Ukraine’s Towns Used To Be Beautiful. Now They Are Rubble

Ukraine’s Towns Used To Be Beautiful. Now They Are Rubble

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By Mariya Knight, Sharif Paget and Travis Caldwell, CNN

March 30, 2022

Inna Sheremet remembers fondly walking her dog every day in the forests of Bucha, having lived in Ukraine her entire life.

But on February 24, at 5 a.m., she heard the explosions.

“I packed my things, took the dog and left,” Sheremet told CNN, escaping before her fifth-floor apartment was shelled and destroyed.

The life she once led — visiting friends, grilling kebabs next to her house, cycling around the city — was gone. “My whole life before the war is destroyed,” Sheremet said. “All I have left is a small bag of clothes and a dog.”

Inna Sheremet captures life on a sunny day in Bucha before the invasion. Credit: Inna SheremetBucha, in Kyiv Oblast, is one of many cities devastated by the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. Everyday scenes of commuting to work and hanging out with friends on weekends have been replaced with the horrors of war, as millions are forced to flee or seek shelter.

“A few small towns just don’t exist anymore,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on March 12. “And this is a tragedy. They are just gone. And people are also gone. They are gone forever. So we are all on the front line.”

CNN spoke with those who have had their entire lives uprooted since the war began more than a month ago. Their stories of the scarred landscapes where their hometowns once stood show how much has already been lost. But also what they’re fighting to protect, as Ukrainian forces continue to defy the Russian advance. Here’s what they have to say.

IrpinThe town square at night in front of Irpin City Council, before the war began. Credit: Mariana Ianovska/Adobe StockThirteen years ago, Olga Dobrelia moved to Irpin just as the city was transforming from a small resort town to a haven for many families and young professionals just 30 minutes outside of the capital Kyiv. Dobrelia raised her family there, knew the best spots for coffee and where to find wood-fired pizza.

“We loved and will love our Irpin at any time of the year,” she told CNN. “Even after the war.”

Russia began its attack on the city during the early stage of the invasion, with missile strikes and frequent bombardments resulting in widespread destruction.

Dobrelia described sheltering in the basement of her home as nearby explosions “gave such an echo that the earth shook under our feet.”

“The children cried and were afraid to even move back into the house.” Her family soon fled, driving south to the Cherkasy region several hours away.

The city, meanwhile, has continued to see intense fighting.

“When the enemy equipment is reloaded, people run out of the shelter and have the opportunity to inform their relatives that they are alive or ask for help. And sometimes they try to heat the water on a bonfire,” said Dobrelia. “Terrible life.”

BorodyankaA residential building in Borodyanka destroyed by Russian shelling after the invasion. Credit: Maksim Levin/ReutersWithin a week of the invasion, the residential area of Borodyanka on the outskirts of Kyiv was under heavy attack.

There was constant Russian shelling, and a large apartment block was obliterated in a missile strike. “There is no Borodyanka,” Oleksiy Kuleba, head of Kyiv’s Regional State Administration, said on March 5. “It is almost completely destroyed. The city center is just awful. Borodyanka is under the influence of Russian troops; they control this settlement.”

Just before the war broke out, a man named Victor told CNN that he texted an acquaintance he had a bad feeling. CNN has agreed to use only his first name to protect his privacy.

“I work week by week, leaving for the capital, where I have been working for decades. But the last time I left (Borodyanka), I distinctly remember that there was a feeling that I was leaving for the last time,” he said.

Victor stayed at work and kept in touch with his wife and children, who he says are hiding from the Russians without light, water, or food, trying to survive as best they can.

“We have witnessed the vilest invasion,” Victor said. “We hold on, we hope that our army and those who help us will be able to stop Putin in Ukraine so that this merciless fire does not spread to Europe.”

MoschunOlena Smolych and her family first fell in love with the “picturesque” village of Moschun after visiting friends there.

They picked mushrooms in the forest and visited a nearby stable to teach their 4-year-old son how to ride a horse. And eventually, they finished building the family home of their dreams. When the war began, they thought Moschun might be spared from the brunt of the conflict due to its remoteness.

“We weren‘t going to leave,” Smolych said. “We considered Moschun safer than Kyiv and that in the event of a shortage of water supply and electricity supply, it would be easier to survive in the village.”

But the distant sou

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