BORODIANKA, Ukraine – On a main road leading to this suburban Kyiv town, a destroyed and blackened apartment building epitomizes the dilemma facing Ukrainians hoping to rebuild after Russian attacks.
“Remove the rubble. Rebuild our apartments,” read banners draped across its balconies in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, in English – a message to aid organizations and Western governments.
Foreign countries have pledged to support a massive reconstruction effort which the Ukrainian government says will cost $750 billion, with President Volodymyr Zelensky describing it as a “colossal” task. At this point, a major reconstruction at Borodianka is not going to happen anytime soon.
Officials face a difficult question as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin warns that his military campaign in Ukraine has only just begun: How much should they invest in rebuilding all but critical infrastructure amid the threat of new fighting still hangs even over the liberated areas of Russian forces?
Borodianka, the gateway to the capital Kyiv, was one of the first places attacked by Russia after its invasion in late February, but its forces withdrew from the area after encountering stiff resistance.
The devastated city is an example of Russian bombings that have indiscriminately targeted civilians. The streets are lined with apartment buildings reduced to rubble or gutted by artillery. In one building, a huge hole drilled through the brick exterior is evidence of a direct hit.
The mayor’s office says at least 176 of the approximately 1,500 civilians who remained after the invasion were killed. Not all bodies have yet been found in the rubble.
Nearly 500 homes were destroyed and nearly 2,000 other buildings were damaged. Schools, police stations and hospitals were among 69 government buildings that were damaged, including 11 completely destroyed, said Anatoly Rudnichenko, an adviser to the mayor.
There are no plans to rebuild the 11 multi-storey buildings he says were destroyed in the Russian attacks and ensuing fighting. Instead, the Ukrainian government plans to relocate residents to a new neighborhood it will build, called New Borodianka, with modern apartment buildings flanked by wide streets and parks.
In Borodianka and other Kyiv suburbs that have suffered the worst destruction, Rudnichenko said, “they are not talking about reconstruction. First you need to demolish the old buildings.
He said the project could take years.
Sitting in a classroom temporarily converted into city administration offices, Rudnichenko said about half of the population of 14,000 had returned but others still feared threats from neighboring, allied Belarus. of Russia. Ukrainian officials and Western observers believe the former Soviet republic is unlikely to directly join the war now, but military exercises in the border area near Kyiv have contributed to a sense of unease.
Mr Rudnichenko said the city’s biggest need was building materials. The city administration had started receiving requests from residents who needed doors, windows and roofs, but none had yet been distributed, he said.
Outside, a line of older women lined the school steps waiting to receive plastic bags of food. Others walked out of the remodeled school with gray plastic sheets to cover the holes in their roofs.
Alina Fedorenko, 63, said she huddled in a cellar for days with her daughter, son and 6-year-old grandson as the artillery pounded around them. His daughter protected the boy with her body.
“We didn’t know what to do,” she said. Distraught and apparently still traumatized by the attacks, she said she hoped someone would give them some firewood to keep warm.