IRPIN, Ukraine (AP) — Hammering sounds came from a sixth-floor window, along with a risk of falling glass. For once, it was not the destruction of the Ukrainian city of Irpin, but the reconstruction. Encouraged by Russia’s withdrawal from the capital region, residents have begun to return home, at least for what remains.
Irpin, just a few weeks ago, saw scenes of desperate flight. Terrified locals fight their way through the slippery planks of a makeshift bridge after a concrete span was destroyed by Ukrainian forces to slow the Russian advance. But on Monday, a long line of cars was waiting to cross a recently improvised bridge providing access between the city and the capital, kyiv.
The first returnees are among the 7 million Ukrainians internally displaced by war. They pass old people and others who have waited for Russia’s onslaught in cold, damp basements, numbed by the sound of bombardment, and who have emerged into a landscape of crumbling tanks and shattered houses.
In the colorful buildings of Irpin where cafes and lounges are still silent, there are the first signs of life amid broken glass and scorched walls. It feels like a turning point, even as police with flashlights continue to march through nearly empty buildings, searching for bodies and mines.
Upstairs and in a dark hallway, Olexiy Planida worked to place a plastic sheet over a large window facing a damaged play area. It was the first time he had returned home since fleeing with his wife, two young children and their dog. The leftovers from breakfast, including a half-eaten bowl on a high chair, were where they had left them. Nearby flowerpots had withered. A stuffed toy lay amid broken glass.
“It hurts,” said Planida, 34. The Russians broke into all the doors of the apartment and took a laptop, an iPad and jewelry. He’s sure it’s the Russians because the local thieves are picking the locks instead.
“I think for a few years it can’t be fixed,” he said of homes in Irpin, many of which suffered similar or worse damage.
He hopes his children, aged 2 and 4, will never see their home as it is today. He hopes they will never remember the war itself, which he and his wife tried to explain in the sweetest terms.
“We just talk to them like, ‘Hey, bad guys came at us,'” he said. “They shouldn’t see such things.” Even he was shocked by the ruins in parts of Irpin and nearby Bucha.
In the hallway, Oksana Lyul’ka removed broken glass from her living room floor, using work gloves to carry pieces as large as plates.
Just a few months ago, the 28-year-old had returned from Cyprus to Ukraine to start a new life closer to home, and she renovated the apartment. Now only the structural damage is of concern, along with her missing jewelry.
She had arrived at the apartment an hour earlier. Downstairs, she cried.
She fled Irpin on the second day of the war and moved in with her parents. Now she is based in kyiv, not so far away.
“We can’t make any plans right now,” she said. “Our plan is to win the war, then we’ll decide what to do with the apartment. It’s not so important now.
Because the Russians remain in Ukraine, they complicate any real recovery, she said. “We all feel pain and it’s hard and it’s terrible, but people are hurting, people are dying, and that’s the main problem.”
Near the slowly resurrecting bridge that connects Irpin to the capital, dozens of cars abandoned by fleeing residents were lined up. Some were burned. Some have been broken. Some had the remains of the last seconds of their owners before giving up and setting off again on foot: a coffee thermos. Face masks. Glove boxes left open, documents scattered.
Now people are showing up in the field looking for what they left behind.
Not everyone finds it. A man sat down on the sidewalk, holding two photographs, and wept. His brother was gone.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine