IRPIN (Ukraine), April 2 — The last survivors of the ruins of Irpin have only one word to describe the Russians who retreated after one of the crucial battles of the war in Ukraine.
“Fascists! Bogdan, 58, rages as he and his friends walk a dog through a deserted, bomb-free city center for the first time in a month.
His friends nod in agreement.
“Every 20 to 30 seconds we heard mortar fire. And so all day. Just destruction,” told AFP journalists who arrived in Irpin yesterday.
It was once a smart suburban city in the pine forests on the northwestern edge of kyiv.
But Irpin withstood the full force of the Russian invasion, becoming the closest Moscow forces to the center of the capital at around 20 kilometers (12 miles).
The city whose once leafy parks were littered with bodies is now back under Ukrainian control, as Russian troops hastily withdraw from outside kyiv.
Victory came at a terrible price that made it look more like Aleppo or Grozny than an affluent satellite city of Ukraine.
Hardly a building emerged unscathed from the fighting. The bombings destroyed huge chunks of modern pastel-colored apartment buildings.
The foggy streets are eerily empty, littered with cars with bullet-scarred windshields and the sound of stray dogs.
“It’s the apocalypse,” says a Ukrainian soldier as he hitchhikes through the deserted town.
“I like Irpin”
Irpin embodied the horrors of war in the early days of the invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin said he launched to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine.
Images of a family annihilated by a shell as they tried to flee, and thousands of people sheltering under a destroyed bridge, have been seen around the world.
For the past three weeks it has been closed to the media since the death of an American journalist, with Ukrainian authorities saying it was too dangerous to enter.
Today, near a sign in the town center that reads ‘I love Irpin’ with a red heart, the handful of townspeople who remained tell how they survived more than a month of incessant bombings.
“We hid in the basement. They fired Grad rockets, mortars and tank shells,” says Bogdan, asking to be identified only by his first name.
“My wife and I came under mortar fire twice. But that’s okay, we’re alive.
Wandering down a street blocked by a burnt-out cement mixer, resident Viktor Kucheruk begs for cigarettes.
“As soon as we hear a shot, we immediately scatter in our burrows,” said the 51-year-old.
“The lamps of the chandeliers… fell because of the explosions. We sat at home in the corner during the bombardment, where the walls are thickest.
A new housing estate with a large sign reading ‘Irpin, Rich Town’ is riddled with shelling, with two apartments totally destroyed.
Playgrounds with abandoned children’s scooters are covered in rubble.
Rescuers are still collecting the dead from Irpin and placing them in body bags, before taking them to the blown up bridge that connects the city to Kyiv.
The bridge is covered with dozens of burnt-out, bullet-riddled and abandoned cars, which rescue workers are now trying to extricate.
Russian tank graveyard
Ukrainian forces have “liberated” a string of Russian-occupied towns and villages near the capital in recent days after Russia announced it would scale back attacks on kyiv.
Russia’s pushback now appears to be accelerating, even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Moscow is consolidating for an assault in the country’s east and south.
AFP journalists counted at least 13 destroyed Russian armored vehicles around the village of Dmytrivka, five kilometers southwest of Irpin.
At least three charred corpses of Russian soldiers could be seen in the burning wreckage of a single shattered convoy of eight tanks and armored personnel carriers.
A severed leg lay next to a vehicle.
Russian military uniforms and personal effects lay strewn on the floor, including a red leather-bound Russian translation of Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
Villager Oksana Furman, 47, shows where the Moscow army left a shell hole in her kitchen during the tank battle two days ago.
A Russian tank had also overturned into his garden wall, causing it to collapse.
“There was a crazy rumble, the noise of vehicles, everything was shaking. And then it was shell after shell,” said Furman, who hid in a neighbor’s basement.
Back in Irpin, where authorities say at least 200 civilians were killed, residents put Ukraine’s success in that battle into perspective.
“We took over Irpin, we took over a lot of things, but the war is not over,” says Bogdan. —AFP