This is what Irpin – or what’s left of it – looks like just days after Ukrainian forces removed it from Russian control.
The area is still extremely dangerous and remains off-limits to civilians. While fighting continues in the nearby Bucha and Hostomel areas, Irpin is still well within range of Russian artillery.
CNN was granted less frequent access to the city by Ukrainian forces on Thursday.
We wind our way to Irpin at breakneck speed along dirt roads in the middle of the forest that separates the suburb from Kyiv.
“It’s safer that way,” explains Andriy, the 29-year-old Ukrainian soldier who drives us. “It’s the best way to avoid Russian artillery.”
Across the Irpin River, the destruction caused by a month of confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces is omnipresent. There are few intact windows, fallen trees in almost every corner, and no shortage of broken or destroyed military equipment. Most is Russian.
The majority of the city’s residents fled, but Ivan Boyko decided to stay. Sending most of his family to safety, he chose to endure the inferno of the Russian offensive.
“I’m 66 years old, I’m not afraid anymore,” he says.
Although he stayed in Irpin, because of the intense shelling, Boyko had to leave his home and move to an air raid shelter.
“It’s impossible to go home,” he explains. “Every night and every day they shoot. It’s scary to go out.”
“People took everything they had to the bomb shelter,” he adds.
After days of intense shelling, Irpin is eerily calm, the stillness broken only by sporadic gunfire in the distance. It looks like a ghost town.
Authorities here are taking the opportunity to recover the bodies of those killed over the past few weeks. Less than 24 hours ago they had to stop because of a Russian attack.
“Our police group, which wanted to recover bodies, was fired at with mortars,” the police chief of the Kyiv region told journalists in Irpin on Thursday. “They lay under the bridge for an hour waiting for it to stop.”
“The enemy is acting dirty. He can fire shots from a distance of up to 7 kilometers,” he adds.
A few blocks away we meet 51-year-old Volodymyr Rudenko. Born and raised in Irpin, he patrols the town in military gear and an AK-47 in hand.
“I grew up here. I have practically not left Irpin since 1975. Now it’s my duty to defend it,” he says.
When the Russians invaded, he took up arms and refused to leave—even when they took partial control of the city.
“I haven’t left Irpin since the first day of the war, not even for a single day,” says Rudenko.
“It was very tough. There were very strong attacks,” he explains. “…there were 348 impacts in an area in a single hour.”
The ferocity of those bombings is on full display here, and it’s hard to imagine how any of the city’s more than 60,000 residents could return any time soon. Most buildings are either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
According to local authorities, around 50% of the critical infrastructure was destroyed.
Irpin is now fully under Ukrainian control, but some Russian agents remain in the area. Local authorities organize search parties for remaining Russian soldiers.
Mayor Oleksandr Markushin heads one of the special forces tasked with this task.
“We are working. There is information that there are two Russian soldiers in civilian clothes,” says Markushin.
“With our group we will clean them up,” he adds.
After a couple of hours, we head out on the same dirt tracks, hoping to evade Moscow’s artillery.
It was a good day for Andriy and his comrades, with a lot less fighting in and around Irpin.
“The Russians are withdrawing,” he says.
Retaking the city has lifted everyone’s spirits and Andriy is adamant Ukrainians won’t stop there.
“My 29th birthday is in a few weeks,” he says. “I hope we’ve beaten them by then.”