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Reporter's notebook'We just feel a bigger hatred toward Russians'

Rage, pride draw Ukrainian families to sightsee destroyed Russian tanks

Parents bring children to view captured vehicles in the heart of Kyiv and remains of armored column in suburbs

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

  • A father photographs his son against a Russian missile in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
    A father photographs his son against a Russian missile in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
  • Olesei (L) and Ruslan poses with their children in front of a destroyed Russian tank outside of Kyiv, July 22, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
    Olesei (L) and Ruslan poses with their children in front of a destroyed Russian tank outside of Kyiv, July 22, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
  • A destroyed Russian tank in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
    A destroyed Russian tank in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
  • Ukrainians examine destroyed Russian military vehicles in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
    Ukrainians examine destroyed Russian military vehicles in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

DMYTRIVKA, Ukraine — On March 30, a small Russian armored column began to move through the occupied Kyiv suburb of Dmytrivka.

The force, around 10 tanks and armored infantry carriers, was aiming for the main highway connecting the capital to the city of Zhytomyr to the west. With that main artery under control, frustrated Russian forces could attempt another push into Kyiv, while columns advanced simultaneously from the north and east.

The Russian tanks would never reach the highway, let alone the capital.

Untested volunteers of the 114th Territorial Defense Brigade, supported by two Ukrainian tanks, ambushed the column, knocking out the vehicles with RPGs and tank fire.

The burnt-out vehicles still lie on the road just south of the town, in full view of the mansions and grass tennis courts of the gated Belgravia community. Bucha and Irpin, handsome towns where Russians slaughtered bound civilians, are only minutes up the road.

At first glance, the vehicles look like they have been rusting among the pine trees for decades. The occasional tattered piece of Russian uniform or shattered equipment are the only indications that only months before, dozens of Russian soldiers lost their lives in and around these vehicles.

Some local artist has painted whimsical renderings of birds on some of the remains of the Russian column.

A destroyed Russian tank outside of Dmytrivka, Ukraine, July 22, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Ukrainian families pull over by the side of the road to touch the husks of the Russian vehicles, striking triumphant poses in front of them while family members take pictures.

Ruslan, a father of two, visits the site every day. On Friday, his wife and children returned home from western Ukraine, and he took his family right to the burnt-out column.

“They know everything in theory,” he told The Times of Israel on Friday, “that Russians are bad, that Putin is bad. But I just wanted them to see it with their own eyes.”

His smiling blond son and daughter clambered up onto the gun barrel of one of the tanks.

Olesei and Ruslan take their children to see destroyed Russian tanks outside of Kyiv, July 22, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

“We just want this image to be in their memory,” his wife Olesei concurred.

Discussing the Russians, the couple did not mince words in front of their children.

“We just feel a bigger hatred toward Russians,” Ruslan said. “They have been trying to make us slaves for four hundred years.”

In 1654, after breaking away from Polish domination, Ukrainian Cossack leader Bogdan Khmelnytsky signed an oath of allegiance to the Russian tsar.

A woman came to poke around the tanks, and asked somewhat eagerly if there were any bodies still inside.

Vasil, who volunteered with the village’s security organization, heard the battle while it was raging. “When I see destroyed military equipment, I am just happy,” he said.

‘We need to burn Putin down’

It is not only the villagers who experienced occupation firsthand who are making pilgrimages to see and touch the wrecked Russian vehicles.

In Saint Michael’s Square in the heart of Old Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities placed destroyed and captured Russian T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, missiles, and troops carriers. Families circulate through the display under the golden dome of the monastery and the imposing façade of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry.

Kyiv resident Ludmilla visits captured and destroyed Russian military vehicles in Old Kyiv, July 22, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Kyiv resident Ludmilla, who fled to her parents’ home outside of the city during the worst of the fighting, took her daughter to see the Russian armor on Thursday afternoon.

It was not her first time visiting.

“It’s all Putin’s fault for sending his forces to Ukraine,” she said. “I’m sorry to say, but we’ll fuck him up and he’ll go home. We need to burn Putin down.”

Two young men observed a Pantsir artillery system.

“This is the fifth month of the war,” said Ilya, a 24-year-old from Zaporizhzhia. “It’s all the time fear, it’s craziness. And I want to see this by my eyes, this weapon of death.”

His friend Roman, a psychologist who worked at the Enerhordar nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine, fled Russian occupation only 10 days earlier.

He was beaten in the early days of the war, Roman said in Russian. “I didn’t have my phone on me, and they were checking everyone’s phones. I was hit with the butt of the rifle in my head.”

Roman (L) and Ilya visit captured and destroyed Russian military vehicles in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

With time, he said, the behavior of the Russian soldiers changed markedly. “There might have been a rotation or they changed the policy, so they are not actively cruel to people. But everyone is under heavy stress.”

But the Russians are still holding local politicians and prominent residents in the basements in the city, Roman said.

“Here I feel safe here in Kyiv,” he said. “Whenever I see the destroyed equipment, I feel proud of our protectors, the ones who fight for us. But I do hope this ends as soon as possible.”

Vasil, who served in the Soviet Army in 1972-1974, was visiting the square for the second time.

“I’m just interested in how our brave boys are destroying the second-most powerful army in the world,” he said. “It brings me joy to see these destroyed.”

Despite his years of service alongside Russians, Vasil said he was not surprised by the Russian invasion of his country.

Vasil visits captured and destroyed Russian military vehicles in Old Kyiv, July 21, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

“When you look at the last four hundred years, we are always at war or suppressed by Russians,” he said. “It was just a matter of time. It’s a gun that was going to going go off.”

Larisa Mykolaivna was spending a day out with her granddaughter Irena when they passed the square on their way home. She said she would post a photograph of her daughter online with the caption, “Whatever equipment comes into this country is going to look like this.”

Seeing the remains of the tanks and trucks brings up a mix of emotions, she said. “It’s just pain and fear and also a sense of being proud for our country. Being proud of our military, for the boys that are protecting us. I’m just proud that I have the ability to take my granddaughter and walk around this peaceful city.”

Before he left, Ilya made sure to send a message to Vladimir Putin.

“Go home. Please go home. Leave us in peace, please.”

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