Children under the rubble, on a balcony full: ‘The truth about this war’

The hole in the ground is very deep. The locals said that there was a house here yesterday. There is nothing left of it. A Russian cruise missile destroyed the entire house in the middle of a residential area. The residents were asleep when the missile hit.

I photograph what I see. A police dog searches for dead bodies. Local residents clean up and remove debris from rooftops dozens of meters away. Sixty other homes in the neighborhood were also damaged. The electric company is repairing power lines. If the bloodhound gets stuck somewhere, the firefighters dig with their bare hands into the pile of rubble.

Two young children lived here

A man squats on the edge of the pit, nervously puffing on a cigarette. Tears in his eyes and he pulled me by the arm. He points to a picture book lying in the hole. I take a deep breath, visualize it, and pull it away. My eyes are burning too. Before us is the torn off head of a plush doll. Two young children lived here.

Cruise missiles have been fired at Ukrainian cities every day since February 24. This is the reality of war. Wherever they attack, war overwhelms everything, absorbing everything else. What is often more difficult to conceive of in our reporting for RTL Nieuws is that war is more than just that.

Full tram, hip hairdressers

The now destroyed house is located in Dnipro. A beautiful industrial city with impressive buildings on long Soviet streets. Before the war, nearly a million people lived there. Many people fled at the beginning of the war, but now the streets are crowded again. They believe that the Russian advance will not reach the city.

There’s H&M, A Gap, and there’s plenty of shopping. Children play in the playgrounds. There is a line in front of Starbucks, people are drinking coffee in the sun. Trams are full, people are going to work. You’ve got countless barbers out there, I just shaved.

It is sometimes difficult to explain the reality of war to friends, family or colleagues. There’s the front, it’s dangerous there. Then there is the threat of cruise missiles across the country. This threat is always there, however, most of the time it is not.

In the barber I talk for a long time with a young hairdresser. It’s a fun, laid-back conversation, including how Orange fans celebrated in Kharkov, where he’s from, during the World Cup in 2012. His barbershop was destroyed by a Russian missile. Where his acquaintances died. War creeps mercilessly and cruelly even into light conversation.

That evening we ate at Giannivino, an Italian restaurant located in a pretty street. The pizza is particularly good, and the wine is even better. It’s a nice, quiet evening, the balcony is full. There is a table with six women in expensive dresses, fully equipped. A group of laughing friends, a couple in love, a family with young children.

Suddenly the war approached

A little later in the evening, at the hotel, I think about the day. around the hole that was drilled in the housing. about the population. Then suddenly the war approached.

A mile away, there was a loud explosion, then another bang, windows rattled, and a cloud of smoke billowed. I quickly shoot him – then we wait in the shelter until it is safe. We put on body armor and helmets and go out to the place where the missile just hit.

It’s hard to walk on the street because of all the rubble there. Broken window glass breaks under my shoe. It’s dark. The searchlights of firefighters searching for victims pierce the thick clouds of smoke hanging there. We met the same fire chief as earlier today, in that destroyed house. “What kind of service, damn you,” he grumbled.

Smoke fills my eyes, and the smell of burning rubber clings to my hands. Hundreds of city buses caught fire. A man standing in an apartment next to a bus stop. He was furious, and his grandson was sleeping inside. The air pressure from the explosion blew out windows. Because the boy has pulled a woolen blanket over him, he is fine. They removed clumps of glass from the blanket. The man swears to assess the damage.

When we come back to the hotel late at night, the city is quiet. No air raid sirens, no explosions. Silence. Sometimes war seems so far away. Until he suddenly approaches again.

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