Kharkiv pushes back the invader | war in Ukraine

The streets on the outskirts of town, littered with charred armored vehicles, are also remnants of the very fierce fighting that took place there. Stormed by Russian forces in the first days of the invasion, the country’s second-largest city was heavily bombed, causing a large part of the population to flee. But when a relative calm sets in, more and more citizens are tempted to make a comeback.

A destroyed Russian tank.

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

Oleksandr and Lyudmila Nishcheta even go so far as to venture beyond the city limits. Because the retired couple owns a house in Vil’Khiva, around fifteen kilometers east of Kharkiv. The way there is riddled with pitfalls.

The checkpoints of the Ukrainian army are numerous, and at each of them the soldiers multiply the warnings: the situation is still fluid and changing; the area is still occasionally bombed; Retirees should understand that they go there at their own risk. The ruined rows of houses on both sides of the street quickly confirm that the clashes didn’t just destroy military targets.

Portrait of Oleksandr and Lyudmila.

Oleksandr and Lyudmila in front of the remains of their home in the Kharkiv region.

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

But when they arrive in front of her house, they are greeted by a concert of playful barking. Rigik, the neighbors’ dog, who they thought was dead, runs to Lyudmila and covers her with saliva with big tongue treats. Overcome with emotion, the sixty-year-old hugs and caresses him relieved, repeating reassuring words.

But as soon as they step through the gate of the property, a sad sight awaits them. A shell dug a huge crater in the garden and devastated the facade. Oleksandr sighs as he walks over the rubble, frantically rubs his head and repeats aloud to himself: It’s a nightmare, it’s terrible. Then he says to us: This is what peace looks like in Russia.

His wife joins him and shares his distress. They stare at the facade in silence and then make a friendly gesture to the two Ukrainian soldiers who stand guard in the neighborhood. This is our country, our homelandOleksandr resolutely recalls. And nobody’s gonna force us out of here. His wife nods. She notes that her sense of belonging to the Ukrainian people has skyrocketed since the February 24 invasion.

We are strong. And nobody has made us as strong and as united as Vladimir Putin himself. Nobody. »

A quote from Lyudmila Nishcheta
Oleksandr and Lyudmila behind a charred van.

Oleksandr and Lyudmila observe the material damage after the Russian army has passed through.

Photo: Radio Canada / Emilio Avalos

Like most residents of the Kharkiv region, the retired couple speak Russian as their mother tongue. But when she sees the traces of Russian soldiers in her house, she feels torn between hate and contempt.

She is particularly disgusted that Russian speakers like her were used by Vladimir Putin as an excuse to invade Ukraine. Allegedly, peaceful Russian soldiers came to free usshe said wryly. Free us from what? I do not know. At the moment, they have mostly rid us of the Russian language.

A final sentence, which she pronounces slowly and in Ukrainian to emphasize its meaning. Like them, many Russian-speaking Ukrainians are now ashamed of speaking their native language and are now choosing to speak Ukrainian. As they leave, Oleksandr and Lyudmila hear from the neighbors, those who stayed behind. Like Vasiliy Orinchin, 87, who didn’t move from home during the occupation. The frail silhouette, the arched back, the old man quotes an old proverb to explain himself.

Portrait of Vasily.

Vasiliy did not leave his house during the Russian offensive.

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

Where I was born, where I was baptized, there I will die. »

A quote from Vasiliy Orinchin, resident of Vil’hivka

The man tells us that a few weeks ago he saw the Russian soldiers on the street in front of his house when he looked out the window. He takes us behind his humble home to show us that memory that we left him.

An unexploded rocket is stuck in the dirt conspicuously less than a meter from the wall of his house. He says it fell in the middle of the night, waking him up to the shaking of the walls. They bombed and it fell on my househe concludes simply before adding with a smile in his eyes: I didn’t ask anything.

Vasiliy vows to stay at home until the Ukrainian deminers visit. He also feels much safer since the Russian soldiers have withdrawn from the surrounding towns and villages.

Ukrainian soldiers with artillery pieces.

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to attack Russian positions.

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

A dull rumble can be heard through the village. Two heavy artillery pieces are charging through Vil’khivka. The motorized 203 mm guns suddenly stop in a field and line up side by side. Immediately, a swarm of Operators spread out to attack them and steer them in the right direction.

Two thunderbolts soon rent the sky as a huge ball of fire erupts from the muzzles of the cannons. The operation lasted only a few minutes. After the shots were fired, the gunners quickly began to pack up. Because these weapons of old design, a legacy of the Soviet era, are vulnerable to counterattacks. Ukrainian soldiers therefore rely on mobility and atypical firing configurations to thwart the enemy.

Speed ​​of action and great knowledge of the terrain are key assets in the eyes of Kran, the commander of the special forces called Tuman, which means fog. The tall guy with the full beard looks like a reasonably good-natured grandfather. But the iron gaze we see behind his ballistic goggles and the Kalashnikov he carries over his shoulder leave no doubt as to his determination.

We are all convinced that we will win, he confirms and gestures towards his men. He mentions the excessive rigidity of the Russian army’s chain of command, its supply problems, logistics and the low morale of its troops as so many factors burdening the enemy and favoring Kiev’s troops on the ground. But, in his opinion, it is the unfailing motivation of Ukrainian fighters that makes the difference.

We fight to protect our country, our motherland, our women, our children, our future. There is no better motivation. »

A quote from Crane, Commander, Tuman Special Forces, Ukrainian Army

His right arm, nom de guerre westtakes us to the adjacent bunker to show us his collection trophies. Lined up against the concrete wall are a number of weapons left behind by fleeing Russian troops. RPG7 rocket launcher, machine gun duchkaa pistol sniper Dragunov. Gifts from Russiahe says ironically.

The NLAW carried on the shoulder.

The British NLAW gift.

Photo: Radio Canada / Emilio Avalos

But it was another gift, this one from Britain, that proved extremely useful on the battlefield. Orest shows us the NLAW, a state-of-the-art anti-tank rocket launcher that destroyed many Russian tanks, prominently located in the bunker.

The officer takes the opportunity to make an appeal to Western countries and urge them to equip the Ukrainian army with more modern weapons and special equipment such as night vision goggles. In his opinion, this is the only way to end the conflict quickly and thus reduce the loss of life.

A cruel and senseless war, the end of which Oleksandr and Lyudmila impatiently await, pointing to its heavy toll; the tens of thousands of victims and the millions of people who are now homeless.

Leaving the half-ruined house, Oleksandr, feeling the sadness and despair of his wife, hugs her and whispers in her ear: We’ll rebuild everything, don’t worry.

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