Russia planned to take Kyiv in 3 days, soldiers killed hundreds of civilians, destroyed towns and villages. This is how the Russians captured the north of the Oblast: the chronicled testimony of defenders and residents

Yuliana Skibitska
Tetyana Lohvynenko
Russia planned to take Kyiv in 3 days, soldiers killed hundreds of civilians, destroyed towns and villages. This is how the Russians captured the north of the Oblast: the chronicled testimony of defenders and residents

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Since February 24, the day of Russiaʼs full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the plans for their "special operation" have been constantly changing. Now Russia wants to "establish full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine." But initially, the primary goal was Kyiv, although official Russian speakers have repeatedly stated that they are not going to occupy the country. They wanted to take the capital in two or three days, and then establish a puppet government of "top-level soldiers." The plan failed: the Russians could not capture Kyiv and occupied part of the Oblast, where they conducted a true genocide of civilians. Babel editor Yuliana Skibitska spoke with dozens of witnesses to the Russian invasion of Kyiv Oblast and compiled a chronology of how the invaders occupied it.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began at 3:40 a.m. on February 24 in the village of Milove, Luhansk Oblast — the Russians began firing on it. The Russian-Ukrainian border divides Milove in half. At approximately 4:50 a.m., Russian TV channels broadcasted Vladimir Putinʼs appeal for a "special operation in Ukraine." At the same time, a large-scale Russian offensive began in several directions: in the areas of the demarcation line in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, in the south — from the occupied Crimea, in Chernihiv, Kyiv, and Sumy — from Belarus.

February 24. In the morning, eyewitnesses saw paratroopers landing from Russian helicopters сlose to the Antonov airport near Gostomel. Russian tank columns were advancing from the Belarusʼ territory through the Exclusion Zone — this is the shortest route.

On February 24, Vladimir Shcherbinin was in Bucha. He is a veteran of the war in Donbas. In the city, he took care of the public organization Buchanska Varta, which had existed since the Revolution of Dignity of 2014.

Volodymyr Shcherbinin

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

— I got a call [on the morning of February 24] and was told that a convoy of 50 tanks had crossed the border and was moving from Ivankiv and Pripyat towns, — Shcherbinin said. Then he was told that there was another column, 150 [IFV] cars. — At first, I couldnʼt believe how many vehicles could freely cross the border.

Residents of all nearby settlements — Gostomel, Vorzel, Gavrylivka — saw the Russian paratroopers landing at the Antonov airport. According to Shcherbinin, it lasted almost a day and a half: from the morning of February 24 to the evening of the 25th. He counted about two thousand paratroopers and 100 helicopters. Two of them were shot down by the Ukrainian military. This was the beginning of the fighting for the airport.

— Our people didnʼt know how many paratroopers there were, and they sent a small group of [soldiers], — says Shcherbinin. — They tried to knock out the Russians and shot down two helicopters from Strila in the afternoon. One helicopter fell almost intact — we saw it. The other one crashed. But a group of [Ukrainian servicemen] got stuck. The guys could not knock out so many paratroopers because they had already captured the airport and held the defense tight.

Cars shot by Russians and destroyed Russian equipment at a car dump in Bucha.

Cars shot by Russians and destroyed Russian equipment at a car dump in Bucha.

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

At around 7 p.m, Prime Minister Denis Shmygal said that the Russians had captured the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Chornobyl and other settlements in the Exclusion Zone were also occupied.

— I watched [how the paratroopers landed]. We didnʼt have weapons. We are just a public formation, — says Shcherbinin. — It would be difficult to enter the battle. In the evening, a group of people gathered. I asked who has military training and knows how to fight. Only two [such people] were found. Others gathered near the military enlistment office, waiting for the military to bring them machine guns. Among them were Afghans and former soldiers, about 100 people.

February 25. The occupiers moved closer to Kyiv. They partially turned the north of the Oblast — Ivankiv, Obukhovychi, Katyuzhanka, and other nearby settlements — into their rear. Witnesses said that there were Kadyrovites from Chechen Republic.

— On the 25th of February, we woke up to very loud noises at about five in the morning. We looked out the window and saw columns of Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers passing through our village, — says Anastasia from the Tarasivshchyna village near Gavrylivka. — The Gavrilivsky Kurchata poultry factory is not far from us. It was where the Russians set up a checkpoint. Mortars and Grads were deployed there. Above us, fighters and helicopters flew towards Demydiv and the Kyiv Sea to bomb.

Gostomel, Irpin, and Bucha were of crucial importance to Russians. On the morning of February 25, eyewitnesses saw a convoy of Russian vehicles on Stvyato-Pokrovska Street in Gostomel. At the crossroads of the road to Irpin, it was destroyed by the Ukrainian military. Fighting for Antonov airport also continued.

A convoy of [Ukrainian] cars and armored personnel carriers left the [Antonov] airport on the 25th. A plane appeared in Bucha and shot the entire column, — Shcherbinin recalls. — Our troops were caught right on the hill, so someone definitely pointed on them. I drove there in 20 minutes, it was in the morning, about 10 oʼclock. The guys were lying on those armored personnel carriers, six [dead] people. We loaded the bodies and took them to the Bucha morgue. Then we unpacked the cars and took away all the weapons there—submachine guns, Strilas, ammunition. There were a lot of weapons. Finally, we had it. I armed ten people. Then, I sent my men to look at the body of [one of the abandoned cars]. They raised a tarp, and there were chopped bodies. My guys fainted and fell out of the cars.

Ihor Kim, former head of the Bucha defense sector, was the deputy commander of the local Territorial Defense Battalion then. But due to difficulties with centralized management in the first days, he took command. On February 24, his battalion occupied positions at the intersection of Okruzhna Street in Gostomel, which opens onto the E373 highway, and Sadova Street in Pushcha-Vodytsya.

Ihor Kim

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

— I had about 200 people. 70% of them are civilians, — says Kim. — I explained what to do, and people began to dig trenches and take positions. We didnʼt have centralized management, and this lasted for about a week. In the first weeks, it was horrible. You fall asleep, and the sun is still warming you up, but your feet are in the snow when you wake up, with fingers frozen. Some peopleʼs hands and feet were frostbitten.

For the Russians, the way to Kyiv also lay through Borodyanka settlement. Russian troops shelled it mercilessly. Currently, it is the most destroyed settlement in Kyiv Oblast. The occupiers turned the nearby villages into their rear. There were no active battles.

— On the evening of February 25, a column of Russian vehicles passed by and stayed overnight on the road, — says Victoria from the village of Shybene near Borodyanka. — Our village is a transit one, on the way from Ivankiv to Bucha and Gostomel. So they [Russians] drove the main road all evening, stayed at night, and spent the night on the road. So in fact, they came on February 25 and stayed until the end of March.

February 26. Fighting in the area continued. The first column of Russians tried to break into the village of Nemishayeve on the way to Vorzel settlement. In Vorzel, the occupiers seized a maternity hospital.

An electric supply substation in Bucha burned down due to Russian shelling.

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

— On February 25, a private house burned down near the airport, — says Volodymyr Shcherbinin. — Our fire truck from Bucha went to put the fire out at night. They were stopped there by ruscists (Kadyrovites), who shot the guys, took the car, and drove away. When they captured the maternity hospital, no one paid much attention because everyone knew this car and didnʼt think it was the enemy.

There were severe battles in Vasylkiv town. The Ukrainian military destroyed Russian equipment in Kyiv near the Beresteiska metro station, and the Russians shelled Irpin from Grads. The fighting near Antonov Airport has also been ongoing.

— [On the night of February 26-27], a guard came running and shouted that there was a column of our cars, twenty of them, — Shcherbinin recalls. — I thought that a brigade was coming, and we could move with it towards the airport to knock out these paratroopers. But no! The convoy reached me, the leading car stopped, and [the driver] asked me how to pass. I say, wait, itʼs not the way to the airport. But the column took a turn and went towards Irpin.

The fact that there were no regular troops of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Bucha also was stated by the city mayor, Anatoliy Fedoruk:

— At that time, I asked the military if we would have units of Armed Forces [stationed here]. It was explained to me that, given Kyivʼs defense mission, Bucha is a gray zone. Therefore, the Armed Forces will defend us exclusively with artillery and other similar means to prevent the enemy from crossing the Irpin River, — he said.


February 27. The occupiers completely captured Nemishayeve and Vorzel. All this time, Bucha was under constant fire.

— For a day or two, there was the Internet, water, gas, and electricity. Then everything disappeared, — says Vorzel resident Alina Junge-Zolotkova. — The gas was the last to disappear, and then the ruscists came. Most of them were in the Kicheeve district. We saw them from the window. They stood near the railway and fired in the direction of Irpin and Bucha.

A convoy of Russian vehicles from occupied Blystavytsia village entered Buchaʼs Vokzalna Street in the morning.

— We had to go hunting in the morning, — says Shcherbinin. — We took these Strilas and decided to go to the field to shoot down helicopters. At 6 a.m., I drove to the warehouse to pick them up, went to our headquarters, and people called me and said: “Vova, the column is moving! From Blystavytsia". I took the guys, and we went there and set a position near Novus supermarket. I had one RPG-7 grenade launcher, and there was a lot of ammo. When they [Russians] passed us at full speed, I immediately opened fire. My grenade launcher struck the armored personnel carrier. The column stopped. At this moment, the Russians turned the entire part of the column that went to Warsaw highway, turned all the barrels, and opened fire along the road. They were firing from all weapons. It was a hell of a fire. I thought that if I put my hand out, it would be cut off.

Buchaʼs defenders stopped the convoy of cars. Then it was finally destroyed by the Ukrainian military. Volodymyr Shcherbinin was wounded during the shooting. He regained consciousness in hospital on February 28.

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

February 28 — March 5. There was constant fighting in the area of Irpin and Bucha. The occupiers were mercilessly shelling Bucha after an unsuccessful attempt to enter the city. But there were still all the communications — electricity, water, and gas. Iryna Levchenko, editor-in-chief of Buchanski Novyny media outlet, who has been in the city since February 24 and to its liberation [from the Russian occupiers], says that sometimes residents could even go outside.

— On [February] 28th, there was a shooting. We occasionally hid in the cellar, — says Levchenko. — But the first [of March] was quieter. We went to the center and learned that the City Council is working and that medicines are brought from pharmacies [as humanitarian aid]. I remember that there was a shortage of sedatives.

On March 2, the Russians launched a powerful airstrike on Irpin. This city was their primary objective. They needed it to capture Kyiv.

— We have put forward our first units to the long-term defensive point. It was near the Irpinka river, at the entrance to Irpin, which is, in fact, a pedestrian crossing — says Ihor Kim. — Then, active fights began in the city. Our units provided combat readiness, the first fire contacts, and the first artillery shelling. We consolidated and created the "road of life" through which all troops passed to the Giraffe shopping center. Thus, the Armed Forces could freely move with the equipment [further into the city]. Both HUR and Omega have already worked there, everyone. There were many special units.

On the evening of March 3, a security guard of the Bucha City Council noticed that its surveillance cameras had stopped working. At the same time, columns of Russian equipment again entered Bucha from several directions from the already occupied territories. And on March 5, Bucha was completely occupied.


— Partisan work was in full swing, — says Shcherbinin. — I was in the hospital, but I was constantly updated about whatʼs going on. One sniper went and shot about ten of Russians. Then two more guys. One of our fighters went and burned the armored personnel carrier at night. He died, itʼs a pity, he was a good guy. But some traitors showed [Russians] who was where. They were riding with racists on the armored personnel carrier and showing who participated in the ATO and who was in the Varta. They [Russians] didnʼt even ask any questions. If they [these traitors] pointed a finger, Russians opened a fire from the machine gun.

March 8—9. There was no electricity, gas, or heating in Bucha, Vorzel, and Gostomel. The situation was called a humanitarian catastrophe. The occupiers finally allowed the bodies of people killed in the shelling to be removed from the streets of Bucha. Russian troops controlled part of Irpin, there were active street fights, and volunteers tried to evacuate people from the shelling. In Bucha, the occupiers searched for those they believed were related to the Armed Forces.

— They were told that one of the [guerrilla resistance] leaders is here in Bucha, in the hospital, — says Shcherbinin. — But they did not know who exactly. Russians arrived in two tanks and deployed towers in the hospitalʼs direction. 7-8 people came into the building. They were going around the hospital, checking who is who. They came to my room. Me and two other fighters were there. We all had bullet wounds. They asked: "Are there any servicemen?" I replied: "No, only civilians here." He looked through the ward. No one had a uniform. I asked where they were from. They said: "We are from Tula." These were Tula paratroopers.

March 10—13. More or less centralized evacuation of people from the cities of the Kyiv Oblast began. This was the first time the Ukrainian side had managed to agree with the Russians on creating "green corridors”. Before that, people were taken out only by volunteers, at their own risk. People could be picked up only near the half-destroyed Romaniv Bridge in Irpin. Some were leaving the city on foot, some by car. Some were shot dead by the Russian military.

— When we reached the Zhytomyr highway, it was littered with broken and shot cars with the word “Children" written on them, — said Oksana Semenik, who managed to leave Bucha on March 11.

March 13—21. The battles for Irpin continued. The occupiers were setting up firing positions in residential complexes in Bucha.

— They came here, it seems, around the 9th [of March], — says Oleksiy, a resident of the Continent residential complex in Bucha. — At first, around ten people came. Most likely, it was an assault brigade. And in four or five days [approximately March 13-14], mortar teams arrived. There were six small mortars and seven small infantry fighting vehicles. They placed their infantry fighting vehicles between the houses. Only shells were brought.

There was a humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied towns and villages. Due to the intensity of hostilities, it was impossible to deliver aid.

Continent residential complex in Bucha, where the occupiers set up firing positions

Continent residential complex in Bucha, where the occupiers set up firing positions

Andrey Boyko / «Babel»

March 21. The Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated the Makariv settlement.

March 23—27. The Armed Forces encircled Irpin, Gostomel, and Bucha, cutting off the occupiers from their logistical routes. Fighting in the region intensified.

— At some point, somewhere in late March, we had to hide in the basement again, — says Iryna Levchenko. — Our guys began to give them [the Russians] a proper trearment.

March 28 — 31. The mayor of Irpin said that the city was liberated from the occupiers. Russian troops began to withdraw from the occupied territories.

— A combat order to move forward has come, — says Ihor Kim. — Reconnaissance was conducted on enemy positions in Bucha, and I was informed that yesterday [March 30], they were still there, and today they have already withdrawn. Even part of the armament was left. I didnʼt understand what was happening. There were still quite active battles. I had one guy killed before they left. It turned out that they [the Russians] were not provided with supplies and suffered very heavy losses.


April 1. Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said that on March 31, the city was liberated from the occupiers.

— We immediately closed the city with a system of checkpoints so that we could start [fulfilling the order], — Ihor Kim recalls how exactly Bucha was liberated. — In the combat order, "the organization of the rule of law in Bucha, the partial restoration of the city from the effects of war and the setting of new combat positions to defend the city of Bucha" was stated. The first thing we did was start looking for someone alive from the [local] administration. Then we searched for those who remained from law enforcement agencies. We started to create working groups and established areas of engineering and demining works. We created filtration centers managed by the Security Service of Ukraine and the police to detain single Russians who had not left yet and looters who "worked" here very actively in the first days [after liberation].

April 2. The entire Kyiv Oblast was liberated from the occupiers.

At least a thousand people died during the Russian occupation of Oblast. But this data is very approximate. Mass graves are still found in the liberated cities. Numerous civilians were found shot dead with their hands tied. On the bodies of many people, there were traces of torture. The occupiers shelled cars with children, raped women, men, and children. Bucha, Irpin, and Gostomel were destroyed by almost 70%.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko and Yana Sobetska.

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Andrey Boyko / «Babel»