Why didnʼt Bucha prepare for a possible occupation? The cellars werenʼt cleaned to become proper shelters, no firewood and water was reserved. Everyone understood that the Russians could enter from Belarus, so the occupation of Bucha and Irpin is possible.
We are talking about Bucha, and you are talking to its mayor. Saying that Bucha wasnʼt ready is the same as saying that about all settlements in Ukraine. Someone trusted this or that information more, someone less. The countryʼs leadership did not say that on 24 [February] or at any other date [Russia] will start military aggression and occupation. A sober-minded person could not imagine such a thing.
But it was possible at least to clean the cellars, to form local Territorial Defense.
All cellars were in the same condition as in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine. As for the Bucha Territorial Defense, they have long toyed with [the idea of] placing the district leadership either in Borodyanka or in Nemishaeve. I proposed to place it in the Blystavytskyi, Starostynsky districts, where Gostomel, Irpin, Dmytrove and Bucha communities are located.
So your argument is that everyone didnʼt prepare, and neither did you?
No, no. You can ask a wise man 1,001 questions, and someone wonʼt be satisfied with the answer. According to the law, Territorial Defense during martial law is organized by district military administrations. Local self-government bodies help it as much as they can. It was the local government bodies, not the district state administration, that took the initiative.
We have the testimony of Volodymyr Shcherbinin from the organization Buchanska Varta. Here is his quote from February 25: “I watched the landing of the [Russian] landing force, because we didnʼt have weapons, they were not given to us. It would be difficult to engage in battle. In the evening, a group of people gathered, I asked if anyone had military experience and knew how to fight. Only two said they had, the others were jostling near the military commissariat and waiting for a soldier to bring them machine guns. There were about a hundred people, Afghan war veterans, and those who participated in the Donbas war. [In the end] they didnʼt bring automatic guns to anyone.”
The Military Commissariat still issued six automatic guns. It gave them to the guard company of the Military Commissariat. On the third day after the start of the full-scale invasion, the [Commissariat] successfully left with the guns in the direction of the Zhytomyr highway without telling the local authorities about it.
When did the Ukrainian military appear in Bucha? There is a video showing the Ukrainian flag being raised over the building of the city council on March 3. In fact, at that time, Russian tanks were driving along Sklozavodska Street.
Everything was very fast. From March 2 to 3, I met with a military unit raising a flag near the city hall. We placed them in the Novus supermarket, because they baked bread there — seven thousand loaves a day. The soldiers spent the night, warmed up, and in the morning they offered to go to the city hall and raise the Ukrainian flag. I asked whatʼs the reason for that. They answered that it was for a photo report. And they posted a video on YouTube that Bucha was liberated. Although, on the morning of March 3, Bucha had not yet been occupied. In the evening, Russian troops entered Yablunska Street from the Vorzel side and cut the city off. People saw them driving from the north, on the outskirts of Balanivka and Myrotske.
It was possible to leave only for Dmytrivka village. My colleagues and I went there to buy flour, yeast and sugar at Megamarket, because we agreed with the owners that they would give us the products [for free]. We left around 12 oʼclock in the afternoon [of March 3] through seven roadblocks built by the locals. On the way back, about three or four hours later, there were no more roadblocks, thank God. In the Sklozavodsky district, a man from a checkpoint got into a car — there were already Russians there. We turned around and dispersed on Budivelna Street.
And where did the soldiers who raised the Ukrainian flag go?
The military raised the flag near the city hall. And Yablunska Street is a completely different neighborhood. [The occupiers killed many people here] seven hours after the [Ukrainian] military raised the flag.
So they raised it and went away?
I did not ask about their combat mission, and they did not show it to me.
What did you do and where were you from February 24 to March 3, when Bucha was occupied?
Together with the members of the executive committee, deputies, specialists worked and organized the functioning of the city. Fires were extinguished, because the fire department was also left without management.
Did they run away, or what?
They did not run away, but on February 24, people were caught in different circumstances.
What are the circumstances?
The buildings were burning after the shelling, I had to go to the fire department, get into a car with the firemen and drive to Vokzalna Street, wedge into a column of Russian invaders. And put out the fire in the house to save what is burning.
When was that?
On February 27-28, while the firefighters were with us.
We talked to the doctors. Some say that the Russians came to the chief doctor of the local hospital. Didnʼt they come to you?
The Russians visited the city hall building three times. Once, when they went to the first floor, it was explained to them that this is a humanitarian headquarters. We were on the 3rd or 4th floor then, but they didnʼt go up. So the Russians came in, came out, and drove away. People were waiting for buses to leave. Russian APCs drove through Energetykiv, Ostrovskyi Streets, but [the Russians] didnʼt enter the city hall. And when the city was occupied, they also entered the city hall and killed volunteers and veterans.
Did you personally see a Russian who came and said something?
I have seen Russians several times. [For the first time] on March 8, near the pedestrian crossing on Heroiv Maidanu Street. They were putting sand in bags, digging, arranging something for themselves. In order to cross the road, one just had to get into their line of sight. The second time was when I returned to my house. They were already there. I had to talk. Thank God, I convinced them that Iʼm not an official, but an employee of the communal service, taking care [of the house].
Didnʼt they realize it was the mayorʼs house?
They asked again: “Is this your house?” I explained that I would like to have such, but this one is mayorʼs. “And where is the mayor?” — “The mayor and his family left a few days ago through the last humanitarian corridor” — “And who are you, why are you here?” I say that I live nearby, I stayed because we have an elderly woman [in our family]. And indeed, my friendʼs mother-in-law, with whom I was staying, was sick. She died during the occupation, we buried her in the yard. Then, when the Russians were making repressive operations, I was already in the Melnyky garden cooperative.
Didnʼt they understand that you are the mayor of the city? Have they checked your phone?
When I decided to stay, I sent [evacuated] my deputies. Everyone wanted to stay with me. Everything that could confirm who I am, was deleted. I had a push-button Nokia phone.
Where did you charge [your appliances] when there was no electricity?
A friend had a generator and a [car] battery. As long as there was fuel, he turned it on.
Were you warned that [the Russians] would try to enter Kyiv and civilians would have to be taken out of the city?
There were no directives until March 3. On the contrary, the authorities said: donʼt panic, everything is fine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are controlling the situation. Already after March 3, I reported that the city was occupied. I spoke with the first deputy head of the regional state administration [Dmytro] Nazarenko and the mayor of Kyiv Vitaliy Klitschko. The regional military administration ordered the evacuation on March 6. At that time, I was on Sklozavodska Street without electricity. A neighbor told me: “There is information that there will be an evacuation tomorrow.” We decided to leave Sklozavodska Street because they said that [the Russians] were clearing (committing mass murder on) Yablunska Street.
In the interview with [Ukrainian journalist] Yanina Sokolova, you told how you left Sklozavodska — you moved to the center [of Bucha]. How did you do it if the street was shot through?
Yablunska Street is just opposite the quarry, from where one could exit through Budivelna Street. With those who remained, we decided to go. The shortest way is through garages near Sklozavodska. At this time, precisely from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., the citizens who were in shelters at 144 Yablunska Street, near the glass factory, were allowed to leave by the Russian occupying forces. We noticed that people had left because we saw footprints in the snow, it was fresh then. We made short runs. In the afternoon, we were at the city hall, in the city council building, and coordinated the work of the relevant services.
How long have you been at Sklozavodska?
Three and a half days — from the evening of March 3 to March 7.
Probably, on Kirova, Yablunska Street, 18a, house of the Rybchun family. This is a private house.
There is evidence that the Russians entered every house on Yablunska Street and asked to go to the bunker. In fact, the whole street was forced into captivity, although people donʼt call it that. Didnʼt they enter your house on Yablunska Street?
They werenʼt on Yablunska then. And the next day after we moved from there, on March 8, they came in and did it.
It is officially believed that the men at 144 Yablunska Street were shot on March 4.
I understand. This is the fifth building from the Vorzel side. I had the opportunity to communicate with the family that was there, and they say: “You just left, the next day [the Russians] appeared and entered.” The things you talk about did happen.
Mayors were kidnapped in occupied cities, and the situation in your city worsened after March 7. But you claim that you didnʼt interact with the Russians and adjusted the work of the relevant services. How did it happen?
I have my own judgment. I spoke with the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, and asked how the Russians behaved. He said that at first they did not enter the city hall at all.
March 7 to April 2 is a long period of time. How can you manage the evacuation and all the services and not come into contact with the occupiers?
From 13 to 14 [March], everyone came to the city hall and organized work here: Dmytro Gapchenko, Taras Shapravskyi, and Anatoly Fedoruk, the mayor.
Let us ask a direct question. Did you discuss the city's life with the leaders or representatives of the occupying forces?
There was no communication on this topic and could not be a priori. I know history a little. Thatʼs not how I was brought up, and thatʼs not why I spent 22 years leading the village into a district-level city. Iʼll explain you why I decided to stay. I convinced the secretary of the city council that I would follow him, because they (his family) did not want to stay. I took my passport, things, hygiene products, sat down on the stairs, looked at the sky: the sun was still shining, and there was already serious military activity around. I asked myself — and decided to stay, actually [played] a roulette.
Many people who served in Donbas and survived the occupation say that the Russians came to them with a specific list. The Military Commissariat says that they took everything with them, including the lists. Were there lists that the Russians could take?
This wasnʼt classified information. On the contrary, locals are proud that defenders of our homeland live on their street, in their house. Even before the full-scale war, the city council had no bases that could be used. Iʼll tell you more, when I was in my house, the officer of the Russian occupation forces had printed lists with him. This doesnʼt mean that they were transmitted or dictated by someone here. Itʼs rather that they systematically prepared for a full-scale invasion and checked even these things.
That is, they had lists even before they entered the city?
The Russians probably had lists even before the decision of their military-political leadership to invade Kyiv region.
It used to be said that Bucha is a city of parks and flowers. Now this concept is apparently irrelevant?
Donʼt repeat the narratives of the bots that asked you the vast majority of questions. I understand that “Bucha is the city of death” is a [narrative] beneficial to a certain group of people who are even now thinking about real estate development.
The question isnʼt about that. There was a plan for the development of the city, a concept. Will it change after all these events?
We have all really changed. But the scoundrels, the cynics, those who have God neither in their hearts nor in their souls havenʼt changed. On the contrary, they still try to blow up and split certain things. And if we talk about the community and the survivors, of course, itʼs wrong to claim that we do and act like this, because we had and have a development strategy. There must be a rethinking of the experience.
Residents of Bucha ask why Vokzalna Street was repaired, but the housing of people who have nowhere to meet the winter wasnʼt? The president takes everyone to Bucha, everyone is also shown Irpin. You receive a lot of international financial aid. Can you give the general numbers?
Buchaʼs city budget received $500,000 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan. The manager of this financial assistance is the Department of Labor and Social Protection. The communal enterprise Bucha servis received from the International Committee of the Red Cross equipment and vehicles — excavators, loaders — in the total amount of about 20 million hryvnias. 15 million hryvnias were received from Kyiv regional military administration as expenses for restoration. And 53 million hryvnias were given under the recovery program through Ukrzaliznytsia. That, actually, is all financial assistance the city received.
And how much do you need?
There is an official assessment. The amount needed to restore the housing stock is about 1.2 billion hryvnias. We have about a hundred projects with expertise, conclusions, where it is necessary to overhaul residential premises — individual and multi-apartment buildings.
What about schools?
All schools and preschool educational institutions opened by September 1. There was a delay with the school #3, which is on Vokzalna Street, there is a large amount of repair work — roof, windows. But they [the works] are coming to an end.
Do they have bomb shelters now?
Yes, there is shelter.
Do you have a plan in case the Russians come back?
Itʼs wrong to say that we made wrong decisions. I believe that, unfortunately, there is no algorithm of actions in such situations. As an example: a local self-government body initiates the evacuation of people. According to the law, itʼsnot the city council which decides on this, but the regional military administrations. As the situation showed, the regional military administration is at a safe distance.
You survived [the occupation], but now you are talking about the legislative field, something else. After all this, donʼt you think that you shouldnʼt care who decides what? A dozen buses are taken, people are taken out, and thatʼs it — no?
Time will tell how it will be. The mayor will decide when necessary. And not now to theorize out how it will be.
But when shelling began in Kyiv in the first week of the war...
Klitschko decided to evacuate everyone from Kyiv or what?
So, to put it short, you are not [Nestor] Makhno, do you want to have everything according to the law?
During what we experienced, there was enough “Makhnovism” in the classical sense. We tried to coordinate with the military. But there were no military units in Bucha, except for the Military Commissariat, and no one was there. Everyone acted based on their understanding and skills. The same metal anti-tank hedgehogs were made here from available material, ordered from neighboring territorial communities, brought here, constructed. And then it turned out that there was no point in the utility equipment, which was covered with rubble and sand and left on the Warsaw Highway. Because they [the Russians] went through the fields, not along the highway. There were many things like that.
In Irpin, the authorities also did everything themselves, as I understand it.
Itʼs much easier for Irpin, because they did everything three to five days later [than we]. It is one thing when you have to act in an occupied city, and another thing is to be near the Ukrainian Armed Forces and actually film, inform, and so on. There was such a famous actor Inokentiy Smoktunovskyi. In one of his interviews, he said that journalists ask him: “Show me a photo from the war, you were in the Second World War?” Then he said the following: “Whoever has a photo from the Second World War was in the war, but somewhere near the actual fighting, because he had the opportunity to take pictures. And who fought, didnʼt have a chance to make a photo."
Is there a certain competition between Irpin and Bucha?
We donʼt compete with Irpin.
You say that you were under occupation, but they werenʼt.
Iʼm just stating that Bucha was occupied on March 3, and Irpin wasnʼt.
Irpin administration says that there are more broken houses there than in Bucha, but there are more dead civilians in Bucha. So the money goes to Bucha, not to Irpin, although they need to rebuild the city too.
We will certainly help the neighboring territorial community. And itʼs sincere.
From the money your city received?
Our [foreign] partners are trying to help in every possible way. Thank God, Kyiv also came out with such an initiative. I think that not only Bucha, Borodyanka, Nemishaeve, Makariv receive financial assistance, but also Irpin. I suggested to Klitschko that he also turn [to partners] to help financially — and this will help Bucha and Irpin.
You said that we should always have the understanding that Russia can come again. Do you think the Russians can really return to Bucha?
I am deeply convinced that this will no longer happen. Even knowing what is happening in the north of the Kyiv region, what are the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces there. Taking into account the events at the front in the east and south, I think that the military-political leadership is definitely not interested in the Kyiv region and not in new aggressive things.
The people of Bucha have the trauma of what they experienced: they stock up on flour, prepare kitchens outside, because “they will come again, already this winter”. Do you reassure them?
Everything will be fine.
Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzyhenko.
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