Piano teacher Oksana Shevchenko shows a pile of twisted metal and cement. This is all that is left of the school where she worked for 30 years, pulverized during the Russian occupation of Borodianka, a northwestern suburb of Kiev.
“The land and nothing else. A burnt wilderness instead of a place of culture where the children studied … It is the extermination of culture and Ukrainians by the Russian invaders,” launches Mrs. Shevchenko, 53 years.
An hour’s drive from Kyiv, Borodianka, a city that had 14,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion began on February 24, carries the deep scars of Moscow’s attempt to occupy the Ukrainian capital.
With most of its buildings reduced to heaps of ruins or damaged, the main street is a gripping testimony to the devastation.
According to City Hall officials, 12 residential buildings were demolished and 24 damaged. Over 400 homes were affected.
As their buildings have been destroyed, police, the prosecution, the post office and the town hall now share a school that escaped the bombings.
– “Feeling of oppression” –
Mrs. Shevchenko also provides music lessons there for the children who returned after the liberation of Borodianka on April 1.
Accompanied on the piano, children sing in chorus Ukraine’s anthem.
“We find ourselves and we create. It was painful when it was taken from us,” she says in a small classroom crammed with musical instruments.
“It also increases stress when you lose your favorite subject and the kids lose their favorite activities. It creates a sense of oppression.”
The music school, which had 160 students before the war, according to Ms. Shevchenko, has benefited from several donations from NGOs and Ukrainian and foreign individuals. A rock band recently gave them a keyboard, drums and guitar.
“There are children who want to come back. They come back, teachers too. So alone and with the help of charities and charities, we have begun to renew our supplies,” Ms Shevchenko explains.
In a cramped classroom, 15-year-old Diana Kovtoun sings a popular Ukrainian song. She had left Borodianka on the first day of the war, but returned.
“Before, I thought about whether I should go to work or study abroad. Now I’m sure I want to study here in Ukraine. I want to live here,” she says.
– “Music heals” –
Guitar teacher Tetiana Kryvocheïenko is also back to teach. Her lip trembles and she barely holds back her tears as she tells of her escape from Borodianka.
“We had to go so as not to meet Russians. We walked 10 kilometers at night across fields to the neighboring village of Zagaltsi,” she told AFP.
“The kids were crying. Their hands hurt because they were being dragged. My child asked me not to take his hand anymore,” she recalls.
She took all the way to western Ukraine before returning to Borodianka in early May.
“Music heals because it helps you disconnect from your problems. And the kids asked me to continue my lessons, even those who are abroad,” Ms. Kryvocheïenko explains.
More than 150 people died at Borodianka during the Russian offensive, including eight children.
According to acting mayor Georgy Ierko, whose temporary office is also in the school, there are currently about 9,000 people left in the city. Almost half no longer have a home.
“If a roof is leaking, you have to fix it to be able to live in the building. It’s the same for a city. Borodianka is not a ghost town. The war will end. Life will continue,” he says.
“I hope everything goes well. People have returned and they should live under normal conditions. We are working hard to ensure that,” he concludes.