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Borodianka, Ukraine, was largely reduced to rubble during the first days of the Russian invasion. It has become a symbol of the devastation inflicted by Russian forces. NPR's Greg Myre looks at how the small, battered town is doing these days.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: The town of Borodianka is trying to return to some of its traditional rhythms, like this Sunday morning service at an Orthodox church. But the challenges seem overwhelming. The main street is an unbroken line of charred and crumbling buildings. Only a few places, like a small grocery store and a coffee shop, are open for business. The head of the regional government here is Georgiy Yerko. He's effectively the mayor of the town and the surrounding villages.
GEORGIY YERKO: (Through interpreter) So this is my office right now. This is where we have meetings.
MYRE: His office is an empty classroom at the high school. His desk is where the teacher would sit. During the week, he shares the school with nearly a thousand students. The school also serves as a shelter, providing heat, food and water for the community when extended blackouts hit.
YERKO: (Speaking non-English language)
MYRE: Power cuts have lasted up to 24 hours, he says. In this agricultural region, farming equipment and warehouses were destroyed. He estimates business activity is one-third of what it was. At the start of the war, the Russians tried to storm the capital, Kyiv. Ukrainian forces held their ground but not until the Russians had laid waste to a number of outlying towns, including Borodianka, 35 miles northwest of the capital. Twenty-nine-year-old Serhii Hnidenko was among the few people who stayed when Russian troops occupied the town.
SERHII HNIDENKO: (Through interpreter) It was scary. I just go to church, and I hope God will help us.
MYRE: He was relatively fortunate. His home is in a village outside town and was not damaged. But many were left homeless. They include more than 200 people living in prefabricated dormitory-style housing modules provided by Poland. Olha Kobzar is in charge.
OLHA KOBZAR: (Through interpreter) The people are coming mostly from the houses on the main street, the ones that were destroyed and burned down.
MYRE: While we're talking, the lights go out, leaving us standing in a dark hallway. She says she'll wait a while to see if the power comes back. And if it starts to get chilly, then she'll turn on the generator. The temporary housing module is full with families and small rooms with bunk beds. Kobzar says many more would come if there was more space.
KOBZAR: (Through interpreter) We try to accommodate everybody. We are helping older people. We are helping kids. We have computers where students can study online.
MYRE: In the center of town is a bust of Ukraine's national poet, Taras Shevchenko, a champion of Ukrainian independence from Russia way back in the 19th century. He wrote, it's bad to be in chains and die a slave. There are now holes in the forehead of his bust, presumably from Russian bullets. The surrounding devastation in the town has provided the canvas for a modern artist, the renowned British street artist Banksy. Again, here's the town's top official, Georgiy Yerko.
YERKO: (Through interpreter) I didn't know he was here. People told me two days after it happened.
MYRE: Banksy surreptitiously painted on several badly scarred walls last month. One image shows a young boy tossing a man to the floor. Both are in martial arts attire. The man is widely assumed to be Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a judo enthusiast.
YERKO: (Through interpreter) People are happy we're getting this attention. But the paintings are on buildings that were destroyed. We're planning to remove the paintings and put them somewhere else.
MYRE: But where? Yerko shrugs his shoulders. Like many things in Borodianka, it's part of a very uncertain future. Greg Myre, NPR News, Borodianka, Ukraine.
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