In Ukraine, Broken Lives in a Broken House, Just One of Many

POTASHNYA, Ukraine — In 100 days of war in Ukraine, countless lives have been forever shattered, ripped apart, upended. For tens of thousands, life has been brutally ended. Those who have survived sometimes barely know how to begin picking up the pieces.

When a house symbolizing a lifetime of labor and memories is destroyed, how does one rebuild?

Nila Zelinska and her husband, Eduard, returned for the first time this week what used to be their home in a village outside Kyiv. It was in ruins, reduced to charred walls with no roof by shelling in the days after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“Rex! Rex!” she yelled, calling for the black Labrador they’d been forced to leave behind. Only later did the faithful hound finally reappear, tail wagging under its owner’s loving caresses.

Eduard Zelenskyy stands outside his home destroyed by attacks in Potashnya, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

But Rex aside, nothing was as it had been.

Instead of a home, their broken house is now a symbol of their broken lives.

Nila Zelinska recalled the terror of the bombardments that forced them to leave. They scooped up her 82-year-old mother and then escape the flames and explosions by fleeing with her through their garden.

“Everything was on fire,” she said. “I didn’t think I could get her out of there, because she is very old. But we grabbed her by the arms and began to run.”

Much of what happened next is a hazy memory. The family evacuated westward, well away from the fighting that engulfed the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital and other cities to the north and east.

From right, Nila Zelinska, Eduard Zelenskyy, and Natalia Didenko arrive to their home town after escaping war in Potashnya, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Repelled by Ukrainian defenders from capturing Kyiv, Russia has since redirected its troops and concentrated its attacks on the eastern industrial Donbas region, where the fighting is still fierce.

Reaching the 100-day milestone of war is both a tragedy for Ukraine but also an indication of how fiercely it has resisted: Some analysts thought its troops might quickly crumble against Russia’s larger and better-equipped military.

Nila Zelinska sobbed in the ruins of her home when she and her husband returned to their village, Potashnya. From the rubble, she recovered a doll that belonged to one of her grandchildren. She held it tightly, as though it was a real child.

Her husband gingerly picked his way through the piles of bricks and shattered glass.

“There is no place to live. If there was housing, we would return and plant a garden for ourselves, as we always did,” she said. “We had a garden here. Potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes grew here. Everything was from the garden.”

Nila Zelinska, center, and Natalia Didenko, left, embrace a neighbor as they both arrive to their home town after escaping war in Potashnya, on the outskirtsof Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Neither of them know right now what the future holds, but Nila knows what she wants.

“May there be peace on earth, peace so that our people are not suffering so much,” she said.


SLOVIANSK, Ukraine — Russia on Thursday pulled back its forces from a strategically placed Black Sea island where they have faced relentless Ukrainian attacks, but kept up its push to encircle the last bulwark of Ukraine's resistance in the eastern province of Luhansk.

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