In his spare time, Danyk Rak likes playing soccer, riding his bike, and spending time with his family’s two white cats, Pushuna and Lizun.
However, his childhood was suddenly ended at the age of 12. As Russian troops pounded Kyiv’s suburbs and other towns in an unsuccessful attempt to take the city, his family’s house was destroyed and his mother was severely injured.
The Associated Press met Danyk, a police officer, and an Orthodox priest whose lives have been impacted by war six months after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, and with no end to the conflict in sight.
Danyk sheds a tear when his mother, Luda, talks of being retrieved from the wreckage while covered in blood after being struck by shrapnel and having her right foot crushed.
She has been injured for 22 weeks, and she is still waiting to have her foot removed and get a prosthesis. She retains the shrapnel that one of her several surgery resulted in the removal of.
A piece of tarp covers the damaged bedroom windows in the home where Danyk lives with his mother and grandmother close to Chernihiv, a town 140 kilometers (almost 90 miles) north of Kyiv. The family’s cow, which grazes in the neighboring pastures, produces milk that he sells. On the front gate is a handmade notice that says, “Please purchase milk to aid my mother who is wounded.” It is covered in transparent plastic.
“I must aid my mum since she needs surgery. My grandma also needs my assistance since she has heart issues, Danyk stated.
Danyk and his grandmother have been working with volunteers several days a week to collect the rubble from buildings damaged and destroyed by the Russian bombing outside Chernihiv before the start of classes again on September 1. He makes a pit stop at his former home, which has been mostly destroyed down to the foundation.
He points to burned mattress springs that stick out of the pile of broken bricks and plaster and adds, “This was my bedroom.”
Danyk claims that his father and stepfather are both serving in the Ukrainian army in a polite and soft-spoken manner.
“My grandpa was a soldier, as well as my father, uncles, and brothers. I’ll be a soldier, just like my stepfather, he declares with a determined expression. “I want to fly for the air force.”
The road to hell was across this bridge.
Prior to the Russian departure from Kyiv and the surrounding territories on April 2, suburbs and towns close to the airport of the city were heavily bombarded from the air, artillery fire, and rockets in an attempt to breach Ukrainian fortifications.
In Irpin, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of the capital, whole apartment buildings were completely blackened by shelling along a road that police Lt. Ruslan Huseinov monitored every day.
The evacuation from Irpin, when hundreds of people fled the unrelenting strikes, took place under a demolished highway bridge, was one of the most dramatic incidents from the early days of the conflict.
Huseinov organized crossings where the elderly were wheeled down muddy routes for sixteen days.
On the bridge, where broken concrete and iron bars dangle over the river, reconstruction work has started. Still visible tangled in the wreckage are shoes and clothing belonging to individuals who escaped.
Huseinov, 34, who is standing next to an overturned white vehicle still wedged into a broken concrete slab, claims that this bridge was “the route from hell.”
Because of the bombing and shelling, he claimed, “things were horrific in (Irpin).” People were very alarmed since many had lost their siblings, sisters, children, and other family members.
To remember those who died and the endeavor to rescue citizens, crosses made of construction wood are still fastened to the bridge’s rails.
Huseinov, who was raised in Germany and claims he would never again take the wonderful things in life for granted, claims that “the whole world watched our togetherness.”
My ideals in life have altered, in my view, he said. “I now see what we stand to lose.”
Before the war, it was a different existence.
The tragedy of what occurred in March is just a few yards away despite the fact that the Church of Andrew the Apostle’s floor has been retiled and gunshot holes in the walls have been covered up and painted over.
Behind the cathedral sits Bucha’s biggest mass grave, a village outside of Kyiv that has come to symbolize the horror of the Russian invasion.
Father Andriy, who has performed several funeral rituals for civilians discovered shot dead or killed by shelling, some still only known as a number while the work to identify all of Bucha’s victims continues, said: “This grave included 116 individuals, including 30 women and two children.”
According to Father Andriy, several of the dead were discovered before the Russians left the Kyiv area.
The cemetery is outside the city, therefore we were unable to bury anyone there. They abandoned living and dead individuals lying on the street. In their vehicles, dead bodies had been discovered. They were attempting to flee, but the Russians bombarded them, claimed Father Andriy, who was dressed in a dark purple cassock and had a huge crucifix around his neck.
The local government started coming up with alternatives (to aid) family members and loved ones after the crisis continued for two weeks. Wild animals were finding the remains amid the terrible weather. So, action was required.
In the churchyard, many of which were close to where the corpses had been found, he made the decision to conduct burial rituals.
He said that the incident has severely rattled up the residents of the area.
No one who lives in Ukraine and has watched the battle, including myself, he said, “can comprehend why this occurred.”
“It was another life before the war.”
We are now getting by on adrenaline, he remarked. But I’m concerned that the effects will linger for years. It will be difficult to go on and turn the page after this. It’s easy to say the word “forgive” out loud. To speak from the heart, however, is now impossible.