VA few weeks ago, Vasyl Krywenok’s phone rang. Numbers flashed on the screen, which he recognized immediately: it was his own number. Months earlier, Russian soldiers had stolen his mobile phone. Krywenok took off. A Russian answered on the other end. He wanted to apologize and offered 5,000 rubles in compensation – just under 80 euros for the destruction of everything the 72-year-old entrepreneur had built. Kryvenok refused. “There’s nothing left, my shop was destroyed, they wanted to blow up my house.”
Only the walls remain of the house. It smells burnt, there are feathers and dead pigeons in the rubble. Krywenok had three thousand before Russian soldiers occupied his village of Archanhelske in southern Ukraine. Only ten animals survived half the year of occupation. The other pigeons were burned, drowned, shot, eaten. Kryvenok points to the grill on which the Russians cooked the pigeons. A neighbor who took care of the birds after he escaped told him that. She asked the Russians why they kill birds they don’t eat. “We are here to kill,” they are said to have replied. At the end of October, Kryvenok returned after the Ukrainian army liberated the village. He gives up his business, a greengrocer, a kiosk and a café. But he wants to rebuild his house.
More than two thousand people lived in Archanhelske before the war, there are many family houses, a few panel buildings. On March 15, the village was captured by the Russians. Most of the residents fled, only 120 stayed in the village until liberation. Now there are about three hundred who are preparing for the winter here, although there is not a house that has not been destroyed or damaged. The supply of electricity, gas and water is interrupted. It will take a lot of work to rebuild the village. But that doesn’t dampen the joy that the Russians are finally gone.
Olena Kompanez eagerly writes in a notebook what those who have stayed and those who have returned need. She is the village chief of Archanhelske. Her improvised office is the only room in the Kulturpalast that can still be used. That’s the name of the local event center. Kompanez is wearing a lined cardigan, the room is not heated. Clothes and blankets lie in a heap in a corner. Next to it are cartons with soap and oil bottles. Because there is no longer a shop in the village, people can pick up the necessities of life from Kompanez and her colleague.
“The first thing we did after the liberation was to organize humanitarian aid,” says Kompanez. The 58-year-old officer was no longer in Archanhelske at the time. She and her husband Viktor had stayed in the village for a long time. The Russian soldiers interrogated them and called them Nazis. Again and again, the two say, the soldiers beat Viktor Kompanez, who was weakened by cancer surgery. The occupiers plundered houses and shot villagers. Some were killed stepping on mines. When the Russian soldiers were relieved, neighbors Olena and Viktor Kompanez warned that the new soldiers were looking for them. On July 10, the two fled to the nearest major city of Kryvyi Rih.