“The Russians turned the whole city into an entire wound…” Interview with the mayor of Trostyanets
Yuriy Bova told the Decentralization portal about what the Russians did with Trostyanets after a month of occupation, as well as the resolve of local residents not to allow it again
Author: Dmytro Synyak
Before the war, the city of Trostyanets in Sumy oblast was a kind of a showcase for decentralization reform. It seems to me that no municipality has achieved such significant success in such a short period of time: the city has flourished in the last eight years. It has created many new jobs, and most importantly, proposed prospects for even greater development. That is why Yuriy Bova, Head of the Trostyanetska municipality, was a very popular speaker at various forums and conferences related to the reform. After all, his experience proved that a truly European city with a strong business can be created quite quickly. Two years ago, Mr. Bova was sharing some secrets of financial success with us. Now he is sharing the plans to restore Trostyanets after almost a month of Russian occupation. It ended on March 26, after the Ukrainian army defeated the “elite” Kantemirov division of the Russian Federation. Although Trostyanets escaped the fate of Mariupol, Izyum, and Volnovakha because there were no major battles on its streets, the defilement of the city by Russian troops harmed it a lot. Yuriy Bova told Decentralization about this.
What did Trostyanets look like after almost a month of occupation?
- I lack the words to describe it. This is not even a destruction. It’s not like a tornado sweeping the streets of a city. It was as if some wild, horrible, inhuman horde of Tolkien’s orcs had passed through Trostyanets and looted, robbed, destroyed and defiled everything they could. We are currently inspecting office buildings, and they have no electrical devices. No computer, printer, or tablet. Russians even took the projectors from the ceilings. When they hurriedly fled from Trostyanets, a whole column of stolen trucks and cars, packed with items looted in Trostyanets, followed the military machinery. But this horde did not limit itself to looting. The Russians shot down any civilian car that they could not start. That is, the orcs destroyed everything they could not take with them. For example, it is unknown why they dumped out things from all the cabinets in the administrative buildings, scattered all the documents, and broke the cabinets themselves. Interestingly, in such conditions, the Russian military not only lived but also worked on their military issues. The horde! Disgusting horde!
And what about your office?
- There is no more office, neither mine, nor of any city official: the furniture is smashed, windows and doors are broken, the heating system is leaking, there is no light. This is a horror!
Are many houses in the city damaged?
- Traces of bullets and shrapnel remained on almost every city building. Two five-story houses with two entrances are completely uninhabitable. High-voltage power lines have been destroyed, leaving the city without electricity for already two weeks. The fire around these lines was so strong that huge old oaks literally scattered into pieces. Because of the lack of light, water pumps are not working now, so there is no water in Trostyanets either. And the gas networks are damaged. Buildings of several shops and wholesale warehouses, the prosecutor’s office, the forestry, the forest research station, and biscuit production site were burned without any military need.... The Russians fired 16 (!) shells from two tanks at the city hospital, whether for fun or out of hatred. The hospital at that time had no soldiers inside, it was absolutely empty, and it did not pose any danger to the occupiers. However, the hospital was simply cynically destroyed. Just before the war we insulated and painted its premises. It was not a hospital, but a beautiful pearl! And, perhaps, this is what irritated the Russian military. Because of them, the whole city is now turned into an entire wound! Many apartments have broken windows and doors. There are many unexploded mines and ammunition in parks and forest zones. Some houses, especially administrative ones, have been mined.
How do residents still live in such conditions?
- Those who did not leave Trostyanets for various reasons sometimes have to starve. They are saved only by humanitarian goods sent by friends of our city from all over the world. However, firstly, these cargoes are not so frequent because of our proximity to the flontline, and secondly, we have about a thousand residents who are unable to leave their apartments and houses due to illness. We try to keep their record and deliver food to them, but in the current situation it is very, very difficult.
Why didn’t the municipality create its territorial defense detachment in time?
- We did not have time, because in the evening of February 24 the vanguard of Russian troops entered Trostyanets. Then heavy fighting began*, and on March 1 the city was completely occupied. However, the locals did not stop the resistance. Many of them became guerrillas who, wherever they could, harmed the Russians, damaged their unattended equipment, and directed Ukrainian artillery at Russian military convoys. On March 7, most of these guerrillas became members of the territorial defense, which began operating in the municipality’s villages. Some residents joined one of the brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and later helped liberate our city.
How did the occupiers treat the civilians of Trostyanets?
- They shot civilians as soon as there was the slightest suspicion of their collaboration with the current Ukrainian government or army. And they kidnapped our people, beat them, tortured them, cut off their hands. I have no idea why. What did you want to know from them? What secret information could ordinary residents have? We are still searching for many of our residents. For example, one employee of the military enlistment office, a veteran of the anti-terrorist operation. I really hope we find him alive… The Russian military, who wanted to live in comfort, unceremoniously broke into the apartments of Trostyanets’ residents, kicking down the doors, and then drove the owners out into the street. This is despite the fact that it was forbidden to move around the city in the dark under the threat of death, but the occupiers did not care about the death of Ukrainians. An employee of the Trostyanets Technical Inventory Office, who was going to the hospital with her husband at about 7 pm, was shot dead by the Russian military from an armored personnel carrier. The woman died and the man was seriously injured.
How many residents of Trostyanetska municipality died during the occupation?
- Now it is difficult for me to answer this question, because we find new corpses almost every day. The rascists did not allow people to be buried in cemeteries, so in one part of the city we have four burials just in the yard of the houses. The occupiers placed their shelling equipment in residential areas, in fact hiding behind civilians. Subsequently, these monsters blocked the emergency medical station, shot down the cars of funeral services and did not allow anyone to take the bodies of the dead from the city streets.
Did the Russians hunt you personally?
- They did it from the first day of occupation. The orcs didn’t even offer me cooperation over the phone or through other channels, apparently realizing that it was a hopeless task. However, they kept searching for me, knowing that I would not leave my municipality easily. I have been the head of the Trostyanets City Council for seventeen years, I have been here for all my life. That’s why Russian patrols had my photo and stared into people’s faces. But I was not in Trostyanets, but in the villages of the municipality, where I tried my best to fight the occupiers and help our people. Every day I changed my place of accommodation, sometimes even going to neighboring municipalities, because I was anticipating that my former political opponents might betray me to the Russians. In retaliation for my position, a Russian tank rammed my house in Trostyanets, and later the Russian military looted and damaged my home. The orcs even cut the clothes of my children with knives for some reason. Such horrors took place with the full consent of the Russian top military leadership, because the entire headquarters of the Russian army was then located in Trostyanets**.
Did some city officials cooperate with the occupation authorities?
- There are some assumptions about this, and now they are being checked by the Security Service of Ukraine. Some have already been detained. I am convinced that the Russians, in destroying Trostyanets, did so quite consciously and in cooperation with local traitors, who told them that our city is a kind of a face of decentralization and all the positive changes that have taken place in the country over the past eight years. The orcs deliberately wanted to erase all our successes.
Have you managed to return the repair services to the city, which could start to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure?
- When, in agreement with the Office of the President, the Russians finally opened a humanitarian corridor, we evacuated about 2,500 people, slightly more than 10% of the city’s population. Another 7-8 thousand left the city in their own cars, often using forest roads. And now, probably, it is too early for people to return to their homes. Perhaps this should be done by those who have to take care of sick relatives, who now face extreme difficulties. But young people having a place to live should not rush to return to Trostyanets. Of course, we will not sit idly by and will try to repair everything that has been broken and destroyed. However, first of all we have to remove the broken equipment of the Russians from the city streets, which often still has ammunition inside. So it is necessary to neutralize projectiles, demine the city’s territory and only then to begin recovery of the infrastructure. First of all, we need to restore electricity supply, then find at least some office equipment that can work. Because now there is nothing in the city.
Did you manage to enlist the support of local business in the restoration of Trostyanets?
- Our entrepreneurs are deeply shocked by what happened. I don’t know if they will wish to keep their business in Trostyanets after that. After all, much depends on events at the front. But I will do my best to keep the enterprises. Because the economy is the life of the city. The main thing is that the Armed Forces and the territorial defense, just joined by many motivated locals with combat experience, protect Trostyanets. I know that our soldiers are not going to give our city to the enemy.
*On February 26, Ukrainian artillery destroyed a convoy of Russian vehicles bypassing the destroyed bridge in the village of Klymentove near the Trostyanets chocolate factory “Ukraine”. Then Yuriy Bova posted a photo on Facebook with destroyed Russian equipment, which he signed as: “Russians, welcome to hell! We will win!”
** Apparently, this is the headquarters of the 1st tank army of the Russian Federation, whose commander, Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel, was removed from office after the defeat of the Kantemirov division and Russians’ flee from Trostyanets.
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