Reportage

“People Get Back, but the City’s not Ready Yet”: How Liberated Chernihiv Lives

In early April the Russian troops have retreated from the outskirts of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy. Now, with active battles suspended and cities brought back to life in these regions, the outcomes of the invasion and occupation came to light. Stas Yurchenko, a photographer, captured Chernihiv severely battered by the aerial bombardment and told us more on what he witnessed in the city.
Stas Yurchenko

Ukrainian photographer, photo editor at ‘Graty’ (“Ґрати”) media

— People were leaving Chernihiv in droves, but they are already getting back, even though the local authorities ask them not to. The city is not ready yet, it is right in the middle of demining, so it’s still dangerous in there. You are literally told, you can go here – ours have demined this area, but you can’t go there so far.

Chernihiv has issues with water supply. While it is not that bad in the private sector, people in flats are having trouble with it. Electricity and gas were restored a few days ago, but not everywhere. As in there are flats with constant electricity and gas supply, some of them where it is available just for a few hours a day, and occasionally there’s none. The infrastructure is critically damaged. Lots of demolished houses there, and that’s different from what we see in Kyiv, as a 500 kg air bomb destroys a lot more buildings around. Some of them are levelled to the ground. In general, the city suffered through a lot, the communal workers are starting to clean it up.

Lots of demolished houses there, and that’s different from what we see in Kyiv, as a 500 kg air bomb destroys a lot more buildings around.

I saw a cemetery – it was clear that the Russian troops had an intention to annihilate graves of the ATO soldiers. There used to be a small chapel built in 2016, with combatants of the war in Donbas buried nearby. And while the other city cemeteries were untouched, these particular graves were run over by a tank and bombarded. The chapel burned down.

The Russian troops had an intention to annihilate graves of the ATO soldiers.

Now, with more humanitarian aid arriving, the residents find it a bit easier to get by. But the people I talked to still recall the horrors of the aerial attacks. They always occurred since midnight till 4 a.m., so that the residents in Chernihiv knew for sure when it is going to be, and were constantly hearing the blasts through their bomb shelters. By the way, many people still live in cellars, even though the city’s sky has been clear for quite some time. But the people are traumatized. One granny told me she can’t get back to her ruined house, as it’s been burgled by the Russian troops. She is just not ready to get back to where they were.

Many people still live in cellars, even though the city’s sky has been clear for quite some time. But the people are traumatized.

Looting is something I hear of in every city I visit. But, for example, in Bucha I noticed the devices taken and destroyed, not just looted. I saw the tablets, laptops, and phones shot through in an attempt to cover up what the Russians had been using them for.

Same with the suffering civilians, battered hospitals, thousands of shattered window panes. But still, each area is in a different condition. For instance, Trostianets in Sumy region also witnessed grave cases of massacre and torture. I was told of a tank aiming at the hospital while women were giving birth at the maternity ward there. But the horrors of Bucha were way worse than those of Trostianets or Chernihiv. Chernihiv region is told to be the one where it was occasionally possible to recapture the village mayors, and it says a lot.

I couldn’t travel all over the region to see what is going on in the villages there, as it took us two days just to get from Kyiv to Chernihiv. We spent the night in a flat our friends found, three of us sleeping in the kitchen, getting cold in spite of the sleeping bags.

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