The bustle at the majestic Kharkiv railway station is an unmistakable symptom that the second city of Ukrainelocated just 40 km from the Russian border, has regained much of his life. The defeat of the Kremlin Army on the Northern Front, where They have gone from aggression to self-defense, has led residents to return to the private and public spaces that are rightfully theirs. For now, about 1 million of the 1.5 million inhabitants have returned to their homes, according to figures from the City Council. Businesses are reopening, the din of traffic and trams fill the roads again, even though, several times a day, air raid alarms continue to remind citizens that war is near.
Something that is also evident in the buildings destroyed by missiles launched by Moscow troops. “More than 4,000 hectares were damaged. Almost a third of them were hit directly,” according to Yevhen Pasenov, deputy director of the city’s Ministry of Regional Development, Construction, Housing and Communal Services. No neighborhood has escaped the horror of shrapnel. However, in the large green areas such as the emblematic Shevchenko Park it is easy to forget the discomfort.
The songs of the street musicians compete with the screams of children playing, the purest sound of the return to life. Several newlywed couples, they in white dresses and them in suits or uniforms, take photographs to immortalize their happiness. The terraces are full of people of all ages enjoying the last warm days before the arrival of harsh winter. Many young people have regained their hobbies: “skateboarding is my favorite sport,” he explains. Stefan, 15 years oldholding his board on which several skulls and a Ukrainian flag are painted.
“I’ve spent the whole summer with my friends learning new tricks. The bombings no longer scare me, we have gotten used to it. Russian pigs have lost“, he says proudly, somewhat excessively, while around him, in the square in front of the Kharkiv Philharmonic, teenagers like him gather, mobile phones in hand, to enjoy a youth stolen during more than a year of aggression Russian. Suddenly, the stridency of anti-aircraft alarms once again fills the void in the sky. But almost no one runs, few look for the nearest shelter. Stefan and his friends continue exercising, laughing, although fear is still evident in their eyes.
Life has managed to make its way, but the war is still very present. An example is the Mini Hotel Ryleev, located near the railway station, which was one of the few accommodations that kept its doors open when, during the worst days of the Russian invasion, the city was under an incessant rain of bombs. In that dark time, the hotel hosted the handful of journalists, among whom was the undersigned, who came here. Now it has become a place of pilgrimage for soldiers on leave assigned to the northern and eastern fronts of the country, to reunite with their families before returning to battle.
Yana, 38 years old, y Taras, 43, They are in the garden sitting on one of the swings. They can’t stop touching, hugging and whispering confidences in each other’s ears. “I miss him so much. We are from Kyiv. They have assigned him to the front and that is why he was very afraid. Many friends of ours have died. At any time, it can happen to anyone,” she explains. “The duty of every Ukrainian is to defend the country from him. If we stay at home the Russians will win. “I’m willing to give everything, but I’m sure things will go well,” says this lamp worker, now a soldier, quickly, holding the hand of his wife, in whose eyes love and fear collide without remission.
The Saltivka district, north of the city, was the hardest hit by the bombings ordered by the Kremlin against residential centers where there were no military objectives. Punishment attacks against the population that had decided to stay, including those who, whether due to family or political ties, initially supported the imperial illusions of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. It didn’t take long for many to change their minds.
“I had always thought that the Russian people were our brother. I grew up in a time when Kharkiv was a proud, strong city full of people from all over Russia and the world,” explains Yulia, 74, who still lives in the basement of her building. “When the bombings started I couldn’t believe it. Why do they want to kill us? What have we done to them to make them hate us like this? My father fought in World War II against the Nazis, and now they are the aggressors. I will never set foot in Russia again. For me they have ceased to exist,” she says, sitting in the park with rusty swings and several deep craters in front of her building.
Many of Saltivka’s 300,000 residents have not returned. Almost all the grandiose hives of apartment blocks that make up its skyline were hit. Reconstruction is underway, but shell holes and boarded-up windows remain part of the landscape. LA RAZÓN reported from this district when its wide streets, typical of the Soviet style of architecture, were covered with the remains of the hundreds of thousands who had fled the place in a hurry. Unwind suitcases, dirty clothes of all kinds swirled and even hanging from the trees like ghosts, abandoned toys like the innocence of the children who had left them behind, remains of appliances, papers, books, food wrappers and endless personal effects of the evicted.
A vision of hell that, little by little, is being left behind. Construction cranes are now seen between the blocks of flats and trucks loading materials to refurbish the houses so that their structure remains safe. However, much remains to be done and it will take time. “Legally, houses destroyed in war can only be rebuilt 90 days after active fighting has ceased,” he said. Yevhen Pasenov, deputy director of the city’s Ministry of Regional Development, Construction, Housing and Communal Services, to Deutsche Welle. “The work that people have done here is done at their own risk.”
In many doorways, the stacked bricks, blackened and covered in ash, are still visible where those who decided to stay and risk their lives cooked between bombings. Water, gas and electricity were among the first services to fall. “But they have already returned to a good part of the occupied homes,” says Oleksandr, a thirty-something carrying two bags of food. “Many supermarkets have reopened, the bus line is running again and, in the morning, you can smell the coffee from the street kiosks again. We have won, that is the proof”. However, Kharkiv continues to be a target of missiles launched by the Moscow Army.