Put the hats on the childrenʼs eyes. They shouldnʼt see it. Kyiv Oblast was liberated from the occupiers and everyone saw the crimes of the Russians. Here are six stories of those who survived

Yuliana Skibitska
”Put the hats on the childrenʼs eyes. They shouldnʼt see it.” Kyiv Oblast was liberated from the occupiers and everyone saw the crimes of the Russians. Here are six stories of those who survived

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On April 1, Kyiv Oblast was entirely liberated from the Russian occupiers. The next day, the Ukrainian military and journalists entered the settlements of Bucha, Hostomel, Vorzel, Irpin, and others. What they saw shocked the whole world: civilians were shot in the streets, many had their hands tied, and some were tortured. The bodies of people were also found in basements and apartments. Babel editor Yuliana Skibitska spoke to people from the liberated settlements of Kyiv Oblast. We publish their stories to document the crimes of the Russians as much as possible — and to help bring all the criminals to justice.

Kateryna Tytova, Hostomel—Bucha

On the afternoon of the 24th of February, I saw smoke and realized that something was burning near the Antonov airport. Then I saw a black helicopter flying on the horizon. There was a roar: they were fired at or were firing. At night there were messages that Russian troops were trying to land but were repulsed, so they did not take Hostomel. In a happy mood, we went to bed.

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

The windows in my house overlook Svyato-Pokrovska Street, the central one. In the morning I washed the dishes and saw that Russian military vehicles were moving toward Kyiv. We realized that we started celebrating too soon. They reached the crossroads from where the road to Kyiv starts, and the battle began.

Near the crossroads, there is a Czech Yard residential complex, a townhouses. Its residents started writing [in the local chat groups] that Russians were coming to their homes, and then began to evict people from them. There are even camera recordings of how they drove in, broke down doors, and threw things out [of the houses].

On February 28, my husband and I went out to see how the situation is. At the crossroads there was destroyed machinery and corpses of Russians. One of them was lying on the bridge — and still is there, for over a month already. Then we looked at the shot civilian cars. They were shot precisely — there were broken glass and bloodstains. We saw about a dozen such cars and itʼs only in one spot.

In the woods, we saw another car but it was closed. The cars with open doors were those where people had already been taken out. My husband opened the car to see — [there were] a boy and a girl under 20 years old, also shot dead. My husband helped load the bodies into the ambulance car. Then we went to the morgue in Bucha, as the doctors said that all civilians were being taken there.

The entrance to the apartment in Bucha after the town was liberated from the Russian invaders.

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On March 3, fighting resumed. In the morning, everything seemed to calm down, we went out, my husband even walked around, looked at the destroyed Russian equipment, Russian soldiersʼ corpses, and talked to our military. Then a neighbor came running and said, "Listen, I have a fighter in the barn, he says heʼs ours, but heʼs not calling for help". The soldiers pulled him out and began interrogating him. It turned out that he was a [Russian] tank driver, his tank was stuck at the gate of this neighbor, and he ran through the fence at night while there was a fight and hid in the barn.

We started to collect our belongings. I called my friend in Bucha, she said: "Come to us, have a rest, wash yourself", but then the fight started again. We were sitting in the basement, realizing that one shell had landed somewhere near the house, knocked out the glass, and then there was the second, the third. When it became quieter, we grabbed everything we could and quickly ran under the bullets with three backpacks to Bucha.

When we reached Bucha, it turned out that there was no electricity in the city for a day, shops werenʼt working, just like in Hostomel. There was a very bad [cellular] connection, every next day it became worse. People sat in the basements, almost didnʼt go out.

In the morning, in the basement of the house where we were hiding, a family came — a mother with a four-year-old boy. They were injured because they were trying to drive from Bucha to Kyiv. At the checkpoint they were shot by Russian soldiers: they turned the car around and fired on it from a machine gun. We realized that we couldnʼt run away [from Bucha] by car, we should go on foot.

A bullet-riddled car windshield, Bucha.

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In the evening, women knocked on our door, they were begging to help a man. My husband and my friendʼs husband ran to him. It was night, completely dark, and the only thing you knew is that somewhere there were Russians and tanks. They dragged that poor man — he had been walking home, Russian AMPV was passing by, and one of the Russian soldiers decided to just shoot him in the legs. We had a doctor in the basement, she took care of the wounded and, by the way, even helped to give birth. The rescued man survived.

My husband works as a biology teacher in Bucha. He overlooks one of the classes, and there was a girl Katya Chyzhkina in it. On March 5, her parents tried to take Katya out of Hostomel. Russian soldiers did not release them, turned the car around and started shooting from the machine gun. Katya was hit, she isnʼt here anymore.

We left Bucha [on March 11] through the fields, got to Irpin, where we were picked up by a bus and taken to Romanivka [village, controlled by Ukrainian army]. I now understand that we were very lucky. When we ran through Romanivka on a bus to Kyiv, there was a family of three on the road. A Ukrainian serviceman was standing nearby, shouting: "Donʼt show this to children, put hats on their eyes, they shouldnʼt see it!" Probably, they also ran just like us, someone missile or bullets hit them. A father, a mother, and child aged ten or less.

The body of a woman killed while trying to escape from Bucha by car. The car had white strips of cloth on it as a symbol of a civilian vehicle.

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Anastasia, Tarasivshchyna village, Vyshhorod district

On February 25, at about five in the morning, we woke up to very loud noises. We looked out the window and saw that convoys of Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers were passing through our village.

Our village is very small, it does not even have a village council. Nearby is the Havrylivski kurchata (a large producer of chicken meat — Babel) factory, where the Russians set up a checkpoint. They deployed mortars and Grad systems, fighters jets and helicopters flew over us towards Demytiv village and the Kyiv Sea — to bomb.

Almost immediately the [cellular] connection was gone, to use the phone one had to cross the forest. We went out there to send an SMS that we were still alive. Well, and to send some information to the military — which vehicles went where, what flies and in what directions, where the troops were located. On March 7 our military replied that thanks to my SMS a lot of Russian equipment had been destroyed. And on March 8 [Russians] came to us and started going from house to house.

It was a "spetsura". There was a former military among us, he said that these are special forces. And they didnʼt look like a shabby soldier — shaved, clean ones, more polite. After coming to our house with weapons while we were sitting there with the children they greeted us with March 8. They asked if there are any [Ukrainian] military among us, and whether some of us provides information to the "nationalists" about the location of Russian forces. We were watching at hour children, so we just had to swallow and say, "No, of course, we have no cellular connection here, what are you talking about?"

There were a lot of Russians in the neighboring Havrylivka village. There were "Kadyrovites", they occupied the upper floors of houses and fired on people from there. Many residents of Tarasivshchyna have relatives in Havrylivka, some visited their children, some — the parents. On some days you could freely move between the villages, on other days you were shot. They even shot a man who was just riding a bicycle on the street. A woman was coming from our village by car, trying to take out the children. They wanted to go to Havrylivka to pick up their relatives, the bullet also hit them and hit two children. One child was killed and another was wounded, now that child is in Belarus [was taken away by the occupiers], the relatives cannot get him out.

We knew we had to go away because we were scared for the children. We left in a convoy of eight cars, with white pieces of fabric with the words "Children" on all of them. While the cars were standing, tanks aimed at us. But we were lucky. On the day before, another convoy was leaving, and some of the cars were shot by the Russians.

A car with the word "Children" written on it in Russian is seen with bullet holes in the windscreen on April 06, 2022.

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While we were under occupation, every night we went out to discuss the news with our neighbors — the news which we managed to read while we were in the forest where there was a cellular connection. At 6 PM we drank alcohol without clinking the glasses with the toast this khuylo would die. On one of these evenings, two Russian militarymen came up to us, and introduced themselves as "Ascetic" and "Wanderer". They started telling us: “Donʼt worry, you are here in the rear, so no danger for you. Why should you go to that Kyiv? As soon as you move to the Ukraine-controlled side, your men will be put in military uniforms, given machine guns, and returned to shoot us. And behind them, there will be special detachments that will shoot in the backs of men who will drop their weapons".

Alina Junhe-Zolotkova, Vorzel

On February 24, my mother called me and said that they [Russians] had started firing heavily with Grad systems near Mariupol. I was at home in Vorzel, my husbandʼs father went to work in Hostomel, he worked at the Antonov airport. Actually, thatʼs where it all started — we saw how helicopters flew there. They flew very low, were clearly visible and audible. The father-in-law managed to escape from the airport under fire.

For a day or two there was the internet, water, gas, and electricity. Then electricity and the internet went down, and in about two days there was no gas supply already. When the gas disappeared, the ruscists came to us. Most of them were in the Kicheyeve settlement, we saw them from the window. We counted their equipment while Kyivstar had minimal communication, called the Ukrainian Armed Forces hotline, and said how many of Russians came and where they were located.

They stood near the railway and fired in the direction of Irpin and Bucha cities. Mortars, Grad [systems] were fired under our windows, we just couldnʼt sleep for a week or so. They started to shell Vorzel. The occupiersʼ tanks went to the elderly peopleʼs yards. Many of the shot bodies were found in basements after they left, probably [these were the bodies of] those who refused to leave the house.

We tried not to leave the yard because the groups of Russian soldiers constantly changed there. There were Buryats, there were "Kadyrovites". The Buryats said: "Yes, everything is fine, come out, we will bring you food, if necessary". And the "Kadyrovites" said: "If you come out — we will shoot".

They shot people near the railway, probably those who came out to call on mobile because it was the only place with a cellular connection. There was a rumor that you can take at least a little meat from the local meat factory. We were cut off from the center of Vorzel and we had nothing — neither shop nor pharmacy. When we went for that meat, we saw dead people with bags — they just tried to get to the place where they could take food.

An elderly woman is forced to cook outdoors as she no longer has gas, heating, electricity or running water, April 4, 2022, Vorzel town.

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The ruscists wanted to take my husbandʼs nephew to Hostomel because they suspected he helps the Ukrainian army to set the targets. He had a cap was the inscription "Transit. Logistics. Crushed stone. Sand" and they thought it was some kind of undercover military. But then they talked about something in their own language — it was the Buryats — and left. They also said that we should fear them if we want to live.

The ruscists started to leave about 3-4 days ago (on April 1), and they were retreating very hastily — they climbed out of all cracks like rats. We stayed at home for another day because we didnʼt know if it was a retreat or if they would return. And only when people from Rubezhivka-Mykhaylivka village came and said that the Ukrainian army was coming in. Then we started going outside. We saw the smashed cars, painted with those nasty V letters. Fences destroyed by tanks, bombed roads, bodies, scattered belongings — when looted the houses, they sorted the things and took only new ones.

Oksana Semenik, Bucha

The atrocities in Bucha began the same day the Russian occupiers entered the city. They tried to enter in the first days of the war, but their column was crashed. Then they broke through our district, Sklozavodska Street, coming from the railway. We listened to the radio which said that "the Ukrainian flag is flying over Bucha", and [Russian] tanks and other vehicles were driving around our district at that time.

As soon as they arrived, the electricity and gas disappeared. Perhaps the first thing they did they hit the water tower so that there would be no water. I think this is their tactic because my grandmother had the same story in the occupied village of Kyiv Oblast. They entered the village and immediately hit the water and power plant, the communication towers.

One of the residential buildings in Bucha on April 7, 2022.

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We sat in the basement of the kindergarten all the time — there were thirty of us, with small children. We tried not to talk to each other so that the Russians would not come to us. Because those people who did not go down to the basement and watched everything from the windows said that soldiers went into apartments and basements, took food, or exchanged it for their shitty field rations. If the people did not open the door, they could drop a bomb or start firing.

When we went out to see what was going on in the area, it looked as if they were firing stupidly at everything: houses on the 8th and 9th floors, cages, stores, trees. They roamed the area, broke into shops, and drank beer on benches.

At that time locals started talking about those who tried to evacuate on their own — their cars were simply shot. If anyone went outside at that time, they were also shot dead. But then the locals at least took these corpses to basements and garages. In our local chat, they wrote about how people went to collect water — and they were shot as well. Most of the civilian corpses are on Yablunska Street. I think thatʼs because there are private houses with wells and people went there to get water.

A mass grave is exhumed by local authorities as they attempt to identify the bodies of civilians who had died during the Russian occupation in Bucha, April 8, 2022.

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We had two options for how to get out of there. The first was to go through the checkpoints of the Russians, the second was by the rail tracks. Both were dangerous: you could have been shot at the checkpoints by a gunman if they didnʼt like you, and there were corpses on the railroad tracks as well.

On March 11, we saw that about a hundred of locals had gathered near the house — men, women, children, elderly. We also decided to try to escape and to leave for Irpin city. But rusnya [Russians] didnʼt let us through, so we went towards Zabuchcha village. Maybe they stopped us in order we no to see Yablunska street, because there were corpses there already and they didnʼt want us to see them.

We came out by a miracle because the crossing by pedestrians wasnʼt agreed upon — only cars were agreed. We reached the Zhytomyr highway, which was full of broken and shot cars with the "Children" signs. So we reached Horenychi, where we were picked up by a car.

Victoria from Shybene village, Borodyanka district

There were no battles in our village. On the evening of February 25, a convoy of Russian vehicles passed by and stayed on the road overnight. Our village is located on the way from Ivankiv settlement to Bucha and Hostomel. So they drove on the main road all evening, stayed at night, and spent the night on the road.

My house is near the main road. A few days after February 25, Russians came and then stayed for a long time. First, they smashed our stores and started taking away food and other valuables. The occupiers broke into the school, the village council, the club — and made it all their bases. They wrote the V letter everywhere on the buildings. And then they just wandered around the village out of boredom. If they met someone on the street, they could undress that person to the waist, shoot him in the legs — I saw it with my own eyes.

Then they started going from house to house and doing a "census". They knocked on the gate when someone came out, and demanded to show the passports. They rewrote names, and wrote down how many people and who lived in each house. We were told that they had come to “free” us, and were looking for "bandits".

An elderly woman is waiting for her son's body in front of a collapsed building in Borodyanka, April 8, 2022.

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One day there was a shootout. The occupiers said that "there was a provocation from the peasants", they say that "bandits" attacked them and Ukrainian troops came. And when the peasants asked which Ukrainian troops, if we saw with our own eyes that it was theirs, they just lowered their eyes and could not answer.

The occupiers asked the peasants where the guerrillas were, "those who live in the woods". They approached people and said: "We have been told that we have already surrounded Kyiv, so we will say goodbye, Kyiv is already ours". They were always given false information. They were convinced that they had blown up the Kyiv power plant. Some soldiers complained that they had been told they had to come here for just a few days but had been staying for more than a week. They checked our passports and asked: "I thought we were in Belarus, why are we in Ukraine?"

The soldiers stood here for a month and began to leave a week ago (on March 25). In about two hours, the new ones arrived — it was already the Rosgvardia [National Guard of Russia], there were about 200 people. They only said that they would go from house to house, and if there would be no one to open the door, they would break it down. It was forbidden to walk in groups of two or three persons. Russians themselves always walked in large crowds — 6-10 people. They were afraid to walk alone.

When the Rosgvardians left, they stole all laptops, computers, desks, and chairs from the school. They smashed all the cars that didnʼt work. They caused a lot of mess, it was filthy everywhere they were. They crashed what they couldnʼt take away and left early in the morning, no one saw how they left.

On the next day, April 1, the first two cars with the Ukrainian military arrived. When the locals saw our troops, all they could do was just crying.

Sergey Zhypetsky, Irpin

At first, [the Russians] started firing at Bucha and Hostomel settlements, We could see it from our windows, they are facing Bucha. We thought that if they fired there, thatʼs because of the military units or an airfield there. And our district in Irpin is just a residential complex, with nothing but houses and grocery stores. I thought that with the lake on one side and the forest on the other nobody would need our area.

Then there were explosions near our house, people got scared and went down to the basement. I went to the window, and the corner of the house next to mint exploded: someone fired at it from a cannon or a tank. "Thatʼs not good," I thought. I wanted to call my wife to watch, and in a minute there was another explosion, so we grabbed our documents, and clothes, and went down to the basement as well.

Destroyed Russian military equipment near a house shelled by the Russian army in the city of Irpin, April 7, 2022.

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On the second day, they started shelling our district — two, three, four houses were fired. It felt like they had a task to fire on every house.

We sat in the basements for about two weeks because the shelling was heavy. One day I went up to the apartment to check if it was intact. I look — and see a hole in the window. The wreckage or a bullet hit the window, pierced the wall in the bedroom, flew through the corridor, pierced the bathroom door and got stuck in the tiles. I thought it was a wreck of a house next door, but the neighbors said it was a sniper firing because it was a round hole. Many windows in our area had such holes.

We almost never went into the apartment anymore, we sat in the basement. The shellings were more and more often. Many houses in our area have been destroyed so much, as the movies show, or the news from Syria. We have never seen such a thing before, but here we saw it with our own eyes. I didnʼt understand the point of shelling this unfortunate area — a residential area with just three grocery stores and nothing more. Why spend bullets and shells on it?

Houses in Irpin, damaged by the Russian army, on April 2, 2022.

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But shooting wasnʼt the scariest: we sat in a good basement, it was a real bomb shelter. The worst thing is that they [the Russians] quickly turned off the electricity, water, and communication. You sit in the dark with nothing, you do not know what is happening, who is where. The worst thing is the unknown. Well, and we had to cook. We made a fire, and it was impossible to breathe this smoke. You were like a mole: you sit in the dark, and when you go out, you are blind for the first half an hour.

We went out for a short time when there was no shooting, like prisoners go for a walk. We looked outside, breathed — and rushed again to the basement. When these orks left, our troops appeared and said that we could leave. My wife says: "Well, why do we sit? Iʼm tired, letʼs go". Now we are in Kyiv, where we have relatives and friends.

None of my friends were injured, and none of the residents of our house were injured. Then I met a neighbor and she said that one guy either went up to the roof to see what was happening, or went outside, and a sniper immediately fired at him. He was taken to hospital and underwent surgery, but did not survive. Then one of the elderly went out to sit in the gazebo outside in the yard — some bastards fired at the gazebo.

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