What starts as a simple walk through the countryside quickly turns into a scene from Dante’s Infierno† While it may seem like just one of the many forests surrounding Kiev, it’s the site of one of the Russian military’s worst defeats in Ukraine. Not only did the Kremlin troops fail to take the Ukrainian capital after the February 24 invasion, but on the night of March 27, they fell victim to a fierce counter-attack. According to some local residents, at 11 p.m., the local Ukrainian army destroyed part of the huge camp the invaders had set up between the towns of Bucha and Borodianka.
The bombing was so intense that everything within a radius of 200 to 300 meters was swept away. There is no information on how many Russian soldiers were deployed to the camp, but based on its size – it spread over many acres – it would have been home to thousands of troops. None of the locals in the area know how many soldiers were killed in the shelling or explosions caused by the strike. It seems that corpses are the only thing the authorities have taken away.
At the beginning of the path leading to the site, there are traces of civilization. You’d think it’s trash left behind by campers: a trunk, a piece of plastic, a piece of clothing, leftovers of food… A few hundred yards away, the scene changes and it’s clear that no camper could have been responsible for such wreckage. . It is also clear that this is not a place for a leisurely stroll. Several signs at the edge of the trail warn of the possible presence of mines.
Huge trenches the size of garages appear one after the other. The ramps leading to it suggest they were used to camouflage vehicles. Some of these holes, covered with logs and branches, have been transformed into underground bunkers. Some even have sleeping pads in them. There are also hut-like structures, made of branches and tarpaulin, that look as if they could have been used for toilets. There are more clothes and boots, makeshift clotheslines, green wooden and metal boxes. These contain ammunition. The first burnt-out military vehicle appears through the pine trees. It’s hard to imagine what nature has in store for us.
There is no trace of human life, only death. Above a grave, two sticks are tied together to make a cross. “It belongs to a Russian soldier,” says Slava, a local who acts as a guide. Ahead, there are six empty tombs alongside what appear to be the remains of other makeshift crosses. “These were Ukrainians and they have been dug up,” he adds. These victims were given a second, less unworthy farewell. After a while, Slava says that the worst destruction is coming. Slava is proud to be able to show the evidence of Russia’s defeat, announcing it as if telling tourists at Notre Dame Cathedral that they are about to see its main attraction, the temple’s famous gargoyles.
But first, there are washing machines, television sets and other household appliances that have been devoured by the flames. “These are the remains of what Russians stole from houses and left behind,” says Slava with a hint of hatred. Other residents of villages under Russian occupation also say that Russian troops looted their homes, sometimes even looting clothing to combat the harsh winter weather and bits of food to satisfy their hunger.
However, the food did reach this forest camp. Remnants of individual rations with the logo of the Russian army on the packaging can be seen scattered. There is even a copy of the official Russian government newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda or red star from Friday March 18. “Vladimir Putin: We will fight for the right to be and remain Russia,” is the headline on the front page, appearing next to a photo of President Vladimir Putin. Other articles in the paper speak of Goebbels-style western fabrications and the “historical roots of Ukrainian Nazism”.
Ahead, the attack has left a circular clearing in the forest. Some trees have burned out, others are split in half or almost artistically shattered. And after a short walk, the scene turns into something out of a war movie.
Scattered across the forest are the charred remains of dozens of trucks and other vehicles. Some are a piece of scrap. Others are more recognizable, but have been hit so hard by the shelling that light passes through them like water through a sieve. Ammunition and grenades of all calibers are scattered on the ground, as well as documentation that miraculously escaped the flames, the remains of uniforms, burnt metal suitcases…
Russian troops had razed this area to the ground and occupied it for a month. When Putin failed to seize control of Kiev, the troops prepared to withdraw in late March. But a bitter goodbye awaited them. It was in the midst of these preparations, on March 27, when the Russian troops faced a fierce counter-attack. According to Slava, it lit up the night as if it were day.