“Boetsja”, says Jeroen Akkermans without hesitation. Hundreds of bodies of executed civilians were found in this city on April 2, 2022, after the Russians withdrew. Four days later Akkermans visited the area.

“You immediately saw the extent of the crimes there. Civilians who had been executed in the street. Bodies burned in front of a house. The neighborhood had just been liberated when I arrived, so the tension of the war was still palpable. That’s why we had to be there as journalists with a press trip. Individually, it would have been far too dangerous.

Unruly Ukrainians

“When you are confronted with corpses, it’s a slap in the face. At the same time, I put myself in the shoes of the people I meet on the way. These people have enormous stubbornness. And I try to get up to That. You have a job as a reporter. These are the stories that everyone should know. A firefighter doesn’t say, ‘I don’t do indoor fires and raging fires.”

“What is exceptional in this war is that war crimes are immediately investigated. In Boetsja, bodies have already been removed from mass graves a few days later to be examined by an international team of experts. In many wars, this is not addressed until much later. . gives me a glimmer of hope.”

“What I encountered in Bocha later turned out to be a model of the Russian army. We have seen this kind of violence in more cities. The scale is so great. You hear the same stories in every liberated place.”

Watch the report that Jeroen Akkermans made in Boetsja:

During his last trip in January this year, Olaf Koens made a portrait of Ksenia, a young woman who was “fortunately not at home” when a heavy Russian missile hit her apartment complex.

“The bomb destroyed the lives of forty people. Ksenia’s mother was at home, but survived the attack. It took Ksenia hours to find her. It is hard to imagine the panic, the fear and the anger that would shoot through your body to scream.”

“I hesitated for a long time whether it was even a story. There are so many rocket attacks, so many casualties. In a way, they all look the same. I only got to Dnipro three or four days after the attack. The victims were already recovered, the town hall had already removed the sand and swept the borders.”

Intact porcelain figurines

“Yet it is the testimonies of Ukrainians like Ksenia that impress again and again. She showed me her apartment, the fragments of the bomb that had smashed the windows and cupboards, we looked at the porcelain figurines that remained intact I I saw her anger, I saw how she found comfort in what is characteristic of Ukraine, that everyone helps each other.”

“What is not in the report is that Ksenia has already been the victim of a similar disaster. In 2007, an explosion after a gas leak in the city of Dnipro killed 23 people. Ksenia was seriously injured, she spent a year in “She was in the hospital. Then she had to start over, now. What I often think about is that the 2007 tragedy was one of the biggest disasters in the country at the time. Now something like this happens every day.

Former RTL News Russian correspondent Eva Hartog was hugely impressed by the talks she had on the border with Georgia shortly after Putin announced a major mobilization in September 2022. “A turning point”, calls her- she.

“At the beginning of the year, there were protests in Russia against the war. These protests were violently suppressed. Then this protest died down. Then we could not see or notice anything about the Russia for a long time. It was like life was going on as usual.”

Young people on the run

“The end of September 2022 was the first moment when the war entered ordinary Russians through mobilization. It was no longer something abstract. the country.”

“People I spoke to at the border crossing were more open than I was used to inside Russia. But they were reserved. For example, one boy said he wanted to go for a ride on his bike for a long time, when he was clearly fleeing mobilization. It was also a sign of the fear and caution of many Russians about speaking in public, even when they are on the other side of the border.

“It touched me how deep people’s fear was. A boy only had a toothbrush, a phone and a laptop with him. They had left their wife, children, house and family behind. car and started walking to avoid traffic jams at the border. These are huge upheavals in the lives of Russians that Ukrainians experienced much earlier.”

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