Mykola Honchar lives in a crumbling stone home in what’s left of a tiny hamlet of jap Ukraine. The city was attacked by Russian forces in June of final yr, because the Wagner mercenary forces had been spearheading a renewed offensive.
Even earlier than the Kremlin set Wagner free to wreak havoc in Ukraine, the Russian marketing campaign was notable for its brutality. However from the second Wagner forces entered the battle in April 2022, they earned a particular popularity for bloodlust from civilians and troopers alike.
To Mr. Honchar, the dying this week of Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, accountable for a lot carnage within the battle, can be becoming — a violent finish to a violent life.
“He has blood on his fingers,” mentioned Mr. Honchar, 58. “If there’s a god, god will determine what to do with him.”
Even in a battle wherein civilians had been shot lifeless within the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, and the city of Mariupol was bombed into oblivion, Wagner and Mr. Prigozhin cultivated a picture of brutality.
A video was promoted throughout Wagner-affiliated social media of the execution of one in every of Mr. Prigozhin’s personal troopers with a sledgehammer after he was captured after which launched by the Ukrainians in a prisoner swap. Whereas in custody, the prisoner had taped an interview saying he didn’t consider in Russia’s battle.
“A canine receives a canine’s dying,” Mr. Prigozhin mentioned within the video.
By the point Ukraine regained Mr. Honchar’s village of Bohorodychne, Mr. Honchar was one in every of solely two individuals left dwelling within the village, as soon as house to round 800 individuals.
The opposite individual was Nina Honchar, his 92-year-old mom. He had stayed there regardless of the hazard to handle her. She died earlier this month.
He doesn’t know if Wagner fighters had been among the many occupiers. “I didn’t ask for his or her paperwork,” he mentioned. However he recollects seeing Russian fighters, who gave the impression to be on medication, wandering round city of their underwear, their our bodies lined with jail tattoos.
Wagner amplified its drive by recruiting prisoners. After Wagner left the battlefield in June of this yr, the Russian navy continued the usage of convicts as a part of newly fashioned “Storm Z” items alongside probably the most harmful entrance line positions.
To Mr. Honchar, it hardly issues beneath what banner the troopers fought. The legacy of Wagner and Russian forces, he mentioned, are one and the identical: dying, destruction and break.
“My brother and his spouse had been torn aside by shells,” Mr. Honchar mentioned. Earlier than he might bury them, he needed to accumulate their physique components. “There was no cranium, his fingers had been scattered,” he mentioned of his brother.
As soon as he collected what he might discover, he needed to bury them within the native cemetery however it was beneath fixed assault and too harmful. He laid their stays in a trench and lined them with grime.
When his 80-year-old neighbor died, he buried her within the crater of the shell that killed her.
Looming over the village is the Church of the Holy Mom of God, ‘Pleasure of All Who Sorrow.’ With its sky blue partitions seen for miles round and majestic golden domes, it was as soon as a draw for vacationers and pilgrims.
Now its partitions are blasted aside, one dome has tumbled to the bottom and the gold leafing blasted away from one other.
When the Russians first got here, Mr. Honchar mentioned, they tied his fingers and took him to the basement of the native faculty to interrogate him. They pointed a gun at him.
“I informed them: ‘First kill my mom, after which me,” he recalled, not wanting her to be left alone and watch her son die.
They mentioned he was courageous, he mentioned, and requested the place the Ukrainian troopers had been situated. He informed them to look within the woods, and that was the top of the interrogation.
After that, he mentioned, they largely left him alone as they took up positions within the village.
Extra disciplined troopers occupied the church, he mentioned, however in every single place else a motley crew of troopers from totally different items appeared extra fascinated about scoring medication than what he was doing.
“The Russians simply walked round and drank alcohol,” he mentioned. A lot of the drug addicts and drunks frolicked on the faculty, he mentioned.
The wreckage of the battle litters the varsity constructing, as do the reminders of what Ukraine as soon as was.
On the blackboard of 1 classroom stays a date written in chalk: February 22, 2022. It was the final lesson earlier than the Russian invasion two days later.
There may be not a single undamaged house in Bohorodychne. The overall retailer stays shattered and shuttered. The village authorities heart is gutted, its partitions pockmarked with bullet holes, the roof caved in and a rusted hulk of an armored automobile standing guard outdoors. All through the village, weeds develop wild and the ruins of houses are camouflaged by vegetation.
It is sort of a miniature model of Bakhmut, the jap Ukrainian metropolis that it took Wagner fighters greater than a yr to seize, leveling the town within the course of.
Ukrainian officers say there are a whole bunch of ruined villages like Bohorodychne unfold throughout Ukraine, many leveled by Wagner forces earlier than the group pulled its fighters out of Ukraine.
Whereas the destruction of Bakhmut is stunning for its scale, the devastation of Bohorodychne is heartbreaking for its intimacy.
Mr. Honchar recalled how when he was rising up within the village, there have been dozens of youngsters. They’d swim within the river and run by forests crammed with wild pigs and roe deers.
Typically, he mentioned, they’d sneak off for a smoke and get a rap on the ear or worse in the event that they obtained caught. The primary lady he ever kissed lived simply on the opposite aspect of a bridge in a neighboring city.
That bridge was blown up by Ukrainians to gradual the Russian advance. There are not any youngsters dwelling within the village now.
He is considering making ready for winter and mentioned he wanted to go to the forest to gather wooden to burn to maintain heat.
However Ukrainian troopers have informed him that expedition is just too harmful. Mines nonetheless litter the land.
Mr. Honchar does probably not consider Mr. Prigozhin is lifeless. However he is aware of his village is gone. Nonetheless, he hopes life will return someday.