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Thursday, March 23, 2023

a veteran leading the resistance in Boutcha

A year ago, Boucha was occupied after offering resistance to Russian forces on the road to kyiv. When Vladimir Scherbinin understood that the tanks were at the gates of his city, he and some members of his small association supporting the Donbass soldiers decided to take up arms.

Back from Boutcha,

Khaki fleece beanie, fatigues and military jacket. According to the photographs found on the internet, Vladimir Scherbinin rarely separates from his combat clothes. The 67-year-old man who limps out of a van with “camouflage” patterns is the leader of the ” Buchanska Varta (Boutcha’s guard). He’s a local celebrity here. At the start of the war, he and the “ volunteers of his association distinguished themselves by delaying the entry of a column of pro-Russian forces into this suburb north of kyiv.

At the end of February, which marks one year of war, life seems to have resumed its course in this city which has become the symbol of the horror of the Russian occupation of the first weeks of the war. In front of the Novus, couples in Converse come home from shopping arm in arm, mothers push overloaded strollers. It’s hard to imagine that a year ago, the surroundings of this supermarket in center of Boutcha were a battlefield.

In the parking lot, the veteran shakes a few hands, passers-by come and say a word to him. He’s already told it all, he says, but plays along with good grace, leading us to key locations in the battle he waged to defend his city. Those badges on his jacket, are those his squad? “ No, he smiles, good-natured, it was given to me by American friends! I like it very much, it is very comfortable. »

We were just civilians, we had nothing »

Everyone knew the invasion was coming, but we were still surprised “Explains Vladimir Scherbinin to sum up his feelings when war broke out on the night of February 23 to 24, 2022. Russian troops invaded Ukraine from the Belarusian border in the north. “ I was called and told that paratroopers were arriving at Hostomel airfield, a kilometer from herehe recalls. I didn’t believe him. I got up, called a friend of mine, who told me that airports were being targeted across the country. I went out with this vehicle and we saw the paratroopers in the sky. The Donbass veteran understands that the war is at the gates of his city and that the objective is to conquer the capital, the center of which is 25 kilometers away.

Vladimir Scherbinin points to the place where he was injured, at the foot of a building near the Novus hypermarket.
Vladimir Scherbinin points to the place where he was injured, at the foot of a building near the Novus hypermarket. © RFI/Aurore Lartigue

Since 2014, with a few other inhabitants, they have formed an association. Out of a hundred voluntary members, about twenty are really active. They raise funds to buy equipment of all kinds and send it to the Ukrainian army which is fighting in the East. “ But in our statutes, it is also said that our mission is to support public order, help the police. So we started to organize people to defend ourselves. But we were only civilians, we had nothing “, underlines this father of two grown children. His daughter lives in the United States.

In this residential city, nothing is organized, says Vladimir Scherbinin. There is no territorial defense, a “ gray area », away from the major strategic issues. “ People came to see us to ask us for weapons “, he recalls. Men, women, veterans… Everyone wants to defend the city. On the morning of February 25, he succeeded in obtaining eight submachine guns from the military commissariat. ” We were able to arm forty people. I was very demanding in the distribution of weapons. I was really questioning the volunteers, because knowing how to shoot is one thing but killing is another thing “, he points. The small group also lacks specialists, because in addition to submachine guns Vladimir has recovered grenade launchers. They have the idea of ​​blowing up the bridge that connects Hostomel to Boutcha. The surroundings are swampy, this will hinder a little, they say to themselves, the progress of the troops. But the bridge resists both of their attempts.

heavily injured

February 26, the tanks are already on the streets of Blystavytsia, a handful of kilometers away. On the 27th, at 7 am, the head of the Boutcha guard learned that a column of several hundred vehicles was approaching his town. Meanwhile, Ukrainian artillery pounded the airport which the Russians had used to transport troops intended to advance towards kyiv in order to regain control. “ I called to tell them to shoot this column of tanks, they refused “says Vladimir Scherbinin, bitter. For him, it is clear,“ we let the Russians in “.

Never mind, Vladimir and his guys are preparing to resist. ” I gave the order to take up positions around the Novus, he reports. In all, 17 volunteers participate. When they arrived, the Russians were sitting on their tanks singing, they didn’t expect any resistance. He is positioned at the back of the hypermarket. “ I machine-gunned and I think I shot about fifteen people, he advances. The column stopped and we fired from the grenade launcher. We managed to burn a tank. “Three of his men also throw Molotov cocktails and manage to set fire to another, assures the leader of the group.

The headquarters set up by the group of Boutcha defenders, just next to the Novus, was destroyed in March.
The headquarters set up by the group of Boutcha defenders, just next to the Novus, was destroyed in March. © RFI/Aurore Lartigue

I was well aware that it was absurd to fight against tanks with submachine guns commented Vladimir. Especially since the column does not take long to replicate. The story is worthy of an action movie. Vladimir is sheltered behind a barricade when he sees the barrel of a tank pivoting in his direction. The explosion is such that the barricade is shattered. The former soldier barely had time to take to his heels, but he was seriously injured in the leg, arm and stomach.

A column of armor destroyed

He was quickly evacuated to the hospital where he will remain until March 10, when he will be evacuated to kyiv. ” Fortunately, otherwise they would have killed me! he says, as Russian soldiers are looking for him, his photo in hand, all the way to the hospital. Their HQ, near the Novus, is looted and destroyed with grenade launchers.

Four of his comrades were also injured in the battle. The group mourns one death, a Donbass veteran named ​Volodymyr Kovalskyi. Both legs amputated following an injury during surgery, he wore prostheses and had convinced Vladimir to let him take up arms. ” He was a patriot », underlines the leader of these defenders of Boutcha.

In the street of the station, in Boutcha, houses bear the scars of the attack which destroyed a column of Russian tanks, on February 27, 2022.
In the street of the station, in Boutcha, houses bear the scars of the attack which destroyed a column of Russian tanks, on February 27, 2022. © RFI/Aurore Lartigue

The rest of this February 27, we told him. A column of about fifty tanks ends up entering the city. CCTV footage posted online shows vehicles move slowly down the street from the stationa narrow lane lined with houses. A few minutes later, the column is attacked and largely destroyed by the Ukrainian army. Pictures show the chaos afterwards. The advance of the troops towards kyiv is slowed down. We know what happened next: Putin’s troops never reached the capital, but the occupation of Boutcha caused hundreds of civilian casualties, including a dozen members of the association.

“We saved some time. We made a diversion », Believes Vladimir Scherbinin. Enough to give the Ukrainian armed forces time to concentrate and organize themselves to hit the mark. Today, the street has regained its calm. Some houses in the neighborhood, damaged by the violence of the assault, are under construction. Vladimir, he has just been decorated for his contribution to the defense of the city. Despite the aftermath of his injuries, he says he is ready to keep fighting. In the meantime, his group of volunteers continues to organize collections to send food to the soldiers on the front.

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