Russian forces landed near here and seized the airport on February 24, at the start of the invasion. Many Kyiv residents with dachas in the city had approached them believing the area to be safer than the capital, but the fighting soon spread to Moshchun and the other nearby towns of Irpin and Bucha. Most of the houses in the area sit on small plots of land and are surrounded by fences, providing countless spaces for troops to maneuver and hide. Ukrainian forces began the effort to retake Moshchun on March 16. About 75 percent of the houses in this settlement were destroyed or damaged in the fighting.
“Watch your step. There are no mines, but there are rusty nails,” says Valentina, a stocky woman in her 60s who owned her dacha for 35 years before it was destroyed by the conflict. We tiptoed through the Burnt and blown brick ruins Kicking the charred stump of an apple tree she planted long ago A strong-willed community leader, leads me on a horror-tale tour of the neighborhood The soft blue August sky and the many trees laden with fruit contrast with the shells of the houses and the military rubble scattered in the yards. A chain of stories springs forth. She tells of the neighbor who came out of hiding after 10 days in her basement just to walk, return home and commit suicide. She recounts how a quadriplegic father, unable to move from his bed during the invasion, died there. His screams pierced the sounds of battle as smoke and flames consumed him. His wife and daughter on they revived in the basement below.
Valentina remembers the incident of a young man who was at his father’s house when the room he was in was hit by a mortar. The father, says Valentina, “ran to the room after the explosion and found his son in pieces. The father no longer speaks to anyone.
I met Olya, a woman in her 70s, at her country house at the end of the street. She led nine survivors of destroyed houses to her small basement, where they hid from the Russians for 10 days “without a peep,” she says. A member of the group would go out briefly once a day to look for food and water. Potatoes were the main source of food. The room measures 7 feet by 10 feet, has a dirt floor, and lacks electricity and lighting. Standing in it with Olya, it is hard for me to imagine the hardships they endured there.
Most of the residents are retired and gardening is a serious hobby. Irina wears an ankle-length blue flower-patterned dress when she finds her picking roses from the bushes she has tended for decades in her front yard. Her house is gone, only the walls remain. But the garden, still watered and cared for, is in full bloom. With spring came the usual weeds, as well as a harvest of brass cartridge casings, shrapnel, rocket parts, and military equipment. Irina’s neighbors found a live artillery shell and a human foot in her garden. A vase of roses stands on a path in the garden as she works. When she is not working in the garden, Irina holds it tight and carries it with her. Two friends complement the rich red beauty of the petals as we stand in the gray ash of her roofless house, which she intends to rebuild.
The women are soon preoccupied with an important task: delivering freshly picked apples, cucumbers, raspberries and plums to Ukrainian forces stationed in the nearby woods, as they do several days a week. They fill plastic buckets with the reward and take it away. Three grandmothers easily cross the military checkpoints.
Nearby, Vladimir assesses the effort it will take to replace the dilapidated house he and his family built when he was 13 years old. He is now 57. He has cleared away much of the debris and organized it into neat piles. The Russians used his house as a command post, but the Ukrainian forces recaptured it. It’s the end of August and Vladimir is upset the day I meet him, not because of the destruction that surrounds him, but because now is the season for picking apples and making wine, and he won’t be able to keep up this cherished tradition this year. There will be no apple wine from the 22nd of the Vladimir vineyard. He promises a record batch next year.
Most of the residents have known each other since they were young, spending their vacations in and around their families’ dachas. Victoria waves at us as we walk down the dirt road. Learning that I am American, she recites several poems by Emily Dickinson in Ukrainian. She and her husband Vasily own a collection of goats, chickens, dogs and cats. When the fight broke out, Victoria hid in her steel safe, which had room for one person after the contents were removed from it.
A friend begged Victoria and Vasily to drive away with him while they still had a chance, but Victoria refused, citing her love of animals. “You have five minutes to go or you will die with your goats,” the friend told her. The couple reluctantly left, and when they returned weeks later, they were shocked to find that all of their animals were still alive. Victoria named two of the chickens that hatched Partisan and Spy after the release.
Valentin is 75 years old and served in the Soviet Air Force before running an electronics company. His reassuring smile belies the carnage around us. As we enter his house, he gestures to the ground outside, noticing that four dead Russians had been lying there for weeks. We visit his favorite spot in the neighborhood: a pool-sized pond that is home to orange and red koi fish. He leans against the railing, looking for the ones he has named and pointing as their brightly colored backs rise close to the surface. Later, we visited his country house and sat in the backyard on lawn chairs shaded by a canopy of vines. His house is in better condition than most, with only shrapnel and bullet holes marking the walls. The garden is full of ripe fruits and vegetables. Valentin walks in and retrieves a French wine bottle half full of red wine that he made last year. I’ve tasted homegrown wine before and I’m up for anything. I take a sip and savor the wine, which is sublime. Valentin has produced a vintage that tastes like a hot summer day on the Dnipro River and a future full of possibilities.
Ed Quinn is a New York City-based photojournalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications. He covered the Ukrainian refugee crisis near the Ukrainian-Polish border in the spring and returned to Lviv, Ternopil, Kyiv and Mochshun this summer. Follow him on Instagram @edquinnphoto.