Mala Rogan, Ukraine:
Galyna Kios had survived with her family and neighbors in her dark basement, cooking on a makeshift wood stove, when the Russians arrived.
Troops had bided their time outside Mala Rogan, 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Ukraine’s northeast border with Russia, but decided to take the village two weeks into the war .
“You have to leave because we need the whole street,” Kios recalled, the soldier told him, just before the invading forces took over his two-story house.
The occupation was short-lived – the invaders were driven out by the Ukrainian army after fifteen days of fierce fighting – but it was enough to leave the street of Kios in ruins.
“I saw what they had done to my house, what was left of it. What emotions could I allow myself? Material goods are not worth living,” the widow, mother, told AFP. of four children, aged 67.
“So I thought, ‘I’m happy that, by God’s will, I’m alive.’ Everything that is lost is material, we can rebuild it or renew it.”
Since then, she has been shoveling, sweeping, scrubbing and scrubbing – sometimes with family but often alone – like thousands of Ukrainians returning to liberated but crumbling homes in the east of the country.
The Kharkiv region of 2.7 million people, including Mala Rogan, saw 90% of homes destroyed in areas recaptured from the Russians, local media reported in May, citing the governor.
There are less than a dozen properties on the dusty Kios Road, and each bears the scars of battle – missing roofs, facades pockmarked by shrapnel or rifle fire, ripped off pieces.
At the top of the hill, a house is so badly burned it looks volcanic, obsidian walls rising above piles of belongings and the boots of Russian soldiers.
Two houses have armored vehicles set ablaze in their driveways, one spray painted with “Death to the Enemy” in Ukrainian.
Nearby, a Soviet-era T-72 tank with its turret torn off lies rotting on the road, the corpse of a once fearsome beast, greedily cleaned up and left to the elements.
Six explosions of varying intensity – almost certainly shellfire a few miles away – rang out as Kios worked during the lunch hour.
A few houses away, Nadia Ilchenko had brought her daughter and nine-year-old granddaughter to Mala Rogan at the start of the war.
She felt it would be safer than staying at their home a short drive from the city of Kharkiv, but soon realized she had misjudged the situation.
Amid heavy shelling in the village, the 69-year-old turned them away again and fled with her husband on March 19.
During her exile, she glimpsed video of her smoldering house, the destroyed garage as well as a motorbike and two children’s bicycles.
“I came back on May 19 and my blood pressure is still high. We spent almost two months, me and my husband, trying to clear it up,” she said.
Humanitarian volunteers helped remove the debris, but the front of the property is still a mess and there is still a lot of work to do.
“The Russians were in our house and there are so many things that have gone through, that have burned down, that we can’t use anymore,” she said.
“The only thing I like now, the only thing that warms me up, are the flowers in the garden – although they even parked a Russian tank on them.”
Ilchenko described her granddaughter’s traumatized reaction to her return home.
“Why did they do this to you?” the girl asked, surveying the mess in front of them.
“I told her that I didn’t know and my granddaughter became hysterical,” Ilchenko said.
“It was hard to keep her from crying, to keep her from crying.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)