Brovary, the eastern suburb of Kyiv, has been an uneasy place since the beginning of the war. You can still hear gunshots from that direction. But Khokholiv, which is located approximately twenty kilometers away, used to be a peaceful village in the countryside – until it was hit by Russian bombs.
The villager Mykola Boiko wonders: “I just cannot understand the logic of these bloody Russkies. Why did they drop this huge bomb in the middle of our village?"
The elderly man, who had made his career in electrophysics, bought an almost hundred years old cottage in Khokholiv several years ago. He first used it as a summer house, but later moved in permanently, having lost interest in big city life. “It is nice and peaceful, the air is fresh… How beautiful!mais c'est une chose à laquelle on peut penser.
But all the beauty came to an end on March 13. At 3.03 an night – Boiko remembers the time exactly – explosions shook the village. First some smaller bangs and then a huge blast. “I was woken up as my bed shifted and the windows broke with all the frames. The stove fell apart and only splinters remained of the fence,” says the man who is the only remaining resident of his street. The rest have left. The bomb dropped a couple of hundred meters away from the house. As we approach the site, we can see a number of houses and sheds by the street, hit by shells or perforated by shrapnel. “This one was hit by howitzer fire and smoldered three days afterwards,” the old man points to the left. Then to the right: “And this one was damaged by blast wave and shrapnel. See how they went through the metal garage door.”
Boiko says about a detached house with more blast and shrapnel damage that a young family with two children had just completed the basic structure but now they will probably have to tear it down and build up anew.
We finally reach the crater which was left by the large bomb landing there in mid-March. An adjacent building was badly damaged. Thank God, no one had been at home at that time…
Boiko studies the crater, which is two or three man’s heights deep, and asks again: “What the hell are those Russkies thinking about? There is nothing like that here … just fields all around.”
He then says that after he had handled the bomb fragments picked up by a neighbor, he had a feeling that the bomb dropped in the village might have been doctored with depleted uranium – a hazardous waste product of nuclear industry, which is used in ammunition to make it more destructive. “I have a better understanding of physics than the regular university level – I have handled depleted uranium. It is heavier than lead, just like these fragments we have picked up are heavier than lead.”
If he is right, the villagers will face problems with (low-level) radioactivity and all the accompanying troubles. “We shall breathe this crap for years,” Boiko sadly predicts.
Although the buildings suffered much from the explosion, fortunately no one was killed. Yet there were victims some kilometers away, in another street of Khokholiv, which was hit by the aggressors’ gunfire. “Oh hell, some two dozen buildings were shot up there,” says Boiko and warns that we should not try to go and view the damage. “This is under the Ukrainian army control and they do not let anyone close. You might even catch a bullet if you go there on your own.”
Right he is. As we walk towards the street surrounded by shot-up buildings, we can see terrible destruction, but armed soldiers run up immediately and order us away. “How did you get here anyway? Didn’t they stop you at the earlier checkpoints?” one of them demands and explains then: “You must understand that you cannot do it! No way! It is very dangerous here. Beside everything else we have to take care for your safety. If you want to come here, you must ask for permission from the regional army unit’s press service.”
As we immediately telephone the press service, they refuse outright. First we would have to submit an application form which would be processed and the answer would come in three days. This is all they can tell us.
At the other end of the village we meet Mykola’s neighbor Viktor, who arrived from the city to see what is left of the car in the garage with the shrapnel-holed door. He pries the door open – the front end of an elderly Chrysler 200 has clearly taken some damage. “Oh my God!” says Viktor.
But Boiko, who showed us the huge bomb crater and admitted that he is trying to stay brave and not to be afraid despite all the nervous tension, suddenly asks: “Is Estonia in NATO? You got away from the Russkies?"
I say yes. A small country can never be certain that an unstable and tyrannical neighbor would not turn its cannons towards us. Just as happened in Ukraine. Boiko, who has so far been optimistic and fearless, wipes a tear away. “You are doing well there”.