From Boutcha to Kramatorsk, homage to the war dead
“Remembering Russian crimes”: from Boutcha, a martyr city near Kyiv hard hit by the Russian occupation, to areas near the front such as Kherson (south) and Kramatorsk (east), Ukrainians paid tribute Friday to the victims of the war that started a year ago.
In the church of Saint-André de Boutcha, a small photographic exhibition recalls the dark hours experienced by this locality in the north-western suburbs of the Ukrainian capital.
It is next to the building, still partially under construction, that a mass grave had been dug to hastily bury the corpses of those victims of the occupation before its liberation by the Ukrainian forces, at the end of March 2022.
“We are gathered to remember Russian crimes, terror,” said a priest during a ceremony organized “for peace in Ukraine and its defenders,” in front of a hundred parishioners who had come to meditate.
Last spring, Boutcha became a symbol of the war crimes attributed to Russia by Ukraine.
“We stayed there with my wife for a month, during the occupation. We did not move, we saw all these horrors”, says at the exit of the church, the reddened eyes, Serguiï Zamostiane, a former professor of 62 years.
“In the cemetery, more than 50 of our soldiers are already resting and 450 civilians whom they (the Russians) shot (…) Why? Explain to me, why? Asks the sexagenarian. He says he lived in Yablonska Street, where the AFP had discovered, immediately after the end of the Russian military presence, the bodies of about twenty civilians.
Among these dead, the godfather of their son, “shot down in our yard”. And “a man, we did not know him, we found him lying down, killed, we saw him with our own eyes”.
“Tired” of the war
A few minutes later, a second ceremony is organized at the Boutcha cemetery. A dozen graves dug in recent weeks and on which are placed wreaths of flowers and Ukrainian flags shelter the bodies of soldiers killed in recent months, testimonies of the tribute paid by this small town of 30,000 inhabitants before the war.
< p>The most recent is that of Oleksiï, 29, who died in mid-January. His mother, Tatiana, has returned from Germany where she is a refugee to bury the young man.
“We're tired, we can't take the war anymore. It's hard, we want to be left in peace,” she says, supported by Anna, 24, Oleksiï's girlfriend who says she feels “an abyss, the void”.
In Lviv, western Ukraine, relatives of soldiers killed in action gathered in a cemetery on Thursday evening, but, for the mother of one of these men, Anna Krachitska, “this anniversary is not not a celebration, it is our pain”.
“My son is buried here. Tomorrow, it will be exactly a year since he got up one morning, after seeing on television that the war had started and that he had enlisted (…) Tomorrow, it will be a year since he stood up to defend our country,” Mariana Choulga told AFP.
Recaptured by Ukrainian troops in November, Kherson, in southern Ukraine, now lives in rate of Russian strikes.
“Everything has changed, life has changed” since the start of the invasion, explains Diana, a 31-year-old saleswoman who says she “dreams that the war ends, that my child sleeps at home” and not at his grandmother's , far from the front.
About 700 km east of Boucha, Kramatorsk also buried its dead. This Donbass town is located near Bakhmout, held by the Ukrainians and epicenter of fighting for months.
Under a gray sky, Mykhailo Sikirin was buried in a coffin with yellow and blue colors of Ukraine. Member of the National Guard, he was killed at the age of 30 in a trench during a bombardment on February 18, in Chipilovka, in the Lugansk region.
“He died for independence and the sovereignty of Ukraine”, says the priest in front of the tomb: “It is the greatest sacrifice to which any man aspires”, he adds.
In unison, three comrades of the young man then fired three shots each into the air.
“It is thanks to the actions of these soldiers that we are here safe and alive”, declares the priest, looking at the Ukrainian flags fly above 21 other recently dug graves.