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TOPIC: chernihiv

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Kids In The Crossfire — A Village School's Bittersweet Return After Russian Occupation

Almost one year after being occupied, a village near Kyiv is being rebuilt as locals try to piece their lives back together.

NOVYI BYKIV — In this village east of Kyiv, when the invasion began last Feb. 24, the local school became a prime flashpoint — it was at the school that the Russian occupiers would wind up setting up their main base of operations.

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Natalia Vovk, the director of the school for Staryi and Novyi Bykiv, two halves of one village separated by a river, remembers that day well. She says after hearing the first explosions from her house at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, and soon after ordered the students to stay at home and told any staff who had arrived to leave.

And soon enough, locals began to receive reports that a Russian column was heading toward them. “I didn’t think they would stay here for 33 days," says the school's deputy director Natalia Samson. "I thought we were not their concern.”

The occupation was more brutal and damaging than they could have imagined. Now, almost one year later, local residents are trying to piece their lives together. Rebuilding the local school destroyed under occupation has become a crucial project for the town.

When military equipment started entering the village 80 kilometers (50 miles) last February, residents were left without electricity, gas, and communications. The local Territorial Defense forces tried to do something, but there is little you can do against military machines. On the first day, six boys were killed.

“They were lying at the entrance to the village for about a week,” recalls Natalia.

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A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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