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‘Like Chornobyl’: Wary Ukrainians return to ruined towns after Russian retreat – Times of India

BALAKLIIA: Pleasure, trepidation and grief flickered throughout the face of Nataliia Yelistratova as she sat subsequent to her husband on a particular prepare again to their dwelling city of Balakliia that Ukraine recaptured final week after six months of Russian occupation.
The city – which had a inhabitants of 27,000 earlier than the conflict – is considered one of key city outposts that Ukraine recaptured in northeastern Kharkiv area in early September after a sudden collapse of considered one of Russia’s principal entrance traces.
Smiling, Yelistratova mentioned: “The climate is nice as a result of we’re going dwelling. My temper is nice, we’re so blissful proper now.”
No sooner had she mentioned this that, she started to cry.
“I’m being overwhelmed by my feelings. We haven’t been at dwelling for 5 months. I actually need to see what’s there and what has occurred,” she mentioned and turned to guarantee her husband: “I’m not crying, I’m high-quality.”
Yelistratova was travelling the 80 km (50 miles) from Kharkiv along with her husband and daughter on one of many particular trains laid on for residents of the city wishing to return.
Engine driver Maksym Kharchenko mentioned the prepare on the Kharkiv-Balakliia route used to hyperlink Kyiv’s airport with the town centre, however because the conflict had stopped all air visitors, it could possibly be redeployed to Kharkiv. “The prepare was launched on September 14. And already on the primary prepare, there have been individuals travelling forth and again to Balakliia,” he mentioned. “They went there to see what had occurred to their houses, to test whether or not they’re destroyed or not.”
Because the prepare minimize by misty woodland and handed destroyed buildings, a lot of the passengers sat in sombre silence.
Again dwelling however nonetheless scared
As soon as in Balakliia, Yelsitratova and her household walked by the battle-scarred city to their residence block which appeared to have minor injury from shelling.
A neighbouring block’s home windows and balconies have been smashed and the facade pockmarked by shrapnel.
“It’s as if we’re in Chornobyl. Nature has taken over,” mentioned her daughter, Olena Miroshnichenko. “No-one did something, for half a yr, no person trimmed the grass and bushes. Every little thing is overgrown.”
As soon as again of their residence, the household started to examine the injury. Inside minutes, Yelistratova had discovered a chunk of shrapnel in a wall.
“It’s scary,” she mentioned.
I’ve nonetheless saved this sense, that any second a shell may explode or an airplane may fly over. I’m nonetheless scared to be right here, she added.

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