AFP, published on Friday, April 08, 2022 at 6:26 PM
Hanna Predko had fled Boutcha, bombed and then occupied for a month by Russian soldiers, accused of abuse there. She returned home on Thursday, “lucky” that the Ukrainian army had “chased these bastards away”.
She left the city with her three children as soon as the first bombings took place on February 24. She fled to the west of the country, spared by the war.
His mother, Natalia Predko, 69, joined him there on March 11, taking advantage of an operation to evacuate civilians while Boucha was occupied by soldiers from Moscow.
The sixty-year-old left her husband there, who never wanted to leave the house again.
The fighting around the city never completely stopped, and Russian troops withdrew from the city at the end of March.
Dozens of dead civilians were found there last weekend, some with their hands tied behind their backs.
“We are very happy that our armed forces have succeeded in driving out these bastards,” exclaimed Hanna.
“Now everyone knows this place, unfortunately for a huge price,” adds the 31-year-old.
In the early afternoon she arrived with her mother in front of the town hall of Boutcha, the trunk of her car filled with food to give to the residents.
In the basket of a van, a municipal official has just hung the Ukrainian flag on the roof of the town hall again, for the first time since the occupation of the city by soldiers from Moscow.
– “The city is in ruins” –
“I am very happy to have come back and see our national flag, after the liberation of our city by the Ukrainian army. Glory to Ukraine!” exclaimed Natalia, watching the blue-and-yellow flag flutter in the wind. She is also happy to have found her husband safe and sound.
Will they continue to live in Boutcha? For his daughter it is clear: “We intend to stay here”.
“Many of my friends live abroad, we were invited and there were opportunities to leave. But we decided to come back, even though the city is in ruins,” explains the young woman.
A food distribution is organized by young volunteers on a square in front of the town hall.
Several dozen inhabitants, mostly elderly, parade as if in the middle of winter despite the mildness of spring. They leave slowly, pulling a cart on wheels or with plastic bags filled with food.
Under the mild sun, Boris Biguik decided to take his bike to Boutcha to see the house of his son, a police officer in the region and absent when the town was taken.
Boris, 63, lives next door, in the adjacent town of Vorzel.
“The curfew ended today. So I decided to come and fix the gate of our son’s house because his neighbors said it was broken. The Russians stole everything in the house, broke the doors and windows,” he said.
“I was afraid to go in because it could get trapped. From these + fascists + we can expect anything, we’ve seen them!” says the retiree, a former senior police officer.
– “They looted everything” –
In Vorzel the soldiers were also there and stayed for a month, as in Boutcha.
The retired police officer, who normally lives in Kiev, was in Vorzel with his wife in their second home to rest after an operation. Recovering, “I couldn’t fight,” he explains.
Surprised by the shelling, they could not return to Kiev and remained in Vorzel.
Boris says their neighbor’s son was killed one night, “because Russians with thermal imagers were throwing grenades from drones at everyone who came out.”
A week ago, when Russian soldiers withdrew from the area, “they took everything they could. They looted everything, their armored vehicles were full of stolen things,” he says, as he gets on his bike to leave Boutcha.
He didn’t have time to see a small convoy of large white 4x4s, blue UN logos, pull up in front of the town hall.
Martin Griffiths, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has just landed for a short visit.
In front of a mass grave dug by the Ukrainians, where the bodies still seem half-buried, the British diplomat, in black trousers and a t-shirt, is explained by a municipal official how civilians have died in Boutcha in recent weeks.
“The world is already deeply shaken” by the abuses that have been committed, particularly in Boutcha, said Martin Griffiths: “The next step is to launch an investigation”.
After an hour there, the UN convoy left the city.
In front of the tomb, adjacent to a white church with golden domes, Archbishop Sviatoslav Chevtchouk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, says a prayer and meditates.
“We have seen the genocide of the Ukrainian people here,” he told AFP.
“We pray because the chief judge is Almighty God, but here too justice must be done. Otherwise, if we do not condemn such a crime, this crime will be repeated.”