Perhaps the first missile of this entire disastrous conflict hit Hostomel airport shortly after 6am. “I was having a cup of coffee in my living room at the time,” says Helena, 78. “I almost jumped out of my chair! »
Constantin is a security guard in the establishment. Barely out of his shift, he fell into a deep sleep. “Then my wife started shaking me to wake me up,” he recalled. “She was screaming, ‘Get up! Rise! There are explosions. Something is happening!”‘
We are at ground zero of Putin’s failed blitzkrieg against kyiv. This is where the balconies of crumbling Soviet residential blocks offered a front row seat to Armageddon. It was here, against the airfield of the Antonov aircraft manufacturing company, on the morning of February 24, that the Russian army launched a helicopter infantry assault.
The intention was to link these elite troops with armored columns that had crossed the border from Belarus and thus capture the Ukrainian capital – 15 miles away – in 48 hours.
You can see spray-painted graffiti left by the then-confident invaders on a wall of one of Hostelel’s destroyed housing estates. A message reads – in Russian – “wolves” and the date: “05.03.2022”. Another on a garage door boasts: “The truth is ours. But the wolves have now returned to Belarus. And the truth about what Russia has done here and in neighboring Bucha is an affront to humanity.
The Ukrainian town of Hostomel outside kyiv, where the Russians first landed in late February, intending to take the capital in three days. Pictured: A resident was buried outside his home
After initial setbacks, Ukrainian troops managed to contain Russian airborne forces at Hostomel. Weeks of artillery exchanges ensued, sending columns of smoke onto the northwest skyline of kyiv. Under this fire, several hundred if not a thousand citizens lived an underground existence.
On a day of constant rain, we go to Hostomel. Along the way, we pass countless battle wrecks, including a blue Ford Mustang sports car. It appears to have been used for gunnery training by a Russian infantry battalion.
The citizens of Hostelel came out of their basements. They demonstrate both resilience and community spirit.
But there is evidence of the severe impact, physical and psychological, caused by what they have suffered. The older women are also able to provide fascinating insight into the mindset of ordinary Russian soldiers with whom they conversed during the month of occupation. Some of the invaders didn’t even know what country they were fighting in, they say.
Not everyone survived, of course. On the edge of the grass along Sviato-Pokrovska Street, under a shell-torn sycamore tree, is a mound of earth and a wooden cross with the handwritten name “Valeri Korotin”. Mr. Korotin was executed by Russians for starting a prohibited fire or died of natural causes during the fighting, depending on who we talk to.
On a day of constant rain, we go to Hostomel. Along the way, we pass countless battle wrecks, including a blue Ford Mustang sports car. It appears to have been used for gunnery training by a Russian infantry battalion
It is impossible to elucidate anything other than the enforced unworthiness of his resting place. This is known as the Glass Factory District due to the Swiss-owned bottle factory, now a crumbling carcass thanks to Russian airstrikes. Sviato-Pokrovska Street was a front line before Ukrainian troops were driven out of Hostomel in the first days of March.
Sergei worked at the factory and watched the opening battle of the war unfold from his balcony.
“There were two Russian attack helicopters over our district and I saw one hit by a ground-launched missile,” he recalls. “The helicopter crashed and fired one of its own rockets before disappearing from sight.”
He said the Russian soldiers demanded that the cell phones be confiscated or destroyed. They examined his hands for marks indicating he had fired a rifle.
Kindergarten teacher Roksana initially refused to believe that “disaster was imminent”. She had even gone to work in the nearby town of Irpin on the day of the invasion.
‘But by the time I had [halfway] it was clear that something was wrong,” she said. “I got off the bus and walked home. There were civilian cars driving at an incredible speed, in the direction of kyiv. Everyone was panicking. She adds: ‘Later that day and the next day I saw the helicopters arriving, about 20 of them. Russian. Within two days, electricity and water were cut off.
We find a group of older women sitting outside a building. All the windows are smashed, the grass covered in glass, and two months of uncollected household trash pile up nearby. As we speak, the women take turns laughing and crying. “I’m sorry if we don’t make much sense,” Larisa (pictured) says, “We’re still in shock.”
We find a group of older women sitting outside a building. All the windows are smashed, the grass covered in glass, and two months of uncollected household trash pile up nearby.
As we speak, the women take turns laughing and crying. “I’m sorry if we don’t make much sense,” Larisa says. “We are still in shock.”
They wait for Viktor to cook their lunch on a “country kitchen” wood-burning stove in the yard.
Viktor has been doing this since the start of the war, cutting wood and scavenging potatoes and other provisions from abandoned houses, to feed the inhabitants.
He mostly makes soup. Halyna is 84 and remembers being evacuated from Hostomel as a child during World War II. She wasn’t afraid to talk to the invaders. What they told him was instructive.
“One of the first Russians who came said, ‘Don’t be afraid, we came for Zelensky. He is about to give up. We are going to Kyiv”.
‘My house looks towards the airport. I saw a huge green helicopter, then two more above my house. They fired four rockets. His voice trembles. “Later I spoke to another Russian who told me he had fought in Donbass and before that in Syria.
“He said Syria was like a vacation for them compared to Hostomel. He also said that they came to free us from Zelensky. I told him: “Free your country from Putin first.” She remembers a conversation her mother had with a German soldier when she was a child. “He said to my mother, ‘We don’t want to fight here. This is Stalin’s and Hitler’s business”.
It was here, against the airfield of the Antonov aircraft manufacturing company, on the morning of February 24, that the Russian military launched a helicopter-borne infantry assault
Valentina says: “Young people were telling us that they didn’t want to fight. They had just been sent to Belarus for exercises. They asked us: ‘Where are we now? Are we still in Belarus?
The women show me the basement where they slept, with a parrot and a hamster.
Veronica says, “We’re terrified of the Russians coming back and doing it again.”
Police are carrying out door-to-door searches and recording interviews with the remaining residents.
It’s a crime scene. But that’s nothing compared to the devastated development around the airport perimeter.
Nothing survived intact. Trees, vegetable gardens, garages and playgrounds are destroyed. Buildings have been gutted, set on fire and collapsed by airstrikes and heavy artillery. There is a smell of rotting flesh.
It’s a dead neighborhood where maybe a few thousand people lived.
On the first day of the war, Constantin filmed low-flying Russian helicopters outside his balcony, spitting out flares to lure heat-seeking missiles.
Now he has returned to find his apartment ransacked by recent occupants.
Helena also returned. But his block is a charred ruin. Only the walls remain.
She was born in Russia, and her husband served in the Soviet army. “I never thought there would be a war,” she tells me. Even less that it would start outside my window. It’s horrible, madness.