MALAYA ROHAN, Ukraine — When the wind blows a certain way, the unmistakable stench of death wafts over the ruins of Christina Suslova’s house.
That’s because the body of a Russian soldier is rotting in a basement next door. He was apparently killed during a string of Ukrainian military offensives in recent weeks that have pushed Moscow’s forces away from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
“They looted, they destroyed everything. Look inside, there’s nothing,” Suslova, 16, said, standing outside her wrecked home in the village of Malaya Rohan, some 13 miles east of central Kharkiv.
Ukrainians living in and around the city are only now beginning to count the cost of the destruction wrought by weeks of Russian shelling and occupation.
Malaya Rohan still looks — and smells — like a war zone, despite being liberated from occupation several weeks ago.
A crate of Russian munitions in Suslova’s front yard appeared to be the only thing not smashed or broken. Villagers said there were other Russian corpses in the area.
A stray dog trotted by with a bone, the origins of which were unclear.
A few doors down from Suslova’s house, Sergey Ous, a security guard, and his family painstakingly sifted through the rubble of their home, clearing the debris brick by brick. A flattened car sat atop the wreckage, possibly crushed and pushed aside by a Russian tank.
“I’m in shock. It took me eight years to build this house, and I’ve only lived in it for two years,” Ous, 45, said.
In a perverse approximation of suburbia, armored vehicles sat in the driveways of some the houses down the street, the well-appointed homes apparently used by Russian troops as a base.
It’s hard to tell what damage was caused by Russian occupation and what was caused by Ukrainian shelling to end it.
Villagers blame the Russians.
“We didn’t ask them to come. We didn’t know they’d do such things. We didn’t want them here,” said Suslova’s grandmother Viktorivna Vasylyeva, 56, gesticulating angrily.
Erratic tank tracks and collision damage to vehicles and buildings may point to a desperate Russian scramble to escape. Their turrets blown off, the tanks’ gutted shells now dot the village.
A downed Russian helicopter, its “Z” marking still visible on the tail piece, lies in a field near Ludmila Terekh’s home. The 79-year-old grandmother said she blamed Russians occupying the house next to hers for attracting the shelling that caved in her roof.
“We were brothers and neighbors before, we fought in the Second World War together. I don’t know why they came,” Vasylyeva said, crying and motioning with her hands wildly.
“I worked all my life for that house and all my family lived there — my kids, my grandkids. Now I don’t know what to do,” she added.
Low-flying Ukrainian military helicopters buzzed by her home, making multiple passes.
The dull thud and crunch of Russian shelling could still be heard in the distance, but now Moscow’s troops are too far from central Kharkiv to easily threaten the city.
Their retreat came too late for Kira Seroshtan, 15, who was lying in a hospital bed in Kharkiv Regional Hospital.
She had been walking with two friends in a Kharkiv park on April 15 before seeing a white flash.
“I turned to look at my friends. One was wounded in the chest and the other got shrapnel in the eye and in the head. I started to scream for help,” Seroshtan said.
The friend with the head injuries was killed while the other friend survived. Shrapnel tore through Kira’s abdomen and legs.
She lifted her hospital blanket to reveal ugly green stitching across her body where shrapnel had been removed and where she had had a colostomy operation.
Despite the life-changing injuries, Seroshtan was still smiling and cheerful.
“Now I’ve been here one month, I realize I can’t postpone things, I can’t wait. It’s now a new phase of my life,” she said.
“I’m alive and it’s a miracle.”
She took out a piece of gauze from a drawer by her bed and carefully unwrapped a piece of the metal that had been removed from her body.
“I’ll keep it with me, and every year on April 15 I’ll take it out and look at it,” Seroshtan said.
“That day will be like my second birthday.”