The destruction of residential buildings in Borodyanka, about 50 kilometers northwest of the Ukrainian capital, is significantly greater than in other towns in the Kyiv area. Fierce fighting broke out in the small town of 13,000 residents right at the start of the Russian invasion.
In early April, Borodyanka was liberated and Ukrainian authorities organized a visit for foreign journalists that also included DW. The reporters were meant to see for themselves the impact fighting and the Russian occupation had on the town.
A curfew was still in effect throughout the region when reporters arrived, so the streets of the city were almost deserted. Many residential and administrative buildings as well as cafes and restaurants in the center of town were destroyed by Russian shelling and bombardment. The streets were damaged, too, and littered with fallen trees and burned-out cars.
In fact, more than 90% of the downtown area was destroyed, said Emergency Manager Petro Kisilyov, adding that his staff was still busy clearing debris and completing the cataloging of destruction. Borodyanka had no Ukrainian military camps or facilities of strategic importance, Kisilyov said. "Russian troops simply acted cruelly against the civilian population," he argued.
A dozen apartment blocks along the town's main street have been reduced to rubble and ash. Residents told DW that Russian bombers flew low and fired missiles at the buildings as the war commenced. "From a military point of view, it makes no sense at all," said Anton Herashchenko, who accompanied journalists in Borodyanka. "The Russian pilots bombed indiscriminately, just whatever they felt like," the advisor to the Ukrainian interior minister said.
'One of the biggest tragedies in Ukraine'
What happened in Borodyanka is "one of the biggest tragedies in Ukraine," Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky told visiting reporters, adding that the town was one of the places in the Kyiv region most affected by Russian aggression.
Bodies are still believed to be buried under the rubble, according to the minister. "Rescue workers tried to remove debris a month ago but they and their equipment were shelled by the enemy," Monastyrsky said, adding that back then, there might have been a chance to find survivors under the debris. However, all rescue attempts failed under the Russian shelling, which lasted for days, he said. Ukrainian helpers never had access to the destroyed buildings, he claimed. According to Monastyrsky, search and rescue operations were only resumed after the liberation of Borodyanka in early April.
"It is clear to us that now there are no survivors among the rubble," the Ukrainian Interior Minister said. "That is another crime against humanity, deliberately committed by the Russian military, because there were no barracks or military equipment here, only residential buildings and a kindergarten." His advisor Anton Herashchenko added that the destroyed buildings have in fact become mass graves for many Ukrainian civilians.
Air raid shelters were 'no salvation'
"When you see a plane, all you can do is lie down and pray that you won't be hit by a bomb," said Olha, a Borodyanka resident. When the nine-story apartment building she lived in threatened to collapse after the attacks, residents were evacuated by bus to other towns in the region, she said. "People were very scared," she recalled. The air-raid shelters were no real help she said, because the bombed buildings buried them, trapping everyone inside. "That was really terrible."
Olha said she has only ever seen such fighting in movies. "War is something very terrible and it is very depressing. I prayed for peace so that there wouldn't be any more shooting," she said. "It is all terrible, I was constantly worried, tense and in shock," she recalled, adding that she hopes, "war will never return to Borodyanka."
This article was originally written in Ukrainian.