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    Unveiling the Harrowing Truth: Ukrainian Bucha Mayor Exposes the Grim Reality of Collecting Lives Lost to Russian Aggression

    “Every day we collected the bodies of people killed by the Russian invaders,” Bucha’s Mayor, Anatoly Fedorchuk, reveals the horrors of the Russian Invasion in a candid conversation with the Niezalezna.pl portal. He recounts the harrowing days when Russian invaders showed no mercy to civilians. Amidst the chaos, a glimmer of hope emerged as the community baked bread to avert a looming humanitarian crisis after supplies from Kyiv ceased. 

    How do you remember 24 February 2022? What were your first feelings when you learned of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine?

    We were all awakened by the sounds of rocket fire and explosions. Everyone, of course, was in shock. There was emotion, fear, but by no means confusion! On the contrary, everyone started to act, organise and help each other like never before.

    On 24 February, we organised a session of the city council, which took place under the salvos, thunders and shelling of the Antonov airfield, located between Bucha and Hostomel [25 kilometres north-west of Kyiv]. Every day we met in the town hall and planned work in the local government area, based on urgent needs. A humanitarian aid headquarters was organised in the city council premises and a call centre for citizens was located there. At the beginning of March, humanitarian corridors for civilians began to be organised.

    And how did citizens react to the Russian invasion and what was happening in the city when the invaders arrived?

    On the night of 26-27 February, a massive column of Russian troops entered the city and moved towards Kyiv. The Armed Forces of Ukraine met the Russians on Vokzalna Street and completely defeated them. The Russians re-entered the city and by the afternoon of 3 March had occupied all of Bucha. They actually cut off the town. Until 12-14 March we still managed to provide for the livelihood of the citizens and organise the evacuation of the population. Nobody made any agreements with the Russians. We coordinated our actions with the Ukrainian regional military administration and the Office of the President of Ukraine.

    On 7 March, we managed to make contact, and the administration informed us that school buses, assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Ukraine, were coming to evacuate. There was no communication in the city, and we informed people through the grapevine. Unfortunately, the Russian outposts did not let these buses through. The next day, residents gathered in the central square to try to break through these blockades and leave for a safe area.

    They urged me to organise a column so that everyone would go in the direction of Irpen [the other sub-Kyivan town that had suffered heavily after the brief Russian occupation] – along Vokzalna Street, Yablunskaya Street – where Russian posts were already standing. I refused, and I think it was the right decision because it was in these streets that the occupiers murdered the most people. If the civilians had gone there even in an organised march, who knows what the end would have been.

    However, the drivers of these buses came to the city at their own risk, stayed overnight and the evacuation process began. Many citizens took risks and tried to leave on their own. Unfortunately, many were shot dead by Russian soldiers.

    Until 12 March, it was still possible to move around the city. Our municipal workers wore white aprons and bandages and worked. During this period we provided critical infrastructure, including water supply. [Every day] we collected the bodies of people killed by the Russian invaders. But we were also baking bread – so we avoided a humanitarian catastrophe because we were completely dependent on supplies from Kyiv, which had already stopped by then. It’s a huge amount of work in the absence of communication. The security issues, while this process is going on, one does not think about.

    It was much more difficult in the period after 13-14 March, when there was full occupation. It was already dangerous to move around, the evacuation stopped, and the Russians proceeded to check the blocks, streets and private houses in the city. That was when I actually had to go into hiding. And I am grateful that the people I met, at whose house I spent the night, did not turn me into the Russians. Although, when you go to strangers, there is such a fear that they will give you away, or betray you. But God had already decreed that, so I survived.

    What struck you most on 24 February? In the town of Bucha and the behaviour of the people?

    The town and the people were in shock. Shocked by what they saw with their own eyes. But what struck me was the unity shown by the townspeople. Everyone helped each other and supported each other.

    Everyone who survived the occupation, when they saw each other, wanted to hug each other. These feelings have to be lived; they cannot be conveyed in such a way that others can understand. 31 March – this is Bucha Liberation Day and the second birthday of all those who survived the occupation and remained among the living!

    How is the town rebuilding now? What is the mood of the residents today?

    We have developed a ‘Better at Home’ programme and are doing everything we can to help residents return to the town as quickly as possible. Today, more than 80 per cent of the residents of Bucha have already returned to their homes, and we are grateful to our friends, partners and various foundations who are investing money and doing everything to ensure that people have somewhere to return to. We have almost nine thousand internally displaced people – mainly from the east. So we also have an increase in population.

    A total of 301 million hryvnias [approximately PLN 33.54 million] has been provided for the reconstruction of the Bucha local government in 2022. This year we plan to use 287 m. We have ambitious projects developed. Among them, are a multidisciplinary hospital, Ukraine’s first factory-kitchen, the Bucha Techno Garden innovation park and the ‘Green Bucha’ decarbonisation project, the construction of a kindergarten and school in Vorzel. We want to make the city even better than it was.

    Is the city working with the Polish government or the business community to raise funds to rebuild the city? What is the Bucha recovery budget?

    After the liberation, we received support from various places around the world. As a token of gratitude, we decided to establish an avenue of 15 partner cities that contributed to our recovery. In Poland, we have as many as three twin towns – Tuszyn, Pszczyna and Katowice. They sent humanitarian aid after our de-occupation.

    An important support was the creation of modular temporary housing towns with the support of the Polish government, the Ukrainian government, and the Kyiv Regional Military Administration. People are still living there.

    What should the reconstruction of Ukrainian cities that were partially or fully occupied look like? What are the most important priorities? Quick projects, such as mobile towns, or major reconstruction? E.g., modern, comfortable housing and European-style infrastructure?

    It is clear that without rebuilding critical social infrastructure – roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, public facilities – it is impossible to live in towns and villages. This is where the renovation started.

    But the main priority for us as a city is, of course, comprehensive renovation. Rapid projects of course also play an important role in rebuilding the city and the community, but this is only a temporary solution. We are looking to the future: our future projects are based precisely on comprehensive renovation and community development in accordance with new European measures and standards for a comfortable life for the city’s residents.

    Together, we have built a model in which both government structures and businesses, volunteers and patrons can participate in the reconstruction. This has yielded significant results, e.g., the comprehensive reconstruction of Wokzalna Street, schools, and kindergartens in the settlements of our city.

    Interviewed by Volodymyr Buha.

    Bucha - a small town near Kyiv - after 24 February 2022 became a symbol of the cruelty of the Russian occupiers and at the same time became a symbol of Ukraine's steadfastness. Today, the town is reborn like a Phoenix. A visit to Bucha is a must for high-ranking foreign visitors. To see with their own eyes and personally listen to the residents' stories about what the Russian army was doing in the town in the spring of 2022.

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