Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic imagery.
Oksana Kostychenko walks down a narrow pathway, leading to her back garden in Borodianka. The flower beds on one side are surprisingly well arranged, contrasting with the wanton destruction all around.
Near her garden shed is the body of a man, lying face-down with a bag over his head and hands tied behind his back. His trousers are pulled down. There are large bruises on his left leg and a large wound on his head.
Next to his body is a single bullet casing.
“He was executed, gunshot to the head,” an officer with the Ukrainian National Police said. There are no documents on the man, but authorities on site say all indications show he was another civilian casualty of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
The body is one of many recently found in cities to the east of Kyiv that were occupied by Russian forces.
Borodianka was home to 13,000 people before the war, but most fled after Russia’s invasion. What was left of the town, after intense shelling and devastating airstrikes, was then occupied by Russian forces, which moved in on February 28.
Yuriy Pomin was still in town when the Russian attack started.
“The scariest part was when their planes came. They were flying above our house and dropping bombs,” Pomin told CNN.
Today, the 33-year-old is cleaning up his fourth-floor apartment. The multi-story building next to his was razed to the ground by a Russian strike, and he’s moving what’s left of his possessions to another house outside the city.
“I cannot stay here,” he said. “It’s not safe.”
The month-long Russian occupation has left a devastating mark on the city.
Not only was it almost entirely destroyed by long-range attacks – with buildings reduced to mere piles of rubble – but occupying Russian forces then used some of the houses as their own personnel barracks.
Kostychenko and her husband Oleksandr fled when the shelling first began, only to return after the town came back into Ukrainian control on April 1.
While their home was seemingly untouched by the heavy shelling that destroyed Borodianka, it was ransacked inside. Clothes and discarded bottles littered the floor. They found their pet bird dead in its cage.
“Alcohol is everywhere; empty bottles in the hallway, under things,” the 44-year-old said. “They (the Russians) smoked a lot, put out cigarettes on the table. They used the bed linen as their own.”
Most of the furniture was either damaged or destroyed, as was their TV.
“They did everything they wanted,” Kostychenko said. “Our jewels were taken away. They’re nothing but looters.”
Nearby shops have also been pillaged, their windows broken and contents either stolen or splattered over the floors.
The letter “V,” short for Vostok (meaning ‘east’ in Russian) – and a symbol used by Russia’s Eastern Military district in concert with the letter “Z,” an emblem for Moscow’s so-called “special military operation” – was painted on buildings, vehicles and checkpoints.
The local unemployment office and City Hall were fortified and turned into headquarters for Russian troops stationed in the town. Both were also covered in Vs.
Borodianka was a jumping-off point for Russian units as they advanced on Kyiv through suburbs like Bucha and Irpin. They faced staunch resistance by Ukrainian forces and were forced to retreat.
Remains of destroyed Russian hardware in the dozens now litters cities and towns around the capital, and fox holes and artillery positions were left almost untouched.
Authorities have imposed a curfew in the entire Kyiv region until April 7, calling on residents to remain indoors while they conduct de-mining operations.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians, but volunteers are working with police to pick up the bodies of killed civilians left to rot in the open air.
“We are gathering people who were shot by the Russians. Civilians who were tortured. We have been working for two days,” Hennadiy Avramenko, 45, said.
CNN watched as Avramenko and his colleague extracted the body of a 44-year-old Ukrainian from a car. He was shot through the heart while driving, with his car crashing into a ditch next to the road.
“Psychologically, it’s difficult,” Avramenko said. “The worst thing is that we’re not finding soldiers, just innocent people.
“They were shot for no reason,” he added.
The volunteers pick up an additional two bodies in the space of an hour. One of them was the charred corpse of a person hit by an artillery round, the other an elderly man who was shot while riding his bicycle.
“(Monday) we picked up seven people and (by midday Tuesday) we’re already at six,” Avramenko said.
In and around Borodianka, authorities are only now starting to comb through what’s left of most buildings, knowing they’ll continue to find dead bodies as they do.
Despite the withdrawal of Putin’s army from their city, residents of Borodianka fear the destruction it sowed will linger for months, if not years.