Mala Rogan, Ukraine:
Galyna Kios was surviving with family and neighbors in her gloomy basement, cooking on a makeshift wood stove, when the Russians arrived.
The troops had bid their time outside Mala Rogan, 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Ukraine’s northeastern border with Russia, but decided to take the village two weeks into the war.
“You have to leave because we need the whole street,” Kios recalls the soldier telling her just before the invading force took over her two-story house.
The occupation was short-lived – the invaders were driven out by the Ukrainian army after a fortnight of fierce fighting – but it was enough time to leave Kios’ street in ruins.
“I saw what they had done with my house, what was left of it. What emotions could I afford? Material possessions are not worth your life,” the 67-widow, mother of four, told AFP.
“So I thought, ‘I’m happy to live with God’s will.’ Everything that is lost is material, we can rebuild it or renew it.”
Since then, she has been shoveling, sweeping, sanding and scrubbing—sometimes with family, but often alone—like thousands of Ukrainians returning to liberated but destroyed homes in the east of the country.
In the Kharkiv region of 2.7 million inhabitants, including Mala Rogan, 90 percent of houses were destroyed in areas repossessed from the Russians, local media reported in May, citing the governor.
There are less than a dozen properties in Kios’ dusty road, and each one bears the scars of battle—roofs gone, facades pocked by shrapnel or gunfire, chunks bitten off.
At the top of the hill, a house is so scorched that it looks like volcanic obsidian walls towering over piles of personal belongings and Russian soldiers’ boots.
Two houses have burnt-out armored vehicles in their driveways, one has been spray-painted “Death to the enemy” in Ukrainian.
Nearby lies a Soviet-era T-72 tank with its turret blown off, in disrepair on the road, the cadaver of a once formidable beast, eagerly plucked clean and left to the elements.
Six explosions of varying intensity—almost certainly shellfire a few miles away—sounded while Kios was working over lunch.
A few houses away, Nadia Ilchenko had taken her daughter and nine-year-old granddaughter to Mala Rogan at the start of the war.
She reasoned it would be safer than staying at their house, a short drive into the city of Kharkov, but soon realized she had misjudged the situation.
Amid heavy shelling in the village, the 69-year-old again sent them away and fled with her husband on March 19.
While in exile, she saw a video of her smoldering house, the destroyed garage, a motorcycle and two children’s bicycles.
“I came back on May 19 and my blood pressure is still high. We have been trying to clean it for almost two months, me and my husband,” she said.
Humanitarian volunteers helped remove the rubble, but the front of the property is still a mess and there is still a lot of work to be done.
“The Russians were in our house and so much has been shot through, it’s burned down, we can’t use it anymore,” she said.
“The only thing I like now, the only thing that makes me warm, are the flowers in the garden – although they even parked a Russian tank on them.”
Ilchenko described her granddaughter’s traumatized reaction when they returned home.
“Why did they do this to you?” the young girl asked, surveying the mess in front of them.
“I told her I didn’t know and my granddaughter went into hysterics,” Ilchenko said.
“It was hard to stop her from crying, to stop crying.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)