From Jamie Peipon: In the recently-liberated city of Izium, Ukrainian authorities have found a shallow, mass grave where over four-hundred Ukrainians have been buried. Some of the graves have labels. One grave is marked as the location where a six-year-old girl named Olessya is buried. Right next to her are her parents Lena and Dima. All of the bodies in those shallow graves will have to be exhumed and identified. The latest estimate I’ve seen assumes that at least 1000 Ukrainians were killed in this city alone. This, you will surely remember, is very reminiscent of what happened in the towns of Bucha and Irpin’ which are located northwest of Kyiv. I was there just over a week ago.
The road towards these towns from further west was fascinating. Just like everywhere in the country, there were military checkpoints along the way. In western Ukraine, all the street signs are visible. Along this road, signs had been intentionally removed, painted over, or otherwise obstructed. The idea was to prevent any Russian navigators from orienting themselves by way of street signs. The closer you get to Kyiv, the more damage you can see to buildings and other structures along the way as well.
Last week I wrote about Hostomel’ and how it was known for being one of the pivotal fights in the war. Bucha and Irpin’ are known for atrocities, particularly against civilians: murder, rape, mass graves, war crimes. Countless pictures surfaced of Ukrainians executed as they rode their bikes, or had their hands tied behind their back and then were cast into the streets. There was clear evidence of torture. Women were raped. Their children were made to look on. There are reports of a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old having also been raped. At least nine women and children were impregnated. When Ukraine liberated these towns and began the work of cleaning them up, black body bags were everywhere and seemed to be part of the landscape. As I’ve written previously, Putin even gave public praise to the specific Russian divisions that committed these atrocities. The period during which these areas were liberated and these atrocities were uncovered is one of the darkest chapters of the last six and a half months. Just two weeks ago on September 2nd, 14 more victims from there were buried. Only two of them were successfully identified.
In the pictures, you can see that destroyed cars in Bucha and Irpin’ that are just stacked up in their own rusty graveyards. This is one of the phases of the cleanup efforts. The first step was to just get these destroyed vehicles off the streets. The next step has been to just stack them up in makeshift junkyards before they will eventually be removed. You can also see the famous bridge under which civilians huddled as they tried to escape and which Russia, knowing that civilians were gathered there, ruthlessly attacked.
You can also see that while these towns are known mostly for atrocities, they also took heavy damage. In this area, it is a strange contrast to see one business completely destroyed, and another still open for business. There is a great deal of regular people who are back to work and are milling about. That in itself is shocking. It is truly remarkable to see how resilient these people are. This was the site of a collective, citywide (even nationwide) trauma that was experienced about five months ago. Yet they’re working so hard to get back to “normal.”
That said, there is no doubt that everything is still raw in these towns. A comparison: In L’viv, there is an exhibition in the main square of destroyed Russian tanks, anti-aircraft equipment, etc. It is marked with well-designed signs explaining that it is an “exhibition.” The signs display information about what type of vehicles are on display, facts about their purpose/range/etc., and that they have been brought in from the Kyiv region. In Kyiv, there are also tanks on the square in front of St. Michael’s Cathedral. There are no signs explaining what they are, but you could overhear locals milling around saying, “Oh, this is new,” and then discussing each piece of equipment was without the presence of any signage. On the road near Irpin’, the burned-out tanks were just hanging off the side of the road and people just drive by them as they run their errands. And yet even this is nothing compared to what was here a few months ago, and what is currently going on in the south and the east.
These cities are the best demonstration of why Ukraine is so eager to get their hands on the types of advanced weapons that will help them to end this war quickly. It isn’t greed or some sense of entitlement, they just experientially understand what is almost certainly happening in areas that are currently occupied by the Russian horde.
“Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!”