Bucha, Irpin and Borodianka are among the areas around Kyiv that suffered the most during Russia’s invasion.
But now after Moscow pulled its troops back to focus on eastern Ukraine, locals are returning to the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital.
Euronews spoke to four Ukrainians about what they went through and how they are trying to come to terms with what has happened.
Victor: ‘It is a miracle that I am alive’
Apartment blocks, ravaged by shelling and fire, stand naked and black. Houses lie in ruins. Huge holes crater roads.
This is Irpin, weeks after Russia withdrew its forces to eastern Ukraine.
Now, life is getting back to normal. Among those who have returned to try and rebuild their lives is Victor. In mid-March, a missile hit his truck and blew parts of his home’s roof off. The 47-year-old told Euronews he was hiding in his basement with his mother, cooking soup on a stove, when the blast threw them against a wall. Fragments were flying everywhere, but he escaped without injury.
“The scariest [part] is when you can hear the missile on its way but do not know where it will hit,” said Victor, who evacuated in mid-March but has now returned. “If it had hit us directly, the basement would not have been able to hold. We would have died.”
Victor has cleared the rubble from his yard and is now repairing the roof. His mother’s embroidery pictures — mainly of flowers and cats — fill the walls of their damaged home.
In the garden, there is the juxtaposition of flowers coming into bloom alongside another artillery shell that hit Victor’s property.
“As you can see, we had a good life,” said Victor, chain-smoking cigarettes. “I simply cannot find any forgiveness for what Russia has done to this place. Even if they came here and apologised and pulled out of Ukraine, I could not forgive them.”
During evacuations, he carried a 97-year-old in a wheelchair over a broken bridge with gunfire in the background. It is images like these that he cannot erase.
“It is a miracle that I am alive,” he added. “That my parents are alive. Not everyone was so lucky.”
Irpin is among the areas where the International Criminal Court is investigating possible war crimes. The city’s mayor said that around 300 civilians died, with some found blindfolded and tied up. Moscow has issued a blanket denial of the allegations.
Ivan: ‘I can never forgive this’
Elsewhere in Irpin, we come across Ivan Gontar. The 55-year-old also recently returned to the area, coming home to find his roof damaged.
As well as the roof, Ivan is also working on the family car, which was hit before evacuations back in March.
“We were all mostly hiding in the basement,” he told Euronews. “We only came out to sit and cook food over a small stove. We had nothing. No heating.”
At the beginning of March, they left over the bridge towards Kyiv, which Ivan says was bombed just two hours after they crossed.
When evacuating, they saw many dead bodies in the streets, and they heard allegations that Russian soldiers killed civilians in other towns.
“But we did not see much ourselves because we were afraid to go out,” said Ivan. “Just see what they have done. I am not sure that they have any humanity in them. I am a religious person. I should be able to forgive, but I cannot. I can never forgive this.
“This is my house, and even though I might be able to rebuild it, I might not be able to rebuild what is inside myself. How can they come here and do this?”
Nina: ‘I am ashamed of the Russian soldiers’
The images of mass graves from Bucha and dead civilians lying strewn across the streets shocked the world, sparking outrage and fresh sanctions on Moscow.
But weeks on from that outpouring, the area is beginning to get back on its feet.
Shops have begun to reopen and there is even a market again in the town centre. Elsewhere, children are back at the city’s playgrounds.
But the scars of the horror inflicted on Bucha remain.
Nina is originally from Russia but has lived in Ukraine for many years. The 65-year-old teacher says she couldn’t comprehend what had happened.
“Recently, my nine-year-old granddaughter asked me if I am Russian. I said yes. She then asked if I supported the Russian troops I said no and could see her relief,” said Nina, who did not evacuate despite the heavy fighting.
“I am ashamed of the actions of the Russian soldiers. I cannot believe they will do this.”
The horror stories from elsewhere in Bucha terrified Nina and meant she hardly ever leave the house.
“I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes, I woke up at night thinking about what to eat,” said Nina, optimistic that time will allow people to get back to their lives.
But she can never forgive.
“My brother is a soldier in the Russian army, and I cannot imagine that he is part of an army that can do this,” said Nina, “But I will never forgive them for this, and I don’t even think that my grandchildren will. We cannot forgive Russia for this.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the evidence in Bucha as fake and a “crude and cynical provocation”. Kremlin-backed media claimed it was an elaborate hoax – a narrative that journalists in Ukraine have shown to be false.
Natalia: ‘I disguised myself as a grandmother amid fears of being raped’
In Borodianka, 25 kilometres from Bucha, the destruction is even worse. Russian airstrikes split apartment blocks in two, leaving rubble and just the shell of what stood before.
Now with Russian troops departed, locals are trying to pick up the pieces. Many try to trace their loved ones or find out what happened to their neighbours.
Natalia, 41, spent much of the period hiding at home. When she did go out, she put on several scarves to disguise herself as a grandmother amid rumours Russian soldiers were raping women. They came to search her home on several occasions.
“They asked me all sorts of questions, and I just answered: ‘I can’t hear you, I cannot hear you’,” said Natalia, “I have never been this scared. Nothing was working here. I couldn’t call anyone for help. I just wanted to survive. We had only ourselves.”
She says bombings were so frequent that she couldn’t sleep. Sometimes it would be quieter from 5-8 am and she would sleep three hours, but it was not like this every day.
“Russian soldiers also stole a lot from us. Phones and so on,” said Natalia, adding they arrived in the city almost expecting to be celebrated as liberators.
“They are gone now, but I still don’t feel safe. I can hear what is happening in other parts of the country, and I am afraid that they will come here again. That I will not survive.”
“I just hate Putin and Russia. Putin must be like a person with schizophrenia. He is crazy. Like a robot without any emotions,” she added.
Natalia, claiming Russian soldiers had raped women and children, said what was happening in Ukraine was “worse than World War II”.
“How can I ever forgive this?” she asked.