From the debris of shattered Ukraine, the healing song of children

AFP , Monday 18 Jul 2022

Music teacher Oksana Shevchenko sits near a small pile of twisted metal and cement, the only break in a flat expanse of desolate, empty terrain.

Children jump on a trampoline against the backdrop of destroyed buildings in Borodyanka, northwest of Kyiv on 16 July 2022 (Photo: AFP)


It is all that is left of the music school where she worked for 30 years, pulverised when the Russian army took over her home town of Borodianka, an hour's drive northwest of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

"Look, just burned down wasteland," the 53-year-old says, visibly angry.

"Soil and nothing else in this place of culture, where children used to study... This is the extermination of culture and Ukrainians by Russian occupiers."

Borodianka, a town of 14,000 before the February 24 invasion, is the most battered of the towns encircling Kyiv, bearing the profound scars of Moscow's failed attempt to take the Ukrainian capital.

Its main street is a shocking testament to the devastation visited upon its people, with buildings reduced to rubble almost every step of the way.

According to town hall officials, 12 apartment blocks were levelled and 24 damaged. More than 400 houses were hit.

With every administrative building destroyed by war, institutions like the police, prosecutor's office, post office and mayoralty are now forced to share one building -- a school that escaped the onslaught.

'Sense of oppression'

Shevchenko holds her music lessons here too, for the children who returned after Borodianka was wrested back from Russian occupation on April 1.

"We find each other and create. And it was painful when it was taken from us," says Shevchenko, now in a small classroom crammed with musical instruments, chairs, benches and boxes.

"It also adds up to the stress when you lose your favourite profession and children lose their favourite activities. It creates a sense of oppression."

The music school has benefited from donations from NGOs and people helping from home and abroad. A metal band recently donated musical instruments including a keyboard, drums and a guitar.

"There are children that want to go back. They are returning, teachers too. So by ourselves, and with help from charities and kind people, we have started to renew our supplies," says Shevchenko.

Inside the cramped classroom, 15-year-old Diana Kovun hits all the right notes, her singing voice imbued with the confidence of a virtuoso. She left Borodianka the first day of the war but has since returned.

"Before, I used to think whether I should go abroad to work or to study. Now I'm sure that I want to secure my future and get my education here in Ukraine. I want to live here," she says.

'Music heals'

Guitar teacher Tetyana Kryvosheyenko is also back giving lessons. Lip trembling as she holds back tears, she recounts her escape from Borodianka.

"We had to make it out on foot, in circles, so as not to encounter Russians. We walked 10 kilometres (six miles) at night through fields to the neighbouring village, Zagaltsi," she tells AFP.

"The children were crying. Their hands hurt because we were dragging them. My child was asking me not to take him by the hand anymore," she recalls.

In the end she made it to western Ukraine and returned to Borodianka in early May.

"Music heals because it helps you switch off from your problems. And children were asking me to continue my lessons, even those who are abroad," says Kryvosheyenko.

More than 150 people died during the Russian offensive, including eight children.

According to acting mayor Georgiy Yerko, whose makeshift office is also in the school, there are around 9,000 people left in the town. Almost half are homeless.

"If a rooftop leaks, you should repair it so that you can live in the building. It's the same thing with the town. Borodianka is not a ghost town. The war will come to an end. Life will go on," he says.

"I hope for better. People returned and they should live in normal conditions. We work hard to assure that. Winter can't be stopped. People need to live somewhere."

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