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food / travel

Town Annihilated In Spanish Civil War Now A Paranormal Attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite. A growing number of tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town.

Ruins in Belchite
A famous old village in Spain, this place was witness of a bloody fight in the Spanish civil war.
Paco Rodríguez

BELCHITE – Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite in northeastern Spain became a strategic objective for the forces of the Republican government, before their assault on the nearby city of Zaragoza. Belchite seemed a simple target, but its capture took longer than expected. More than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting, and the town was decimated, with almost half the town's 3,100 residents dying in the struggle.

The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one. The streets remained deserted. Stray dogs were the only ones to venture into the weed-covered, pockmarked ruins. A sign written on one wall reads, "Old town, historic ruins." Graffitis scrawled on the doors of the Church of San Martín recall better times: "Old town of Belchite, youngsters no longer stroll your streets. The sound of the jotas our parents sang is gone."

Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, must remain exposed.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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