Street-to-street fighting has ceased in Irpin, a strategic town on the outskirts of kyiv and a symbol of resistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The last Kremlin troops left on Sunday, according to several testimonies from neighbors evacuated this Wednesday to the capital. On Monday, the local authorities declared victory by announcing that the city was under their control. The urban war has ended, but not the clashes in this northwestern area of the country’s main city. That is why the inhabitants who can continue to escape. The detonations and explosions are heard continuously day and night from several kilometers away. The citizens themselves report when they leave that the artillery shells continue to rain on their houses and that their last hours in Irpin have been hell. Some describe painful scenes, such as when Russian soldiers prevented them from burying their dead neighbors, or bizarre scenes, such as when they sang guitar in hand or practiced fencing.
“The last time we saw Russian soldiers was three days ago. They made us all stand next to a wall, they took our cell phones and broke them, ”says Oleksander, 45, who is holding his cat Tom from him in his right arm, inside a bag. Like other evacuees, the dirt on the face and neck, as well as the grimy nails, explain that hygiene took a backseat many days ago. The evacuees say they have been without electricity, water or gas for weeks.
Some have had to wait for volunteers in their private cars to come to their neighborhood, once freed from Russian troops, to be rescued. This is how they have managed to escape on Wednesday morning Valeri, 64, leaning on a prosthesis in his left leg, his wife and his son. The Russians arrived in the city on March 5, which is now “empty” and “destroyed,” says Valeri as he butts one cigarette with another. His wife regrets that they have not showered for a month and that they have had to survive drawing water from a well and cooking over a candle. The evacuation, they add, has been carried out in the midst of intense fighting. “Now there are no Russians in the city, but there are bombings. A missile has fallen on the house of our neighbors and has been burned, ”explains the woman with tears behind her glasses.
The accounts compiled by EL PAÍS coincide regarding the date of the Russians’ departure and the intense fighting that Irpin has been experiencing in the last few hours, despite the promise made by Moscow in the negotiations with Ukrainian representatives held on Tuesday in Istanbul, of the that came out a commitment to reduce their attacks in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital. A commitment that, according to these testimonies, has not been fulfilled. “It seemed that things were calmer, but today we have had a very serious bombardment,” she denounced on Wednesday.
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The trickle of ambulances and vans with inhabitants of Irpin of all ages is constant towards the first houses of kyiv. There is a small reception center installed next to a school. Several arrive on a stretcher or wheelchair. Boredom and tiredness are drawn on the faces of many. There are those who do not even want to respond to reporters. In addition to helping those who need it, several police officers check their belongings and, in some cases, their documentation. They don’t want any Russian soldier who was left behind after the Army’s withdrawal from him now wants to pose as a neighbor. None of those present is disturbed by the constant buzz of the fighting. Many days have passed in the middle of the crossfire.
“From the first day the Russians came in, they stole and destroyed everything. They broke all our cell phones, all our computers”, denounces Vita, 43 years old. She has left Irpin in the midst of “a terrible bombardment” that has left her house on fire. On her roof she has had an unexploded shell since the first days of March. Outraged, Vita recalls how the military prevented them from burying five bodies that had been lying in the street for a week. Until then they were not allowed to approach the forest and they could not be buried until the Ukrainian troops arrived at the place, who had to demine the area. “We haven’t heard any news, we didn’t have cell phones, computers, electricity, or gas…”.
Bitterly recounting one misfortune after another over these weeks, Vita accidentally meets a neighbor who has also just been evacuated. Both hug each other tightly while crying emotionally. Vita recounts that they were transferred to a basement where they have been guarded by the Russians, who even used the patio of the house to cook and, sometimes, spent time playing the guitar or practicing fencing. Inside Irpin, he says, there are still people who have nowhere to go or no relatives.
Dozens of dogs abandoned during the war
Several dozen dogs have also arrived in kyiv that, in the midst of the war, escaped from a shelter where they were waiting to be adopted in Irpin. About twenty of them remain tied to one of the sides of the school. They are controlled by a group of volunteers who rescue them when the authorities allow them access. There are also dogs from families who lost them in the chaos of the evacuation and are now trying to find their owners, explains Olga as she nuzzles one of them.
Since the beginning of the war, this town of about 60,000 inhabitants, located about twenty kilometers from the center of kyiv, has been the scene of intense fighting between the Ukrainian and Russian armies. Over the days, it has become the key point that the Kremlin troops have not managed to pass. The first thing the Ukrainian military did on February 25, the day after the invasion began, was to blow up the highway bridge that connects the capital with Irpin. That complicates the humanitarian corridor through which the refugees escape, but it has also served as a brake against a rapid enemy advance.
In front of the school that serves as a reception point, a downcast man waits sitting on the curb next to the belongings he has managed to get out. He prefers to keep silent when he is asked. He gets up and turns around, letting out a laconic answer: “What I’ve seen, it’s better not to tell.”
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