Irpin, Ukraine – They came on foot, in an endless stream – trying to outpace the Russian shells laying waste to their hometown.
There were families with children in strollers clutching stuffed toys, young mothers with babes in arms, and the elderly moving as fast as their years would allow. Most were silent. Some were weeping. At the edge of Irpin there was urgency, panic, and anguish. It felt like we were witnessing the death of a city.
“Everything is bombed,” said Valentina, as she rushed past us, fleeing her home and her life with just a single bag over her shoulder. “There are no lights,” she said, “there’s been no electricity, no gas, and no internet for two to three days. People are sitting in the basements and kids are sick there.”
Russian forces are already inside the city.
“Part of Irpin was captured by Russian invaders but part of the city is fighting and not surrendering,” said the mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn, in a video he posted on social media.
Those trying to flee are still being targeted, as the mayor himself saw yesterday. “The Russian invaders fired on our local civilians,” he said. “A family died. This shell, this mine hit, and in front of my eyes two children and two adults died.”
It seems clear that the Russian strategy is to terrorise the residents of Irpin into submission and empty the city – a tactic Moscow has used elsewhere from Grozny to Aleppo. The residents who remain have endured days and nights of relentless bombardment. We could hear the assault during an earlier visit on Saturday. The soundtrack was the same today, except maybe louder. And this time we could also hear grad rocket fire, and occasional gunshots.
“Tell everyone to close the skies, urgently, we need it,” said Andrei as he dashed past – with his pet poodle – pleading for a no-fly zone. “Close the skies – please. It’s hell, it’s really hell. The Russian soldiers are bombing civilian houses. The Russians are not fighting the army. They are fighting anyone.”
He knew it was time to go when the Russians arrived on his street. “We saw the armoured vehicles near our house. They passed by. Then the tank stopped and blew up a house near me. So, I think we are lucky, we are all really lucky that we are here.” (BBC)