Kharkiv, Izium, Bezruki… The Russians leave only the corpses of victims and ruins

The 69-years-old Helana makes pancakes in the yard of her block of flats in Izium. There is no gas or electricity in the building destroyed by the Russian military forces. October 31, 2022 Photo. Wolfgang Schwan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Four hundred and forty-seven bodies of civilians and soldiers were found in the forest. Many of those people were killed by Russian gunfire, but some of them were tortured to death. Nearby, at the verge of the forest, there were Russian military trenches and equipment pits; also here and there were the remnants of military food allowance called “Fraternity of peoples”.

In the evening in Kharkiv, you can see the stars surprisingly well. There is a partial blackout in the city, there are no street lights, and shop neon lights are turned off. Only a few windows in the houses are illuminated in the centre, but now just a small number of people live there. So in mid-autumn, seven o'clock in the evening feels almost like midnight - surprisingly quiet and dark.

The city was calm after the Ukrainian army launched the counteroffensive in early September and almost completely liberated the part of the Kharkiv region occupied by the Russians. The front line moved east, and the Russian shelling decreased. However, in the case of Kharkiv, there will be no peace until the very end of the war: the border with Russia is very close, so the Russian army can shell the city from its own territory, if not with artillery, then with old Soviet S-300 missile systems.

Very few children are left in Kharkiv: school education did not start there, and those people who could, have taken their families to safer regions of Ukraine, where children can study in peace. However, the Art Zone in the city centre is crowded even in the evenings. Entering there from an empty and dark street, it seems that we are entering a different reality - noisy and bright. The Art Zone is located underground, which is why it is popular as a venue for various cultural events. For several days, during which we had the opportunity to observe the life of the city, we watched classes and workshops for children, public discussions and meetings taking place there. The organisation "Fifth Kharkiv", operating under wartime conditions, recently organised there a literary festival of the same name and still regularly organises artistic events (the name of the organisation refers to the words of Yuri Shevelyov, an outstanding Ukrainian linguist from Kharkiv, who argued that in the past Kharkiv was undergoing through three phases of its existence, today it is the fourth, and the fifth was his dream of a city in independent Ukraine).

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By Olga Rusina

Translated by Katarzyna Chocian