“It was like a movie”: the recaptured Bucha narrates the violence of the Russian invasion | Ukraine

It was, said Taras Schevchenko, like a scene from a movie.

At 6 a.m. on Feb. 24, taking advantage of the kitchen window of the fifth-floor apartment overlooking Gostomel Airport, on the northern outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Bucha, Schevchenko watched about 20 Russian helicopters fly in a blur. below.

“I felt like I was in the movies, you know, I saw all the helicopters, I even saw the faces of these paratroopers.”

That’s the start of the war for Bucha, a city 35 miles northwest of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which is rapidly becoming synonymous with the worst horrors of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

The events that unfolded in the following days, said 43-year-old Schevchenko, were unthinkable.

The bodies that were overturned by tanks turned into “human carpets”, while the Russians shot and killed even the elderly who got in their way, he said.

An elderly woman cries near her home in Bucha, northwest of Kiev, on April 2, 2022, when the city mayor said 280 people had been buried in a mass grave and the city was full of corpses.
A woman is crying near her home in Bouha, where the mayor said 280 people were buried in a mass grave. Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

Russian snipers pulled out men trying to escape the fields, allegedly, and allegations of rape and murder of young girls, which have not yet been verified by independents, terrorized the hearts of those who remained.

As witnesses appeared, however, and photographs of corpses in the streets of Bukha emerged from recently recaptured territory, allegations of massive war crimes by the Russian occupation troops appear to be very true.

On Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported that 20 bodies, all in civilian clothes, were found scattered on a street, one with his hands tied behind his back and a white cloth and his Ukrainian passport open next to his body. “All these people were shot,” said Bucha Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk, adding that another 280 bodies had been buried in mass graves elsewhere in the city.

Evidence of atrocities uncovered as Ukrainian forces retake territory around Kyiv

Schevchenko, a martial arts coach at a kindergarten, and his mother, Yevdokia Shevchenko, 77, with whom he lived in northern Bucha, remember being quiet for three days after a film landing by Putin’s troops.

They talked about what to do if they had to escape. The few who decided to leave that first day were considered excessive by the majority of those in Schevchenko’s bloc.

The regularity of these first 72 hours was an illusion.

“We saw them [the Russians] on the third day, when there was a mass shooting from our building with Bouha’s territorial defense. At first I decided to stay because I was thinking: where to go? I had nowhere to go. There was fear, you know. Second, we are not rich enough to completely change our lives in one day. On the third day, I realized it was too late to run away or change anything because the war was literally around my house, on my way. There were tanks in my way. “It’s very scary when they shoot, it’s such a sound, a roar.”

On the fourth day, panic prevailed. “Everyone was looking for ways to get out of there on the Internet, in conversations on Telegram or on Viber. Anyone who had their own cars just fled, risking everything. “Our building has 69 apartments and only four families have remained there to date.”

Schevchenko’s mother, Yevdokia, terrified by the fighting on her doorstep, moved to the damp cold basement of the 20-square-meter, candle-lit plot, where she was reunited with eight other families, including a three-year-old and an 86-year-old. years old woman.

Yevdokia would stay there for the next 13 days and nights, with only one bucket as a toilet. The older woman, Schevchenko said, may still be in the basement. “Embrace an icon. He was hugging the icon all the time he was there. “

On the fifth day, the gas supply to the city was cut off. “People understood that we had to boil water somehow or cook some soup or something like that and at the entrance of the building we made a kind of cooking. It was just a fire with two bricks on the side. “

The discussions by the fire were full of discussions about the last dead.

“The corpses were just lying on the streets, they would not let us move them,” Schevchenko said. A murder was narrated, which could not be verified by an independent. “It was a grandfather, he was walking with his wife, they were about to cross the street, some Russians stopped them. You know what these seniors are like, they just like to talk and more. So they just shot him and told the woman, “Keep walking.” She ran to her husband and started crying and they said: “If you want to lie down next to him, we can shoot you too”. He told them he had to get the body, but they said, “No, just keep walking.” And he kept walking, crying and walking. It happened next to a McDonald’s, 30-40 meters away from my house “.

A woman cooks on an open fire outside an apartment building that according to residents has no gas, water, electricity and heating for more than a month.
A woman cooks on an open fire outside an apartment building that according to residents has no gas, water, electricity and heating for more than a month. Photo: Vadim Ghirdă / AP

The woman, agitated, approached Jevdokia and others standing nearby, trying to catch her breath and tell her story, desperate to get her husband’s body.

“That old man said something aggressive to a soldier and he was shot and killed and the woman was ordered to leave,” Jevdokia said. “I do not know their names, but I would see them in the city in a store, in a market, you know, familiar faces. When he was shot, I was outside, I heard the shots. I had come out of the basement to breathe some air. “

By March 9, Schevchenko knew they had to get out – but they seemed trapped.

“I started to analyze all the possible ways of escape, but I’m glad I did not try then. Because other people who were braver than me fled and were shot. “Some of them returned injured, but some remained in their cars forever, dead.”

The next day, the Russians agreed to set up a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the civilians. There was a way out – but the Russians said they would only allow women and children to leave.

“But we had neighbors downstairs and he was a man and I heard he had managed to get out, so I thought if he did, why not? So, on March 11, I woke up at 6 in the morning and charged my phone. I found a place to charge it. But a little at 6-7%. Then I ran to the basement to pick up my mom. I remember very clearly that it was 8.45 am, I ran inside and shouted: “Mom, we’m running” and at that moment shots were heard “.

His mother’s first thought was about the family pet. “He said, ‘Did you take Mary?’ I said, “Yes, it is [in] my jacket “. It is a small fluffy dog, only 4 kg. So we ran to the town hall for the green corridor. But at the town hall, only women and children were allowed to cross, so we decided that mom would walk down a green corridor and join other men and walk to Romanivka, it is about 12 km away from Bucha, but you had to cross the river and the peatlands and it was minus 9 degrees out that day “.

At 10 a.m., Schevchenko began walking, not in the streets, instead of in the fields, with about 20 other men. The bullets started buzzing next to them. Some came down, were hit and injured. Others, including Schevchenko, ran and tried to hide from snipers who were supposed to be snipers.

“We could not help the injured either because as soon as you approach someone who fell you can be shot too. We were less and less. I was constantly looking back and sideways. We did not care for each other and did not care about each other. Just some animal instincts took over. “I felt like I was escaping from a concentration camp.”

Their journey led through Irpin, another city where alleged atrocities have been recorded since the Russians withdrew. Schevchenko made his way to the central cemetery of the city, through a forest there and then turned to the village of Stoyanka leading to his destination Romanivka.

An old woman hugs a Ukrainian soldier in Bukha.
An old woman hugs a Ukrainian soldier in Bukha. Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

“The mayor of Irpin said the other day that they had collected 17 bodies,” Schevchenko said. “I can not say that they were only 17. There were many more. Many of them were just sitting in their cars. Many of them were lying on the sidewalks, many were crammed into tanks. Like those animal skin rugs and the smell was unbearable. They lay like that for about 10 days “.

For seven hours, Schevchenko ran, walked and hid, hoping to reach safety. “It simply came to our notice then. They knew we were refugees, they just asked us to show them our passports and they showed us the way. “Buses were waiting for us.”

Today, he has no idea how many of the approximately 20 men who started succeeded. “You know, not only did I not look, I forgot how to breathe. I literally forgot that you could breathe through your nose. I was breathing out of my mouth, my heart was pounding out of my chest. “My dog, in my jacket, was nervous and anxious.”

He was taken by bus to Kiev Central Station where he was reunited with his mother.

“You know, when I got to safety and some time passed, I felt like it was a hoax,” Schevchenko said. “It just can’t be 15 kilometers away and it’s quiet. I felt like I was in the movie [The] Matrix. Like someone dragged me by my hair and threw me in this Matrix for 16 days and watched me act. And later they felt sorry for me, pulled me back from there to the peaceful world, stroked my head and said, “Well, you survived.”

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