KYIV, May 6 — For Valeriy Stavichenko, the sight of mangled Russian war equipment perched along the pavement in downtown Kyiv triggers feelings of bliss in the heart of the 71-year-old Soviet Army veteran.
“I’m happy,” he said with a grin after inspecting the pockmarked tail of a downed Russian fighter jet.
“The more destroyed enemy vehicles we have, the closer victory is,” said Stavichenko, who stumbled on the bits and pieces of the Russian war machine on a recent walk in the Ukrainian capital.
The battered war trophies stood in stark contrast to the birdsong and blooming chestnut trees lining the quiet avenue in the capital’s government quarter.
The display outside the National Museum of Military History — featuring the fighter jet’s tail and a smashed infantry fighting vehicle — was unveiled last week as part of a project dreamed up by another Ukrainian veteran.
The exhibit’s curator Pavlo Netesov hopes the freshly destroyed equipment will serve as a visible reminder of the war’s toll to residents in downtown Kyiv — who have been largely spared from the harsh ground fighting that has erupted elsewhere in the country.
“I want people through those things to understand this war as I see it, as it’s going on,” Netesov told AFP.
For weeks, Netesov witnessed the brutal toll of the war first-hand as a volunteer member of the Ukrainian military deployed in Kyiv’s suburbs, where he helped beat back Russian forces while also collecting equipment, weapons, and keepsakes from the battlefield.
Along with the trophies on display in Kyiv, Netesov has decorated his personal office with an array of war memorabilia amassed in Ukraine over the years, with lamps fashioned from mortar shells and shoulder-fired rockets adorning the walls.
‘We have to win’
In the future, Netesov hopes to line the entire avenue outside the military history museum with various war remnants, insisting that preserving the memories of the conflict’s brutal costs will be vital for Ukraine as the nation moves forward.
“It’s a normal practice to exhibit war trophies, but it’s not about swagger,” said Netesov. “It’s important for me to preserve those artefacts to show that it really happened.”
The sight of the conflict’s detritus just blocks from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s war-time headquarters triggered a range of reactions from passersby — blank stares, selfies and brief chuckles.
But not all were pleased with the presence of the battered war trash.
Twenty-eight-year-old attorney Inna Hopaitsa said the remnants unearthed memories of the first dark days of the Russian invasion and the overwhelming fear that waylaid people across Ukraine.
“It’s really painful and hard,” said Hopaitsa, her voice cracking.
But she admitted that preserving the “heroic deeds” of the Ukrainian military was a necessary endeavour.
Since Ukrainian fighters scored a stunning defeat against Russian forces on the outskirts of Kyiv in late March, much of the destroyed equipment and armour from the fighting has been towed away and cleared from the roads leading to the capital.
The ruined tanks, artillery pieces, and armoured fighting vehicles will likely end up in scrap yards or museums.
While looking over the shattered infantry vehicle, Inna’s husband Valeriy Hopaitsa said he was more ambivalent about the future of the war’s remnants, insisting there were more pressing matters at hand.
“First, we have to win,” said the 26-year-old. “Only then can we decide what to do with these vehicles and remains.” — AFP