Not every story from Ukraine is terrible.
For instance, videos have begun trickling out on social media of Ukrainian troops surprising their families at home. Americans are used to those scenes after 20 years of war in Afghanistan and nearly 10 more in Iraq, but it’s anyone’s guess what the average Ukrainian family knows of their own son’s fate day to day. Are troops allowed to carry cell phones in the field, for fear that it’ll give their locations away? Does cell service even work? How long does it take for the average death notification to happen?
Information must be hard to come by, maybe even for weeks at a time. And so you might get a knock on the door one day and there’s your brother, home from the front.
Ukrainian soldier returns home to his family after fighting in Irpin. pic.twitter.com/7VF9dWtnrd
— Gissur Simonarson 🇮🇸🇺🇦🏴 (@GissiSim) April 4, 2022
Or better yet, a unit of uniformed troops might roll up outside your home — and one of them is your child, part of the force that’s come to liberate you:
Touching video. My colleague Dmytro Stretovych, who joined the Ukrainian army, came to his parent's house after the liberation of Nova Basan'. His parents survived after month of Russian occupation. This is happiness. I wish all Ukrainian families to feel it. #StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/ceS7cVfhD4
— Oleksandra Matviichuk (@avalaina) April 4, 2022
Americans aren’t used to scenes like that, thank God.
But not every Ukrainian family gets a reunion.
The BBC clip below of one woman’s ordeal is the most shattering bit of coverage I’ve seen from the war so far. It’s no more or less terrible in the abstract than any other horror from Ukraine. For instance, there are reports in the news today of teenaged girls being raped by Russian troops alongside their mothers, even of rape victims having swastikas carved into them befitting their “Nazi” identity in Russian eyes. Objectively, this isn’t as atrocious as that.
But the pain practically burns through the screen.
More than anything, this video communicates the sense of agonized bewilderment Ukrainians feel at having their lives blown to bits for reasons no one except Putin understands. Imagine that your son is all you have in the world, and one day you send him off to work only to get a call that the Russian invaders have killed him, for reasons that are unclear. Or for no reason at all.
Because the Russians are headed your way, you’re forced to flee, leaving your son’s body where it lies until you return and can collect him.
Because daily life in the town has been upended, no one’s going to bring the body to you once you’re back home. So you have to grab a wheelbarrow and collect him yourself, dumping him into the cart like sacks of flour.
Because no one has time to help you bury him, you have to dig a hole in your own backyard, where you’ll see his grave every time you look out the window.
Because stray dogs are out looking for remains, you need to remember to roll him up in a carpet before you push him in to make sure they don’t end up devouring him.
Then you have to clean up the rest of the yard, because it’s full of trash left by Russians who partied after they took over your house.
As I say, it’s just one story. There are many others in which you’re left wondering who had it harder, the dead or the living who now have to cope with what was done to their loved ones:
In another tragic case, Tanya Nedashkivska found her husband’s rotting corpse after he was arrested by Russian soldiers.
The body of Vasyl Ivanovych, a navy officer, was found in a building’s basement in Bucha.
Tanya had been looking for her beloved husband when she eventually found his body, which she identified by his trainers and trousers.
She said: ‘He looked mutilated, his body was cold. They turned him over a little. He had been shot in the head, mutilated, tortured.’
The thing to bear in mind about this clip is that the woman’s son was reportedly killed on March 10, more than three weeks ago. After having had nearly a month to process what happened and try to adjust, this is the state she’s in. The death toll doesn’t even scratch the surface of the damage Russia has done.
Desperately sad story from just outside Kyiv, about a woman called Iryna whose son was killed by Russian soldiers. We were the first outsiders she'd seen since the Russians left her village on Friday. Shot and edited by @leedurant. Produced by @producerkathy pic.twitter.com/vKE1tjL1kf
— Jeremy Bowen (@BowenBBC) April 3, 2022