dropped bombs, local people were receiving humanitarian aid at a pharmacy next to the building. People were simply waiting in line when bombs fell on them. Many people died.
Nastia started crying recalling pools of blood and bloody ambulances. She asked: “Why do Russian pilots do that to peaceful civilians?”
Later on, a young woman came to us and asked for a cigarette. Even though I do not smoke, I always have a pack of cigarettes with me, since people often ask for them. I opened a pack and gave her a cigarette. When I asked her how she was doing, she started laughing hysterically. Her loud laughter made everybody around fall into silence.
I honestly didn’t know how I should react to that. Suddenly, another woman came to her, took the cigarette away, and hugged her tightly saying to me quietly:
“Please, go away! She lost the whole family here. She still can’t get over it. We are constantly visiting her, but she seems to get worse with each passing day.”
The woman that asked for a cigarette suddenly started crying hysterically, trying to break free from her friend’s embrace. I quickly handed her a bottle of water. She started drinking water thirstily, almost choking. It was hard to observe the scene without tears.
Nastia got very emotional from what we had just seen. The poor girl could not seem to calm down, so we said goodbye to each other and went on.
On our way to the stadium of the local football club “Desna,” I saw Ukrainian soldiers distributing food. There was a queue of children and women.
The children started eating immediately after receiving bread. One woman with a child got emotional and flung herself into the soldier’s embrace. He took a Snickers bar out of his pocket and gave it to her son. She cut it in half and gave one part to the soldier. After a few unsuccessful attempts of refusal, he finally ate it.
As a big fan of football, I often attended matches at the stadium in Chernihiv, and I was shocked by the scale of destruction inflicted by the Russians. Rescue workers were taking out the stands with heavy equipment. It was hard to believe, but Russians bombed the stadium too.
We left Chernihiv with a heavy heart. Russians had tried to destroy this beautiful and ancient Ukrainian city. Fortunately, the Ukrainian military did its best to defend it.
Now the city has been gradually returning to a normal life. But, according to Ukraine’s State Border Service, just on the 20th of May, the Russian army shelled the border areas of Chernihiv from over the state border with 120mm mortars.
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