Monday, May 20, 2024
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Brunei Town

Caught in a web

IRPIN, UKRAINE (AFP) – Most of the citizens of Irpin, a once well-to-do commuter suburb of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, have fled the Russian army’s bombardment.

The streets are dotted with rubble where Grad missiles have burst open high-rise apartment blocks and modest wood and brick bungalows.

Sometimes the empty streets are so silent that a woodpecker’s tapping in a tall tree sounds more insistent than the distant guns.

But sometimes there is the roar of racks of Grad missiles and volleys of mortar shells being launched nearby.

It’s more than Mykola Pustovit, 69, can take. He bursts into tears as he and his wife start the long walk to find relative safety in Kyiv.

They had hoped the frontline would move away from Irpin, “but now, after such bombing, it’s unbearable”.

In fact, the frontline has not shifted for days. By the reckoning of Ukrainian soldiers manning checkpoints in the town, maybe 20-30 per cent of the district is in Russian hands.

ABOVE & BELOW: Evacuees walk on a makshift pathway to cross a river next to a destroyed bridge as they flee the city of Irpin; and a woman carries her while fleeing the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv. PHOTOS: AFP

Ukrainian servicemen carry rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles as they walk towards the city of Irpin
ABOVE & BELOW: Ukrainian servicemen evacuate an old woman from the city of Irpin; and Irina Morozova plays with dogs she is caring for

The next suburb, Bucha, a few hundred metres further north, is already in the hands of the invading Russian army and violence is never far away.

As AFP reporters crossed a makeshift wooden bridge into Irpin early on Sunday, Ukrainian forces were shipping the corpses of three of their comrades back out.

Later in the day, a car carrying American journalists came under fire near a Ukrainian checkpoint, killing film-maker Brent Renaud and wounding photographer Juan Arredondo.

After the incident, Irpin’s mayor Oleksandr Markushyn banned reporters from the town, but before the restriction came into place AFP found some civilians not ready to leave.

Iryna Morozova is clearly frightened, she raised her hands in surrender when AFP journalists approached, as if being held at gunpoint.

Her house was badly damaged, lying next to another that was all but demolished by an apparent missile hit. But the 54-year-old couldn’t leave; who would feed her dogs?

She has the keys to a neighbour’s house where three excitable puppies, a placid Golden Retriever and a nervous German Shepherd, confined and circling in a kennel, have a home.

“This one bites, we closed him up in the cage. We found him, he was scared and was shaking,” she said of the distressed dog.

The others have the run of a garden, and play happily with visitors.

“They sleep there in the kitchen. They play during the day. How can you leave them?” Morozova asked.

The few remaining neighbours look out for one another and take food to the elderly, but Morozova is more worried about the pets.

“There’s nothing left here,” welling up in grief in front of a ruined home. “Now we collect stray animals and feed them, because people left them behind and moved away.”

Another neighbour, 76-year-old Vera Tyskanova, retired to the once pleasant suburban street after a career as a train driver in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

She has been without power since an air strike early in the war, late last month, and is also consoling herself by feeding neighbourhood strays.

“There’s water, but no electricity. There’s a fireplace in the part of the house which is not ruined… I’m surviving,” she laughed.

She may be putting a brave face on things, but just around the corner 84-year-old Mykola Karpovych – who once drove a tractor in farmland near the then friendly Belarus border – is bewildered.

“Where would I go? My legs and my hands hurt,” he told AFP.

“To leave? Where would I go? Shall we go to Kyiv? I won’t go anywhere. What happens, happens. I’m too old.”