Where are the people of Bucha?


Alfons Bech

September 20, 2022

I have just arrived from Bucha. I travelled from Kiev with Francesco, an Italian friend. We wanted to see the reality of the war because in Kiev everything seems calm and life is abnormally normal: the subways run, people walk the streets calmly, shops are open, and people do their shopping...

And even on Sunday it seems like any other Sunday in any European city, with people walking around, drinking beers, visiting the high bridge from where you can see the Dnieper River and even enjoying the rain. Maybe I'm exaggerating, or maybe it's just that people want to enjoy life in the midst of conflict.

The journey to Bucha is easy. We take the minibus from the end of the blue Metro line. A journey to the north-west of about three quarters of an hour, which cost us just under one and a half euros. The whole trip was very quiet. You can see, however, the measures taken by the army to stop Russian troops, should they approach the capital: zig zags in the roads, checkpoints, sandbagged parapets, with netting covering some of them. And strategically placed soldiers. Also, occasional controls on the minibus and private vehicles. Already it looks more like war.

Before reaching Bucha, I see a bridge that has been demolished. Traffic is diverted to a makeshift replacement. It was probably the army's own bomb squad that knocked it down to prevent tanks from entering from Bucha to Kiev. Russian columns and troops arrived from the north, from Belarus. Knocking down a bridge and cutting a busy road is a serious measure.

Before we get there, about two or three kilometres out of town, we see a large burnt-out supermarket. Nothing has been spared by the flames. The large doors and some of the walls have been blown outwards, as if an explosion inside had succeeded in deforming the whole structure. I don't know if there were any casualties in this bomb or missile attack. In any case, the signs in the shopping centre and what can be seen through the holes opened by the explosion leave no doubt that this was not a military target but a civilian one.

We arrive in Bucha and are surprised by the calm of the city. We enter a nice, residential neighbourhood. There are parks for the children, hedges with plants, well paved and well-kept streets. It seems to be a very quiet and pleasant place to live. But when we get closer, we see a half-demolished block—is it because of a bomb or because another block is being built? Once in front of it there is no room for doubt: a bomb has brought it down.

From there we see other blocks that have been attacked. Some from above, with several floors completely burnt. Others with some floors destroyed. In some squares, the explosion has blown out most of the windowpanes of the surrounding blocks, which have not yet been repaired. In other places, the bomb has hit the street and traces of shrapnel can be seen flying everywhere in the footprints of the walls. There is a special silence. The few people wandering around are mostly alone. We look at each other, but we don't talk much either, just a few comments. I take pictures, but I try not to let them see me. I don't want to hurt their feelings, but I want to show what has become of Bucha.

We see some people heading towards a path through a small forest. We follow them. After a few minutes, we cross the railway track and come to another neighbourhood in the same town. People take this shortcut instead of going along the road. There, again, more civilian buildings burnt, damaged, without windows, and more broken glass. On the way we don't see any factories or buildings that could be considered of military or economic importance. Just houses, blocks of flats. Some of them, according to a woman pensiner with whom Francesco half-understands in Russian, seem to be blocks of social cooperatives. The same lady wonders why these attacks are taking place. She also asked the Russian soldiers who occupied the city, but they could not give her an answer.

In the afternoon, people gather in the square in that neighbourhood. They come from various streets, some people with vehicles; a young woman with a small child arrives by minibus; most of them walk. They are almost all elderly people and women. They come with their bags to receive food. A woman social worker tries to organise this platoon of needy people. She and two other people organise the groups. We leave so as not to disturb those who need such help to survive.

We also see some young people on the streets, some in army gear. A newly washed uniform dries on a shattered window. That means that there are some soldiers living there. But we see hardly anyone else on the streets. The market was also hit by bombs. A makeshift memorial, made of flags, a guitar and a name, seem to indicate that a well-known neighbour, probably a young man, died there.

Strangely enough, there are quite a few parked cars. But hardly any people. In one of the squares two or three children play on the swings, as if they don't know there is a war going on. They play, squeal and laugh. But after that square, deserted streets, silence. Nobody in the buildings. Shops closed. Where are the people of Bucha?

I dedicate this chronicle to those people who call themselves leftists, but don't believe the news about Putin's crimes against the civilian population because it comes from the bourgeois and pro-imperialist press. Well, I was there and that is what I saw.