12 days of hell in Nemishayeve village near Bucha. “Napalm” podcast, Ep. 3. Text version

Yevhen Spirin, Maryna Kolesnychenko
12 days of hell in Nemishayeve village near Bucha. “Napalm” podcast, Ep. 3. Text version


Napalm is a series of podcasts about photographers, journalists, cooks, pharmacists, servicemen, doctors, saleswomen, and programmers. In short, this is a series of podcasts about Ukrainians experiencing war, about the everyday life of our country, heroically resisting the Russian invasion. We want to hear the voices of our citizens, their stories about everyday and not-so-everyday life, and we want our listeners to hear those voices as well. Maryna Kolesnychenko is the head of the SMM and native advertising department at Babel. From the first days of the war she was in the village of Nemishayeve near Bucha. Her house was shot twice, and she hid in the basement with her mother and cat. All the shops and pharmacies were shelled by the occupiers, they took everything they could. The Russians dug in the village, encamped on the territory of the church of the Moscow Patriarchate. In the first days of the occupation, they randomly shot at people, went to private houses and took away food. Every day they drove in convoys past Maryna's house and tried to find a way to Kyiv. Maryna and her neighbors were able to escape in humanitarian convoy on March 8. She talks about her life in hell under constant fire. Now she is fine, in safety and continues to work at Babel.

Hello everyone! Today Maryna is our guest. Sheʼs our SMM and head of the native advertising department. She was under Russian occupation for 12 days in the village of Nemishayeve, and Russian tanks fired on her house. Now Maryna is not in Ukraine. This is very good and we are very happy! Maryna, hello!

Hi there.

Tell us how it all started. Because in Kyiv it was not clear what was happening to you.

Everyone thought that the Russian occupiers would come from Boryspil, but they came from Belarus, through our village. Nemishayeve is 25 km from Kyiv by the Warsaw highway. First on the route will be Irpin, then Gostomel, Bucha, Vorzel, Nemishayeve and Borodyanka, it is about 40 km from Kyiv. The war began on February 24, and the 26th a column of tanks of more than 300 units was already standing near Borodyanka. There is the village of Zdvyzhivka, and this column just could not decide where to go. Because they needed to break through to Kyiv. All the bridges were blown up, so they could not just drive on the road. Therefore, part of the column went to Bucha, and part ― to Borodyanka.

Excuse me, as many as 300 units?

Yes, really 300, it was heavy equipment and armored personnel carriers. A huge column, even 310-320, as far as could be counted. And this column began to divide. Some went to Borodyanka, and there in the first days, from February 26th there were fierce battles, the central streets of Borodyanka were simply razed [to the ground]. And some went to Bucha, they drove there on the main street and just shot at all the shops. Then they began to diverge a little deeper, and after February 26 in Nemishayevo light, gas, water, and heat disappeared. On February 27, the connection was lost, only Kyivstar mobile carrier worked. And on February 28 a column came to our village.

Did you know your neighbors before the occupation began? Communities are rapidly forming under fire.

Before the war, I knew one or two neighbors from all over the house, and we have 30 apartments. I will say more, I hated the neighbors who live above and below, because they were constantly shouting, arguing, killing something. We never even greeted them. But we all met somewhere on the 5th day of the war.

On February 27, the Russians started shooting, it was very close, dangerous. We had a house chat in Viber, and the neighbors wrote that we had to go to the shelter. And itʼs about 1.5 km from our house.

So this was not a basement in your house?

No, we organized shelter in the basement later. A group of about 8 people gathered, and the neighbors who had the car took us all to this bomb shelter, it was near the school. We stayed there for a day and met some of the neighbors. But it was impossible to stay in this place, because, firstly, this basement of the school was not prepared at all so that people could stay there. Thereʼs just cement on the floor mixed with sand, and we breathed it. Secondly, there were no toilets at all. There was a trench that everyone went to.

In our village, no one believed that war could break out. And in the chat room of our community, people asked: do we have any shelters? Where to run, if something happens suddenly? Two days before the war began, this shelter started to be built. Desks and chairs were taken down from the school. And we sat there by candlelight. There were 50-60 people. And my neighbors and I decided to equip our basements in the house. But the keys from it had only the owner of the real estate.

Are these private basements?

Yes, one basement belonged to a store. Another basement ― people bought an apartment, but did not live there, they left, so it couldnʼt be opened at all. The basement in which we then sat is the basement of the store. Its owner was not in Nemishayeve, somewhere from the west of Ukraine, but she allowed us to “break the castle” and get there. And we came back from storage at the school, it was the morning of February 28th. Some people decided to stay in the apartments.

How many people were in the basement of your house? How many of them were children?

We had only two children. All the adults and two children are a girl, maybe nine years old, and her brother, six. In total, 30-40 people were from all over the house. And because the connection didnʼt work, and everyone started saving the phone battery, we just had to go outside and find out all the information there.

Some kind of lip radio.

Rught. Everyone began to go down to the street, to communicate with each other, the self-defense of the house began to take shape. We already understood: if we do not unite, there will be nothing to eat. So we organized a field kitchen, everyone brought their food. And we started cooking just by the fire. We were also lucky that we had water nearby in the private sector, literally across the road.

And what did you make a fire out of?

At first it was just branches. Because we were not ready for that at all. Nobody had firewood, we broke trees, burned cardboard. And then the guys from our house in Territorial defense talked with someone at the sawmill to bring us firewood.

How did the Russians behave? Have you seen them?

Yes, Iʼve seen them. We did not communicate. But they just shot at our neighbors. Our house is just above the road, and cars usually drive past it: there is an exit to the Warsaw and Zhytomyr highways. From these routes you can either Zhytomyr or Kyiv. As soon as they drove into the village from the Warsaw highway and started looking for exits to Zhytomyr, they drove past our house, and on the first day they fired on it. The first floor of the house was completely destroyed, the apartment there burned down. It was one shot. And the second shot was between the third and fourth floors, where the missile was simply stuck in the wall. Luckily, there were no people on the ground floor at all, they were in the local culture house, where the territorial defense was headquartered, and they were charging their phones. And people in whose apartment the shell got stuck, were at home. The shell pierced two walls. And people were hiding in the corridor. The third wall stopped this missile.

Did Russians rob shops?

Yes. They usually go in a convoy. If itʼs reconnaissance, then with 3-5 units of equipment. And this column passes first, then the infantry, which fires on the shops. In the center of the village, near our house there are 6 shops and 3 pharmacies. A convoy passes by, everything is fired upon, infantry comes out and goes “shopping”. Whatʼs interesting: they didnʼt take out food, they took out money, cash. And in our house there is a pawnshop. And they just drive in front of the pawnshop, break down the door. They took out a safe from there, nothing more. We also have a large grocery store, it was opened only last summer. And they completely looted it. The guys from territorial defense, who found Russian army food rations, [said that] they were overdue.

We were very worried about you, but there was nothing we could do. Tell us about the day when you decided to leave. How was it? Because we wrote to everyone who could ― deputies, volunteers. Everyone told us: this is unrealistic [to get her out of there].

Yes, it was unreal. They not only robbed shops, but also went after people. Disguised in civilian clothes, they walked with the flag of the Red Cross. They just went to the people in the yard, took the pigs. We could not leave the house for two days at all, because they were walking with rifles and shooting at people stupidly.

We went to the well across the street to cook, to simply wash ourselves. The dude from our house wanted to go get water. It was no longer curfew, after 8 am. He left the house, behind the gate, walked literally 10 meters ― and he was shot at from an ambush. He managed to run back, his hand was scratched. It was impossible to go there for two or three days, we just sat and did not go out.

And the Russians have nothing to eat and have to “depend on themselves”?

Right. And in the private sector, they rummaged in houses, looking for where there are elderly people, and carried the food away. Interestingly, they knew about our village, they had an agreement in advance, because they sat in the church of the Moscow Patriarchate. And it is literally in front of my house, two hundred meters. Russians encamped there.

We all thought, how can we leave? But our village Nemishayeve, as well as the neighboring Mykulychi, Myrotske, Vorzel ― were surrounded by Russian army. A humanitarian catastrophe began. There was nothing left in the shops, nothing was working, there were no supplies to our village. It was unrealistic to leave, because you walk 300 meters ― and there are already Russian checkpoints, both in the direction of Makariv and Bucha. And in the direction of Bucha there were constant battles. We had vehicles driving around the village, shooting, "Grads" just flew over the house. The ground was constantly shaking.

On March 7, our guys learned that it is possible to go to the Zhytomyr highway through the checkpoint in Kozyntsi. Not even on the road, but to go around the villages, and there are three more Russian checkpoints. The Russians, they say, took away the phones, but it seems possible to pass. And on March 7 [the first column] left. It was 20-30 cars.

You were with your mother. How old is she?

My mother is 65 years old.

And sheʼs not very athletic?

No, she is not very athletic, she walks very slowly, has health problems. But we couldnʼt stay, because we would either just starve to death or be shot. There were just these two options. And the third option was to leave at your own risk.

Was it March 7 or 8 when you left?

We left on the 8th. Before that [we also tried], on February 26 we seemed to have agreed, we found a man from Klavdiyeve village (not even from Nemishayeve) who was planning to go to Lutsk city [in the Western Ukraine]. And we wrote him, but we still had to drive from Nemishayeve to Klavdiyeve, itʼs about 10 km, and there was a man who had to take us there. And the Warsaw route was then shot from all sides. So we decided that we would think about how it would be in the morning. And in the morning we wake up and we already know that the Russians came to our village, the Warsaw route is completely shelled, there are checkpoints, itʼs unrealistic to leave. That is, no one went anywhere, and then from February 27-28 we were already sitting and waiting for some opportunity to get out. And on March 7, people who were able to leave began to call the Territorial defense and tell about the route through the checkpoint in Kozyntsi. In our house a lot of people wanted to leave, there were not enough cars for everyone. For example, I donʼt have a car, but I have a mother who can barely walk, I have a cat that canʼt be left behind. A lot of people also were without cars. There were just 5 or 6 cars in the house.

Is your cat in better shape now?

Yes, he is fine now.

Because we were very worried about your cat.

The cat has only just begun to relax after what happened.

Okay, so you decided to leave?

Yes, the neighbors with the cars decided to go. And we donʼt have a car. I just walk up to my neighbor in the evening and ask if heʼs planning to leave. He does. I ask: do you have two places ― for me, mom and cat. He says no, no, Iʼm full. He still has a relative who needs to be taken from a neighboring village. Another dude stands up and says: if tomorrow my friends refuse to go, then I will take you and your mother. And so we sat all night from March 7 to 8, wondering whether we would leave or not. At 9 am I went out into the yard of the house, I see cars from all over the village [passing] us while we were gathering, 250 cars passed by. Hanging white flags, all have the “Children” sign in Russian. The neighbor confirms: yes, you can join, letʼs escape, throw your things, we leave in 10 minutes. I have two backpacks collected since the beginning of the war. We took the cat, we didnʼt even take the basic things. I had some shorts and some socks, nothing more. I left with two jackets, because it was very cold, there was no heating. And I slept in two hoodies and a jacket. I constantly slept in sneakers. So I left with the clothes I slept in for two weeks.

What was the first point you got to?

We decided to go through a proven corridor through Kozyntsi village. It was not an official corridor, it was just used by people. We started circling the village to somehow bypass the church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We had a guide. We left for the road. And there is already a traffic jam of fifteen kilometers. Those who left earlier said that the occupiers were snooping, turning over everything in the bags. They took away the phones. SIM cards were thrown away.

My friend from Berdyansk was escaping the city with a very old grandmother. And [the Russians] took a piece of loaf from her. And the water bottle, where there were 300 ml. They take away everything there is.

Yes, they take away everything they see. Cigarettes, phones, food, if there is any. And we kept the remnants of cigarettes in our pockets, we ran out of cigarettes in general.

In fact, there are no cigarettes all over Ukraine.

Just so you know, I smoked thick cigars!

People smoked sticks for IQOS, setting them on fire.

You know, IQOS sticks can still be smoked. But not the Glo ones!

Okay, this is going to be a native IQOS ad.

Aha. So, we have the neighboring village of Klavdiyeve, and you can get there either by road or through other villages. I used to ride a bike there in the summer. We tried to go on the road. About ten kilometers we just drove through the villages. We started having problems with gasoline, all we had to do was get to the gas station on the Zhytomyr highway, which was still working. There are checkpoints, here are checkpoints. Some roads are blocked. Ans we have a column of twenty cars.

The only route left was to go straight across the field between Nemishayeve and Klavdiyeve, about four kilometers. There was wet snow. The cars started loading, we all left. And we, my mother with a cat, just walked on this wet field. You go, it gets harder to walk because of wet soil. They shoot at you from one side and shoot at you from the other. And you just go and donʼt know if something will come at you now or if the field is mined. You just go into the unknown. And behind, in Nemishayevo, black smoke was already, I donʼt know what was burning there, we tried not to look in that direction. We walked on this field for about an hour and a half. We went to Klavdiyeve, where we had a pit stop. Everything was very dirty, wet, things had stink of fire, of gunpowder.

And you wipe your hands on yourself, and go live this: “Iʼm alive, alive, alive”.

I just had pounds of dirt on my sneakers. I had nothing [to clean] them with, so I just took off my socks and wiped my sneakers with them. We came to Klavdiyeve ― and in front of us after two more villages there was a Russian checkpoint. Everyone was very afraid of it, because active battles were there. We did not go on that proven road, but went on a new one, we opened the route. The guys from our column told us to turn off the phones and pull out the SIM cards. To leave a few packs of cigarettes in your pockets. That it was simply possible to agree with Russians somehow when we will leave. I turned off the phone, I just have a laptop in the trunk of the car, two phones, two tablets.

Thatʼs a lot!

I thought: well, if they take it all away from me now, well, itʼs just… I still have a laptop on credit! In short, we all took out SIM cards, turned phones off. For an hour of driving, we stopped at almost every kilometer, checking if everything was in order with the column. I donʼt even know the name of that village, because all the signs were taken down, itʼs not clear where you are going, the phone is off, there is no geolocation. But we started to make our way to the Zhytomyr highway. And Russian checkpoints began ― three in a row. The first checkpoint is a house, and on the other side is a house. The entrance to the checkpoint is a metal ceiling, which simply crashes into the fences of houses. Grandmother walks near the house, corpses lie. And you go on corpses.

Russian corpses?

Not Russian. Our guys were lying. I saw two people and just couldnʼt look anymore. When you see injured people, after so many videos you watched, itʼs not so scary. But when you literally ride on corpses, itʼs completely different.

I understand.

Our column stretched, there were 40 cars already. The dude came out in front of the column, raised his hands, showed that he was unarmed, that civilians were driving and they should be allowed to pass. I donʼt know if he gave them money or what he did there, but we passed these checkpoints normally. That is, no one checked us. The only time we were stopped is at the second checkpoint because the street we could pass was blocked and we had to go through the woods. In front of the forest we waited for the Russian column to pass. It was 2 tanks and 3-4 armored personnel carriers. And they waved at us!

Maybe they thought youʼd say, "Dudes, hello, great to see you!"

“Thank Putin for freeing us!” Itʼs just hell! The trick is that when we passed the last Russian checkpoint and the column began to move on ― they started firing at cars! They did not shoot directly at the cars, they fired under the wheels. We were sitting in the car, and I felt that our car was being shot at. It seemed to me that nothing could frighten me anymore. But I donʼt know how to describe it.

There is no way to describe, you are just being killed or scared.

They just shot a handful of bullets into the asphalt.

I like that they say [after being captured]: "Weʼre on drills, we donʼt know whatʼs going on."

One hundred percent they know everything, they understand everything perfectly. And then they just make fun of it. But our cars survived. And at the first Ukrainian checkpoint we were greeted on March 8, we were in the car of three women ― me, my mother and the wife of a neighbor who took us. I thought I was crying when I saw our military. In short, we left somewhere near Radomyshl town. It takes 40 minutes to cover this route in peacetime. We drove for about 10 hours. We went to the Zhytomyr highway to refuel, and there everyone followed their own way.

And we didnʼt know what was wrong with you. All these 10-12 hours were just waiting for you to get somewhere. And were going to pray. I do not believe in God, but, well.

It happens automatically, subconsciously, you just start praying because you realize that no one can help you. Psychological precautionary measure. I actually sat and prayed too, because I didnʼt know what to do. It was scary. It seemed to me that it was all. I lived in such conditions every day, I understood that I could die. But when youʼre already breaking out and youʼre being shot at, thereʼs nothing left but to pray. When we left for Radomyshl, passed Ukrainian checkpoints, and it was already possible to go freely on the road, I called and just cried because we were able to escape from this hell.

Yes, we all cried. Tell me, please, what was your first night after? When nothing happens, when they [Russians] donʼt shoot, when everything is fine.

The first night I did not sleep. It seems to me that for the first time I slept through the night just today. What is the day today?

March 17.

From March 16 to 17, I slept through the night for the first time. Yesterday I fell asleep around 11:30 pm, and today I woke up at 8 am. And the first night we spent the night in Zhytomyr in a hotel, there were always air raid sirens. My mother and I went out to smoke near the hotel, and two fighters flew by. I have never felt such horror. Although I was sitting in the bathroom when they shot at our house. And on the first quiet night, when we were already in the Czech Republic, I still could not sleep. Because any sound, the door slams loudly ― it seems that something is shooting. If a motorcycle with a loud engine is driving on the road, it seems that it is a tank. Fire on the street, just smoke, and it seems to me that itʼs all burning. And so constantly, you are in a normal place, itʼs calm here, but every sound is associated with everything youʼve experienced. These sounds just haunt you.

I have the last two questions. [Imagine] itʼs over, the war is over. What will you do first?

Iʼll go home, of course!

Then the second question: what song would you listen to after the victory?

I donʼt know why, but AC/DCʼs “Highway to Hell” is spinning in my head.

Thank you very much, I hug you and Iʼm very glad that you are safe. We will somehow manage all this, do not worry, everything will be ok.