“The land and nothing else. A burnt wasteland instead of a place of culture, where the children studied… It is the extermination of culture and Ukrainians by the Russian invaders”, launches Ms. Shevchenko, 53 years old.

An hour’s drive from kyiv, Borodianka, a city that had 14,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion launched on February 24, bears the deep scars of Moscow’s attempt to take the Ukrainian capital.

With most of its buildings reduced to heaps of ruins or damaged, the main street is a poignant testimony to the devastation.

According to city hall officials, 12 residential buildings were razed and 24 damaged. Over 400 homes were affected.

Their buildings having been destroyed, the police, the prosecutor’s office, the post office and the town hall now share a school which escaped the bombardments.

– “Sentiment d’oppression” – 

Ms. Shevchenko also gives music lessons there, for children who returned after Borodianka was released on April 1.

Accompanied on the piano, children sing in chorus the anthem of Ukraine.

“We find ourselves and we create. It was painful when it was taken away from us,” she says in a small classroom stuffed with musical instruments.

“It also adds to the stress when you lose your favorite profession and the children lose their favorite activities. It creates a feeling 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 go back. They come back, teachers too. So by ourselves, and with the help of charities and benevolent people, we have started to renew our supplies,” explains Ms. Shevchenko.

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 was wondering if 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 give lessons. Her lip trembles and she barely holds back her tears as she recounts her escape from Borodianka.

“We had to walk so as not to meet Russians. We walked 10 kilometers at night across fields to the neighboring village, Zagaltsi,” she told AFP.

“The children were crying. Their hands hurt because they were being dragged. My child asked me not to take him by the hand anymore,” she recalls.

She went 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 children asked me to continue my lessons, even those who are abroad,” explains Ms. Kryvocheïenko.

More than 150 people died at Borodianka during the Russian offensive, including eight children.

According to acting mayor Georgy Ierko, whose makeshift office is also in the school, there are currently around 9,000 people left in the city. Nearly half no longer have a home.

“If a roof leaks, 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 go on,” he says.

“I hope everything will be fine. People have returned and they should live in normal conditions. We are working hard to ensure that,” he concludes.