"A city. This was the first time we entered a city.
We used to be happy to conquer landings, and, if we were lucky, villages.
Once again, there are all sorts of pains in the butt, from deploying Starlink (in all seriousness, the most precious of military equipment) and heating up the Mivina [the leading brand of instant ramen in Ukraine—ed.] to resettling personnel and figuring out the vector of further movement (still nothing clear).
We decide to set ourselves up in a suburb—essentially a dacha settlement. We in the lead car take off into the narrow streets. Near one of the courtyards we encounter a whole family: a guy with hands black from work, a weeping wife, and two little ones.
They vie with one another in telling us how they’ve lived here for four frickin’ months, how the Buryats engaged in total mayhem, how they made the guy next door dig a pit and smashed everyone’s phones. How people were kicked out of their houses without being allowed even to change clothes, or to take their personal belongings and documents. And how the orcs stayed in those houses afterwards, binge-drinking and, in their drunkenness, smashing the cars they’d seized.
There’s not much time, so I have to interrupt them:
—Can you tell us where [x number of] men and a few cars could be accommodated here? Are there any abandoned houses?
The woman suddenly stops—yes, there is, right here. The house next door. We’ve been looking after it, I’ll get the keys.
A couple of minutes later she opens the door. A standard, well-maintained, clean cottage with a greenhouse for grapevines at the entrance. Not even looted. I quickly note the number of rooms and beds, add the number of “near-NATO-quality” cots available on OLKh [a Ukrainian equivalent of Craigslist—ed.]—in theory, we’ll all fit. Worst case scenario, we still have sleeping mats.
It’s especially encouraging that the house has “amenities.” Most likely a pump; there’s definitely no central water supply. We can find the pump and power it with our generator; we’ll have unlimited water and a chance to wash up. We’re especially eager to wash up after a hectic week and a half. And our uniforms could use a washing, too—they could’ve used it for a long time now.
Listening to endless stories from our new neighbor, we go out on the porch and have a smoke:
—I see the orcs hardly touched your street. Lucky.
—Yes, they stayed farther away. At the end of the street. The big house over there got the worst of it.
She waves her hand at the obviously “rich” house—it’s understandable, the frickin’ Buryats didn’t want to stay in cottages, they wanted to live it up. Okay, later we’ll have to make the rounds, to at least make sure they didn’t lay mines, and maybe to find some nice things. (We can’t, just can’t, do without that; we all love souvenirs.)
Purely for the sake of conversation, I ask: Where are the owners of this cottage that is almost ours?
—My friend lived here. They tortured her to death.
We keep silent and smoke. And again keep silent.
—You know what? Thanks, but we’re going to take a look at the house where the orcs were staying. Thank you.
Silently we pile into the car and drive half a block to the big house with the broken windows and a hole in the wall—apparently it got hit by a tank shell.
The bomb squad put its “OK” sign on the gate, but we’re still careful as we step over the piles of bricks.
The house is unlocked. Scattered everywhere are grease-stained Rooskie uniforms and leftovers from MREs, mixed with children’s things and gardening tools.
Inside is a picture that’s almost become customary.
Piles of dirty dishes everywhere, TV sets torn from the walls, the contents of cabinets all piled right on the floor. [The occupiers] slept on the beds without taking their shoes off. At least this time they didn’t shit in the living room—we’ve seen instances of that.
We go through the rooms, carefully. There’s always a chance of encountering a “surprise” or “straggler” in such places.
The parents’ bedroom, two children’s rooms. More precisely—one and a half; one of the rooms got hit, now half the wall is gone.
Quality furniture, expensive plumbing—you might think some major dignitary lived here, but in the garage there’s a serious workshop; you can tell, even from what hasn’t been stolen, that the owners made their living with their hands. And good for them. If they’re alive, it’d be entirely possible to repair the house. In my experience (oh, it’s been so long since our house burned down ... feels like last century).
The rest of the caravan pulls up.
We have a cigarette break, then get down to work.
We wrap all the “hosts’” stuff in blankets in a corner; everything left behind by the orcs, we put in garbage bags outside.
While the guys do some tidying up, I find the electrical box (it’s almost the same kind as in my house) and the switch labeled “pump.” Awesome, now we’re talking.
We find the meter, throw the generator wire on it, bypass the breaker in the electrical box (it wouldn’t let the current in, no clue why) and voila. We have a shower. A shooooower.
Not a bottle of mineral water, not a structure made of planks, but a real shower with unlimited water. Even if there are no towels, no shampoo, just a bar of laundry soap, it doesn’t matter. Believe me, after a week of active work, it doesn’t matter ;)
A couple of hours later we manage to contact the owners. They’re alive, in the western part of the country. The father of the family has a train ticket and is already on his way here to assess the level of destruction and to generally “get something started.”
He asks us to look after the house while we’re here; local drunks loot no worse than orcs... but that’s another story.
And in the meantime, the guys turn on the gas water heater (believe you me: hot showers are better than sex) and clean the bathroom. That in itself is quite a feat."
Vasyl’, Kharkiv region
September 10, 2022
Translated by Avram Brown