Morbid Exploration

Serhii Grishin was alone the first time he carefully explored the charred remains of a Russian tank destroyed on a quiet Ukrainian backroad. He noted burnt clumps of human flesh among the twisted metal wreckage yet felt nothing.

His grief was already spent on his dead Ukrainian compatriots, citizens, and soldiers who died after Vladimir Putin decided to bully his way into their nation last February.

Serhii Grishin takes a picture of his friends posing with a destroyed Russian armored personnel carrier near Dmytrivka, Ukraine, on April 26.  Image Credit: Alex Horton/The Washington Post

A Kind of Catharsis

The site of the rusted-out vehicle, a symbol of Ukrainian victory over their aggressors in a failed assault on the capital of Kyiv, made his spirits soar. He decided to invite friends to the site so they too could share in the moment and record it for posterity.

As he and his friends took photos of a burned-out armored personnel carrier, Grishin noted, “I’m happy to see that they did not advance farther down the road. I hope there are more places with destroyed Russian equipment.” Don’t worry, Serhii, there are.

With the Russian withdrawal from the capital to point east, many displaced residents of the Kyiv region have packed the highways to return to their homes weeks after fleeing for safety. The roads are jammed with citizens in a hurry to get back, but there now is an added attraction that they did not pass on the way out; scores of destroyed Russian vehicles. They more than occasionally harbor human remains and sit surrounded by garbage and the odd remnants of war.

These twisted metal relics have become sort of a macabre roadside attraction for Ukrainians trying frantically to put their lives back together. Rummaging through the destroyed Russian military equipment gives many a sense of relief at their survival and pride in the accomplishments of the Ukrainian military, who have pushed the aggressors far from their homes.

A man wearing a Vladimir Putin mask poses for a picture in front of the ruins of a Russian tank near Bucha. Image Credit:

The physical evidence of war can have quite an emotional effect on people. In Ukraine, these feelings tend to be manifesting themselves in a stream of selfies now appearing on the internet.

In a way, they are saying, “Look what we’ve done. We’ve survived, and we are back”. It’s kind of a 21st-century middle finger to the Kremlin broadcasted to the world via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Victoria Yarmuska is a resident of Bucha who fled the fighting early in the war. Neighbors told her that her home had, fortunately, survived the shelling that had destroyed so much of her town. On her way home, she and her husband Igor took time to stop and pick through the remains of at least half a dozen charred Russian military vehicles. In doing so, they took several photos of each other.

“It feels like I’m watching a movie, a really scary movie,” she said. “Looking at all of this with my own eyes, I start to realize it’s reality.”

And it’s that reality that many are trying to capture as they explore the long-abandoned charred vehicles stuck in the mud of the side of the road. Karolis Kairys is a good friend of Mr. Grishin. He was in Ukraine to oversee the delivery of a vehicle that he helped organize through his car enthusiast club for the Ukrainian military.

He could not wait to share his photos on Facebook because he says that some of his friends back home in Lithuania are skeptical of Ukraine’s military victories.

He tells us, “They still believe Russian propaganda and think that it’s not tanks, that this is all staged.” He noted with a chuckle that the US-supplied Javelin antitank missiles “are working good.”

Indeed they are, Karolis; indeed they are.