Barely visible behind her piles of eggs, Natalia Morgoun, 69, remembers the “cold” that reigned in this suburb of kyiv in early March, when Russian troops invaded. She also remembers the “silence” – when the guns fell silent – because the vast majority of its inhabitants had fled.
“Thank God, things are gradually returning to normal”, adds the merchant who, for the first time since the start of the war, lets tears flow down her wrinkled cheeks. “You know, I was born in Russia, I’m ashamed to say it…”
Despite Moscow’s denials, Boutcha is the symbol of the war crimes attributed to Russia by Ukraine, which announced that it had discovered there, after the departure of Russian soldiers on March 31, hundreds of corpses of Ukrainian civilians.
Dressed in red and pink, the colors of her butcher’s shop, Valeria Bilyk, 21, does not want to “think about it” and focuses on the reopening, last Thursday, of the small covered market where she works with her husband.
“Every day it gets better, we see people coming back with their children, their dogs,” she remarks. “If we don’t look at the ruins, we can believe that we are cured.”
If the rubble and charred vehicles have disappeared, it is nevertheless difficult to ignore the gutted buildings around the market, the bullet holes in certain windows and the signs of intrusion in the shops.
Most traders have not returned, and in the aisles the clientele remains elderly and sparse. “There are more cats than customers,” says a passerby.
– Pointed hats –
Still, business is booming for 63-year-old Nadia Grebenyk, who sells seeds of cucumbers, watermelons and her “favorite” flowers. “It’s spring, everyone wants to plant their victory garden,” she said, pocketing small notes.
Earning a few hryvnias is the reason why 42-year-old Serguiy decided to open a stand in this market. An engineer at the nearby airport, he has been unemployed since the beginning of the war and hopes to supplement the salary of his wife, Maryna, an English teacher in a local school.
For their debut, the couple is embarking on an original niche: birthday party decorations. “Even when times are tough, children need to laugh,” they explain, positioning pointy hats and colorful banners on a small stall.
Under these booms, the conversation is darker. According to them, people constantly “talk” about the dramas that occurred during the Russian occupation. He evokes the godfather of his tortured sister and shows the photos of the corpse on his phone. She talks about a mother of students killed, before changing the subject: “we have to switch to something else, routine, work, to forget…”
– Stefania –
Dmytro Iefremov, who came to buy a water filter in a small hardware store, has no intention of forgetting “all the harm that the katsaps have done” (a derogatory name used by Ukrainians to designate Russians). “We will remember it until the tenth generation and we will make them pay!”
But he too thinks that “life cannot end there”.
Olena Khokhlova is dedicated to it: at 34, she is expecting her second child and has a plump belly.
A small bag of vegetables in her hand, she explains that she lives in Yablounska Street, where the corpses of many civilians were found, and that she saw “horrors” before fleeing on March 10.
“It was shocking, but we have to accept that it’s our reality, adapt and live. Because otherwise we will go crazy.”
As for her daughter, who is due to be born in August, she will call her “Stefania”, named after the song by the group Kalush Orchestra which has just offered Ukraine victory at Eurovision.