In Ukraine, a broken life lives in a broken house, just one of many

POTASSIUM, Ukraine — In 100 days of war in Ukraine, countless lives were forever destroyed, torn apart and turned upside down. For tens of thousands, life was brutally ended. Those who survived sometimes hardly know how to start picking up the pieces.

When a house that symbolizes a life of work and memories is destroyed, how do you rebuild it?

Nila Zelinska and her husband Eduard returned to their former home in a village outside of Kyiv for the first time this week. It lay in ruins, reduced to charred, roofless walls by shelling in the days following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“Rex! Rex!” she yelled, calling for the black lab they had to leave behind. Only later did the faithful dog finally reappear, wagging its tail under its owner’s loving cuddles.

But apart from Rex, nothing was the same.

Instead of a home, her broken house is now a symbol of her broken life.

Nila Zelinska recalled the horror of the bombings that forced her to flee. They picked up their 82-year-old mother and then escaped 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’s very old. But we grabbed her arms and started running.”

Much of what happened next is a hazy memory. The family evacuated west, far from fighting that swept the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital and other cities to the north and east.

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

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

Nila Zelinska sobbed in the ruins of her house when she and her husband returned to their village of Potashnya. She recovered a doll from the rubble that belonged to one of her grandchildren. She held it like it was a real child.

Her husband carefully picked his way through the piles of bricks and broken glass.

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

Neither of them knows what the future holds at the moment, but Nila knows what she wants.

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


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