War in Ukraine: A road struggles to rebuild after a bombing

The scent of our bodies decomposing beneath rubble now not hangs within the air. The land mine-clearers have come and gone. College is again in session, although courses are curtailed by energy cuts. The hair salon is open.

However Raisa Yakovenko, a 61-year-old pensioner, nonetheless jumps on the thump of a fridge door shutting — a faint echo of the Russian bombs that broken her condo and ravaged this group within the opening days of the practically 9-month-old struggle in Ukraine.

Raisa Yakovenko, 61, lives in an condo badly broken by Russian assaults on Borodyanka early within the struggle. The pensioner lives alone along with her kitten, Javelinka, named after the antitank missiles utilized by Ukrainian forces.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

“My troubles are not so serious,” she mentioned. “You can live without windows.”

The city of Borodyanka was among the many invasion’s first casualties, changing into a choke level for Russian convoys rolling southeast towards the capital, Kyiv, about 35 miles away. Its 14,000 residents paid a heavy value for his or her resistance: Scorched, wrecked buildings sit alongside constructions left untouched, as if a twister tore by city.

“They didn’t expect us to fight back,” mentioned Roman Rudnychenko, 57, who works for the city as its lead architect.

People in a rubble-strewn yard with a mural in the background

A mural by British road artist Banksy depicts a judo match, one in every of a number of works the artist did in Borodyanka and different hard-hit areas in Ukraine.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

Now, practically seven months after Russian troops ended a short however brutal occupation, Borodyanka has come to represent a sure defiant resiliency, although one that’s sorely examined at instances.

Visiting international dignitaries often trek up from Kyiv to gaze upon — and be photographed in entrance of — the blackened tower blocks. This week, the British road artist referred to as Banksy unveiled a signature stencil-style mural on the facet of a closely broken condo constructing, depicting a gymnast doing a handstand atop a pile of rubble.

“Borodyanka, Ukraine,” learn the caption on the artist’s Instagram account.

Many locals, although, are considerably weary of their plucky picture. Solely a bit of over half the city’s inhabitants has come again, and plenty of of their properties are uninhabitable. With winter bearing down, townspeople and native authorities are racing to hold out repairs to make the chilly months survivable.

In a way, Borodyanka is Ukraine writ small. As increasingly more territory within the south and northeast is recaptured by Ukrainian forces, the receding tide of occupation leaves behind a panorama of battered cities, cities and villages.

The newest of these is the strategic southern metropolis of Kherson, which Russian troops deserted final week, smashing important infrastructure as they went. President Volodymyr Zelensky, rapturously acquired by native folks when he visited Kherson on Monday, hailed its residents as heroes and pledged to revive important providers as quickly as attainable.

However throughout the nation, rebuilding is a fraught, quandary-filled endeavor.

With nationwide reconstruction prices already estimated at a staggering $350 billion, and practically one-third of the nation’s 44 million folks displaced inside Ukraine or having fled overseas, Ukrainians grapple with fixed, harsh reassessments: Keep or go? Rebuild, or begin recent elsewhere? Cling to reminiscences, or put them apart?

“We’re part of a historic process,” mentioned Rudnychenko, the architect. “But we don’t know yet how the story ends.”


A road with the straightforward title of Tsentralna — Central — cuts a straight line by Borodyanka, bisecting neighborhoods of modest wooden or brick properties that give strategy to forests and fields. It’s lined with giant condo buildings, many relationship again to the Soviet period, punctuated by small companies, the submit workplace and the police station.

Even in its prewar heyday, the road might need appeared unprepossessing to outsiders. However for Olga Drabei, 34, who lived her whole life at Tsentralna 306, her third-floor flat represents “everything — my entire childhood, marriage, motherhood, all that is dear to me.”

Olga Drabei, age 34, has lived on Tsentralna Street all her life

Olga Drabei, 34, says the third-floor flat she needed to depart after Russian assaults represents “everything — my entire childhood, marriage, motherhood, all that is dear to me.” She hopes to ultimately return to her residence.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

Greater than eight months after bombing shook the constructing in early March, the 50-unit block has been deemed structurally sound, however continues to be with out electrical energy or operating water. Blasts blew out dozens of home windows; hearth left stairwells charred. Some residents gave up hopes of returning earlier than winter, sealing up doorways with large squiggles of froth insulation.

Drabei and her husband, along with their 7-year-old son, hope to maneuver again in quickly from cramped non permanent quarters close by. However her mother and father and 89-year-old grandmother, who lived with them earlier than the struggle, might not rejoin them. War’s upheaval has already been an excessive amount of.

On a dank day final week, Drabei confirmed guests across the condo’s chilly, jumbled rooms. The tv and most home equipment had been looted. Her son had already outgrown a small baby’s mattress left behind in a nook. The as soon as fastidiously tended backyard behind the constructing was a tangle of weeds and naked tree branches.

Children play in a dark hallway

Kids play in darkish hallways on the center faculty in downtown Borodyanka on Nov. 10, 2022. The electrical energy is on solely sporadically.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

“We’re lucky — we’re alive, and we have a place to return to,” Drabei mentioned. “Life will come back to our town. It will just be different than before.”

Simply down the road, at Tsentralna 367, Yakovenko, the pensioner, lives alone along with her kitten, Javelinka — named after the antitank missiles that helped Ukrainian forces blunt the Russian offensive geared toward Kyiv. The injury to her constructing occurred when missiles slammed right into a army recruitment workplace throughout the road in early March, practically flattening it, together with the adjoining greengrocer’s and pharmacy.

Sudden noises nonetheless make her nervous, she mentioned, however stroking Javelinka helps her settle down.

Together with her window blown out, Yakovenko made do with plastic and cardboard coverings all spring and summer time, till the state paid to put in new glass. She was nonetheless ready for a door to switch the one which was blasted off its hinges.

She counted herself fortunate. Together with nearly everybody on Tsentralna, she knew the story of Ivan Simoroz, a younger police officer who as soon as lived on the road.

Children play on a merry-go-round

Kids in Borodyanka play within the shadow of buildings left in ruins by the Russian invasion greater than eight months in the past.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

On Feb. 26, two days after the Russian invasion started, the 26-year-old was on responsibility on the station when his household residence was bombed. His spouse, mom, father, brother and grandmother had been killed outright; his month-old child daughter, Polina, died a short while later within the hospital.

“The sadness is so large sometimes,” Yakovenko mentioned.

On the constructing’s floor flooring, a 73-year-old named Halyna waved from her window at departing guests. She cracked it open to elucidate that her personal condo down the road was destroyed, so she was renting a unit right here, one which was chilly however largely intact.

“I’m fine,” she mentioned. “I have two blankets!”


By merciless coincidence, practically all of the Borodyanka males mobilized for army service are deployed on the scene of a very brutal ongoing battle, in and close to the city of Bakhmut, a whole bunch of miles away on the jap entrance traces.

Men in uniform carry blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags on a street

The funeral procession for soldier Oleksii Kozlenko proceeds up Tsentralna road in Borodyanka.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

Someday final week, the physique of fallen soldier Oleksii Kozlenko, 32, arrived residence. Because the funeral procession moved up Tsentralna, a gaggle of girls who had gathered to obtain help packages from the municipality turned and knelt down because the coffin handed.

“Every day, it seems that we bury someone,” mentioned Rudnychenko, the architect.

Farther down Tsentralna, on the Flower Cafe — which sells vegetation and bouquets in addition to meals — proprietress Tetiana Lytvynenko, 33, was serving up paninis and occasional. Enterprise was a bit sluggish, she mentioned.

The cafe sits reverse the much-photographed pair of nine-story buildings with blackened facades, simply throughout the road from the Banksy mural on an adjoining constructing. Lytvynenko mentioned it was comprehensible that outsiders would come to see this stuff; even she is usually shocked by the sight of the sooty, hulking husks the place so lots of her prospects as soon as lived.

A cafe with pictures of food painted on its side across from buildings with facades blackened by missile strikes

Tetiana Lytvynenko’s Flower Cafe is again in enterprise in Borodyanka. It sits reverse a much-photographed pair of nine-story buildings with blackened facades, and Lytvynenko mentioned it was comprehensible that outsiders would come to see them. “I just wish more of them would order some food!” she mentioned.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Occasions)

“When people come to see, I just wish more of them would order some food!” she mentioned.

The small, vibrant cafe that she and her husband ran for a decade was badly bomb-damaged, however as a result of it’s a modular kiosk, it wasn’t too tough to switch. That wasn’t the case with their close by condo. Whereas sheltering outdoors Borodyanka with their younger son, the couple noticed the smoking ruins of their constructing in information footage.

She shook her head.

“At first, we were shocked and crying, but we’ve passed that phase,” she mentioned. “Now we just laugh.”