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Ukraine has Russian war wreckage on display as a reminder

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold off Russian advances in the country's east. Bitter fighting continues for control of the city of Severodonetsk. But in the country's capital, life goes on with seemingly little effects of the war. And as NPR's Peter Granitz reports from Kyiv, the Ukrainian government is displaying destroyed Russian tanks on city streets to remind the population the war rages on.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: It's the hundredth day of the war, and the bells chime, marking 1 o'clock at St Michael's golden-domed monastery on a beautiful sky-blue afternoon. It's perched atop a hill, and it stands next to Ukraine's foreign ministry in Mykhailivska Square. And in that picturesque square sit the shells and remnants of bombed-out and burnt tanks, rockets, missile shells. Rotting food rations sit on what was once the tread of a tank, and so do a pair of boots that, not long ago, fit on a Russian soldier. Alina Filonenko snaps a photo of her 4-year-old daughter sitting on a long, gray rocket.

ALINA FILONENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: Filonenko says she and her husband decided to take their daughter here to see the wreckage to help her understand that very bad strangers came into their country. Her daughter's little, she says, but understands a lot. Olya Ovcharuk was a kindergarten teacher before the invasion. She fled Kyiv, and when she returned, she says, she no longer had a job. Seeing the vehicles with their shattered glass windows, smells of burnt oil and rubber and mangled metal is a good reminder, she says.

OLYA OVCHARUK: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: We wanted to see the vehicles that the monsters rode, she says, and what's left of them. There's little doubt here that this is a display of death. That doesn't stop people from taking selfies or climbing on and in the vehicles, feeling burnt flak jackets. Yaroslav Tynchenko dismisses any notion that the display is too graphic or offensive. He's the deputy director of the Military History Museum of Ukraine, which first created the street exhibits after Russia first invaded in 2014.

YAROSLAV TYNCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: Two, three months ago, they came here. We survived the invasion, he says. People died. Others spent weeks in basements. That, he says, is more traumatizing than a pair of boots. And while Ukraine has lost huge amounts of land in the east, he says the goal of this exhibit is to remind people that Russia can be defeated.

TYNCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: We want future soldiers to see that Russian vehicles can be burnt, he says, and that might motivate them when they're mobilized to fight. The Defense Ministry, which sponsors the museum and exhibit, continues to add new tanks and armored personnel carriers. Oleksandr Malynka, standing next to the turret blown off a tank, calls the exhibit an example, a sign that Ukraine can resist, that it can stand up to one of the biggest armies in the world.

OLEKSANDR MALYNKA: Slava Ukraini.

GRANITZ: "Slava Ukraine," he says as we say goodbye - glory to Ukraine. Peter Granitz, NPR News, Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Granitz

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