Friday, 23 February 2024 15:17

Ukraine: Bucha and Irpin rise from the ashes of Russian military occupation

When the Russian occupation of Bucha in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine ended in March 2022, widespread destruction was revealed, and a UN commission concluded that war crimes had been committed against the civilian population. Two years on, life is returning to the town on Kyiv’s outskirts and nearby Irpin, which have been restored with UN support.

"They were flying by helicopter from the direction of the cargo airport in Hostomel [north of Bucha]. Then they marched with tanks along Vokzalna Street, crossed the railway and moved in the direction of Kyiv," said Mykhaylina Skoryk-Shkarivska, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Development of Communities in Bucha and deputy of the Irpin City Council, recalling the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion.

The occupation by Russian troops lasted almost a month and, when the city was liberated on 31 March 2022, evidence of murders, torture and other crimes committed by the Russian military as well as widespread destruction was revealed.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, visiting the city in December 2022, said that it was hard for him to think about what the population of Bucha had to go through: "You hear about soldiers coming to your village or your town, and then you see those soldiers, you see them start killing people in the streets, then sniper shots, shooting, mass killings, summary executions."

The report of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine refers to documented killings of local residents. The Russian military, according to the authors of the report, often carried out summary executions at checkpoints; a text message on a phone, an item of military uniform or a certificate of military service in the past could lead to fatal consequences.

In September 2022, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, spoke to the members of the UN Security Council about the consequences of the occupation. "In the city of Bucha, I visited the Church of St. Andrew, where I saw bodies hidden behind a building. This is not a sham. As I walked through the streets of Borodyanka, I saw destroyed schools and houses. This is real destruction; I saw it," he said at the time. It has been estimated that thousands of buildings in Bucha were damaged, and more than 100 were completely destroyed.

UN News/Anna Radomska
Vokzalnaya Street in Bucha today. The private housing sector, which had been severely destroyed, has been comprehensively restored.

Bringing Bucha back to life

Today, around two years on from the occupation, there are striking signs of a revival. The UN has worked closely with the local authorities, the Government and international partners, to ensure the city could come back to life as quickly as possible. "In the Nova Bucha quarter, everything was destroyed during the occupation. Now, it has been almost completely rebuilt,” said Ms. Skoryk-Shkarivska.

"All the damaged apartment buildings are being repaired in a comprehensive manner: the roofs are completely replaced, thermal insulation is installed, and the façade is improved, so that the building will retain heat better. It is hard to imagine that two years ago there was a convoy of heavy Russian military equipment here, and most of the houses were smashed or burned,” she said.

"Sometimes I hear discussions about whether it is necessary to rebuild,” she continued. “But, the Kyiv region is not under such massive Russian fire as, for example, the border areas of the Kharkiv region. People are coming back; they need to live and work. The city lives, there is business, there are a lot of new restaurants. A living city needs to be rebuilt, and then even more people will come. After all, the western regions of Ukraine, where everyone fled at first, are overcrowded. There is nothing for many citizens to do there. Here in Kyiv, there is more work, more opportunities."

Shelter in a school in Irpin, renovated by UNICEF.
UN News/Anna Radomska
Shelter in a school in Irpin, renovated by UNICEF.

The rehabilitation of the housing stock is being supported and financed by international partners, including UN agencies, which are also engaged in clearing rubble and demining in the Kyiv region, particularly in Bucha. A school in Irpin, that was at the centre of fierce fighting in 2022, has now been completely restored by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and is today one of the most modern educational institutions in the city, with a well-equipped shelter and an inclusive space.

"As soon as Bucha and Irpin in the Kyiv region returned to government control, UNICEF began rehabilitation initiatives and providing comprehensive support,” explained Munir Mammadzadeh, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.

More than 5,000 children in Bucha and Irpin are studying in rebuilt schools, including the Irpin school, which was 70 per cent destroyed and whose restoration was funded by the European Union. Now, this school is fully operational and provides 1,700 students, including children of internally displaced people, with full-time education, he said.

"For many children, both in Ukraine and abroad, the war has taken away two years of school, time to play with friends and the opportunity to communicate with loved ones," he added. "It deprived them of education, happiness and a normal childhood. It has had a devastating impact on their mental health. We need to minimize educational losses. Kindergarten teachers, who are now trained to provide psychosocial and psychological assistance to children, are better able to support them during such a difficult period."