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Ravaged by Russian troops, Bucha rises from the ashes

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

At the very beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops reached the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. The fighting devastated nearby Bucha, killing hundreds of civilians and reducing much of the suburb to rubble. Today, Bucha is coming back to life. NPR's Greg Myre has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing) Hey, hey...

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: This energetic concert at a packed open-air theater in Bucha's main park is part of the town's rebirth. Families stroll the lush, manicured grounds on a gentle summer evening that could be most any small town in Europe. Bucha's mayor is Anatoliy Fedoruk.

ANATOLIY FEDORUK: (Through interpreter) Rebuilding at the fastest pace possible is very important. This provides the psychological support our citizens need so they can see the city being renewed.

MYRE: Yet even this day is filled with somber moments. The mayor dedicated a newly built wall of honor. Silver plaques feature the names of 501 civilians killed during Russia's occupation in March of last year. Dozens of plaques are blank, reflecting the 80 bodies still not positively identified.

FEDORUK: (Through interpreter) We demand justice. We demand that even after we achieve victory, the Russians must be punished for what they did here.

MYRE: A short distance away, the scars of the Russian invasion remain - mangled, rusting vehicles, homes and shops pierced by bullets and shrapnel. One of the most powerful images from Bucha last year was the utter devastation on the main road into town, Vokzal'na Street. It was clogged with the blackened ruins of Russian tanks. Most every home was destroyed. On this day, Olha Kornych is working in the yard of her newly rebuilt, tan two-story stucco home.

OLHA KORNYCH: (Through interpreter) The rebuilding started in March this year, and they finished it recently. They're still planting trees.

MYRE: She then recalled the terrifying day Russian tanks came rumbling down her narrow street.

KORNYCH: (Through interpreter) Around 7:30 in the morning, the convoy of tanks passed by. We drank tea and coffee and watched TV. We didn't panic at first. Then we heard the machine guns. We barely managed to make it to the basement.

MYRE: She was one of nine family members and neighbors who took refuge underground as a Russian tank took up a position in her yard.

KORNYCH: (Through interpreter) We were stuck in the cellar until the end of the battle. It was horrible.

MYRE: They managed to escape at the end of that harrowing day. Now the tanks are long gone. The homes are brand-new. The money came from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. It's based in Illinois and operates mostly in Africa and Latin America. Buffett says he came to Ukraine because the need is so great.

HOWARD G BUFFETT: These people did nothing wrong. They did not deserve this. They did not ask for this. It should not have happened to them. And they've lost everything.

MYRE: Buffett spoke to NPR while on his eighth trip to Ukraine. His foundation has committed $450 million to multiple projects around the country. In Bucha, a roundabout is now called Buffett Square, marked with a large sign. This is a place where Howard Buffett is much more famous than his father, billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Howard Buffett gives credit to the local groups that have done so much to rebuild Bucha and recalled a recent visit.

BUFFETT: It's just amazing to see it. It's an incredible change. It has to give people hope.

MYRE: Bucha's revival is happening more rapidly than other ravaged places. The war still rages in the south and east. Even in relatively stable areas, Ukraine lacks the resources to rebuild. The cost is expected to be astronomical. Estimates put the nationwide reconstruction figure as high as $1 trillion. There's talk of seizing frozen Russian assets abroad and giving that money to Ukraine, though right now it's just talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing in non-English language).

MYRE: Meanwhile, back at the concert, as the music comes to a close, the audience rises to express gratitude and imagine better days ahead. Greg Myre, NPR News, Bucha, Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.