February 27, 2022
That day turned out to be more frightening than the 24th.
We still slept in the house, despite the fact that the battle was going on not far away, in Hostomel. Frightening explosions were going off all the time.
The morning of the 27th began with Dad telling everyone to quickly go down to the cellar because the battle was getting closer. We got ready quickly, took some toys for the little one, some food, caught our dogs and went into hiding.
A short time later, acquaintances from Hostomel wrote that a large russian column was moving toward Bucha. Along Vokzal’naya street. In other words, directly towards us.
The earth wailed, the sound not comparable to anything.
We understood that they were walking right by our house. And then realized that they stopped.
After a while, terrible explosions began, canned jars in the cellar were ringing, everything was moving from side to side, the walls were crumbling. We heard how the windows in our house were breaking. There was a small vent in the cellar, which we closed with a piece of foam and rags. The strength of the explosions was such that the foam was constantly falling on our heads, and this considering that we were underground. Our artillery was working on the column. The battle was happening right in front of us.
I was hysterical. Truly. I never had such tantrums again, even under occupation. My child shut down, the children’s nervous system is not as strong, and her body simply shut down.
But I clung to my Dad’s hand and screamed.
I don’t remember how long the battle was going on, 5 hours for sure… When it all quieted down, we could still hear weapon magazines for some time. We waited a bit longer and eventually dared to come out. The house next to us was no more, the house across the street was no more, the gates were blown away, and a shell fragment flew at us, breaking the window.
I came out into the yard.
My husband said to not let the child outside because there was a body in the yard. It was a kadyrivets [one of Kadyrov’s fighters], only the upper body to the waist, with part of the head missing. The window in our garage was broken by a large human bone with some meat still on it, possibly a thigh.
We came out of the gate. I started to cry again. Until then, I did not know what war was. Even though I watched a ton of movies and read books. The street was simply gone… no road, no trees, no buildings. A huge fire, fresh, still burning. We saw a neighbor who was digging through the rubble in his yard. He was laughing and was surprisingly happy. I asked Dad: why is he laughing? Dad replied: because he is alive.
March 5, 2022
On that day, they came for us. In previous days, we lived on the first floor of the building and went down to the cellar (which was located in the building) only when the bombing was very heavy. We knew that the russians were already in Bucha and were coming into our area from the other side, they were rushing towards Irpin. We considered an evacuation attempt on the 3rd or the 4th (for me and the little one). The bridges were already destroyed and the plan was as follows: by car to Irpin and then by train to Kyiv. We were ready to go and Dad went to survey the situation. Yabluns’ka street was being shot at; he saw with his eyes the tanks quite a distance away shooting at cars with civilians in them. They tried to shoot down Dad as well but missed; the bullet flew right past his leg. He called us and said: no, stay at home! In other words, there was no other way out because that was the only way.
By the way, we still had electricity, cooked in a steamer, warmed ourselves with a heater in the cellar, and went outside to get some air.
On the evening of the 5th, it became strangely quiet. We thought that ours took them all out. A little earlier, we saw a video on the Internet about how a yellow-blue banner was raised near the city council and Bucha was pronounced to be under our control.
In the evening we heard an incredible roar, shooting very close, and screaming… That was strange considering that nobody walked on the streets in those days. The lights went out.
The terrible realization did not happen at once…
But we saw that the russian soldiers were already in the neighbors' building. Incredibly, they missed our building. Those were kadyrivtsi (that's what the commander of russian reconnaissance group said later). They were seeking those who fired at their column on the 27th.
After a while, Dad said calmly: they are coming for us, we must be ready. It’s important to remain calm, not quarrel, not scream… I was so terrified that I could not hear or see well. There was a loud roar and movement outside, we heard them walking around the yard, surrounding the building, there were so many of them. Russian language with a heavy accent. I grabbed the little one and put her on my lap, covered her mouth with my hand, she did not even move. We were in complete darkness. Dad was just on the second floor, checking out the situation. I feared that he would be killed immediately. They started knocking on the door and yelling: «Open up!»
They were already in the house. That was an elite russian reconnaissance unit (not kydyrivtsi). They were yelling at Dad: «Hands up! Down! Is there a child here? Where is the child?»
The neighbors told them that there was a child here. I was in despair. I heard that their practice was to use children and women as human shields.
They asked how many people were in the cellar and said to turn over our phones and other means of communication right away. They took everything, partially cleared out the house. I remember them saying: «Zelensky ran away. We will save you. You are now under protection. Why did you not leave?»
In the meantime, BTR (armored personnel carrier) drove into the yard and stopped right in front of the house. Fuel poured into the cellar and it became difficult to breathe. All that time, Dad was with them on the first floor. The commander, upon hearing that there is a child here, ordered them not to frighten anyone, and the armored personnel carrier was moved to the neighbors across the street. That is where they stopped. Behind our house, surveillance was set up, we were not allowed to go out on the street, use flashlights or light a fire, nor cause noise.
We were left without electricity or gas, with almost no water and without communication. We were under occupation.
March 6, 2022
Almost noone slept at night. The unknown was frightening, it was hard to breathe, it was getting to be really cold, and it was freezing outside. We were most frightened about information on our phones, Telegram chats. [This was because] a few days ago we made calls to Territorial Defense to ask whether it was possible to leave.
It wasn’t for nothing that we were afraid.
The next morning they came again. In general, from that moment on, the russians were always coming whenever they wanted, but they knocked. First they took Dad. He peeked into the cellar and shouted: «Daughter, I am leaving» and went out. Someone told me that he was taken to show the way (I had a feeling that was a lie). My husband and I sat in the cellar with our daughter. After some time, they came and started calling «the second one;» that was my Dima. He got up quickly, said «I love you,» and went out. I stayed by myself with Sasha. I was shaking, I grabbed her in my arms and was swaying with her. She kept asking where Daddy went. I did not talk to her, unfortunately, but simply stared at the wall and kept repeating the same thing: «God, help us.» Sasha stopped asking and sat quietly in my arms.
All that time, there was shooting on the street, one could hear people’s screams, final screams… You can’t get that sound confused with a regular scream. It occurred to me that boys had been killed right outside. I began to prepare myself for that and probably went a bit crazy at that moment.
Then I heard that someone was coming down to the cellar. Those were armed soldiers, three of them to begin with. I was surprised by the level at which they were armed; they were very well stocked. They came in and started asking if we have means of communication, whether we are in need of food or medicine (Sasha was beginning to have a really bad cough). I got the courage to ask where my men are. The response: «They did bad things; they are being dealt with.» They went out.
After a while, others came in, asking the same questions; it seemed like they just wanted to take a look at us… I became brave. Started persistently asking to bring mine back. They said they would. Subsequently, another one walked in who was very sure of himself. Started telling me to not «show off and sit quietly,» that my husband made a mistake and will answer for it, but he will be brought back.
It was very crowded in the house, the in-laws were upstairs because people were being brought in there. Whoever tried to get to Irpin and was not killed was brought to us. A family with a small daughter Nastia came in and the Mom was told to go down to the cellar with the child. It wasn’t safe on the first floor. The girls started to play. A young guy was brought in and we were told to watch that he does not run away. If he runs away, they will cut up all of us.
Closer to the evening, I heard the words: «Mother, go meet the son,» which were directed at my mother-in-law. At first, I could not believe it. But then, my husband came into the cellar to me. I tried to smile and joke a little, but couldn’t. I burst into tears. I couldn’t even dream of such happiness.
When we went to sleep in the evening, the men usually slept on the first floor the best they could; it was very cold there, no windows, and minus 9 outside. That night, my Dima sat near us in the cellar and kept staring at the same spot. I asked if he was okay. He said: «They will clear out all of us.» I asked why he was saying that. He answered: «Because I saw what they are capable of.» At that time, I did not dare ask him what was done to him during all those hours. I hugged the sleeping child and quietly cried in the dark… from feeling powerless.
March 7, 2022
It was day 3 of the occupation.
There were approximately 15 people in the house. The child and I were mostly sitting in the cellar. Sasha had a terrible cough and her little legs hurt. We slept in the cold, but it was still warmer in the cellar (approximately minus 5) than on the first floor. The russians were coming in all the time, we were under their control. A little down the street was their command post. They started bringing in supplies and weapons there, with all of it passing by our window. Therefore, it was essential to tape the windows and to God forbid not look or come out. There were watchmen in the yard. The house was dark during the day and at night. We had no communication whatsoever with the outside world. Every time they knocked on the door, the heart stopped. You never knew why they came… Maybe again, to pick someone up for questioning, maybe to remind us of the rules one more time, and maybe because there was too much smoke coming out of the second floor windows (smoke was allowed but not too much, open fire was strictly prohibited), and maybe we were not being quite enough… but there were two children in the house who were only 3-years-old.
Despite that situation, my spirits were high that day because my Dad and my husband were with us. They had come back from where one does not come back from. They were accused of changing the fire, taken to the basement, and interrogated. What price does one’s psychological state pay for being taken in an armored personnel vehicle, lying on corpses, being tied up in the cold basement, and feeling what it’s like when you are already on your knees with your face to the fall to be shot. But even there, [my Dad and husband] were first of all thinking of us with the child, who will now cook our food, and how we will live without them.
When they forbade us to light a fire, the question of preparing food emerged. My Dad and husband made a fire on the second floor of the building and used it for cooking food. It was not visible from the street. The windows in the rooms were opened to let the smoke out a little bit, but it mostly went inside the house. The entrance to the first floor was covered with blankets, but of course the smoke went there a little bit. In the morning, Dad cooked porridge for Sasha, soup for lunch, and in the evening we reheated what was in the russian rations. We had no choice. I did not want to eat, I felt sick all the time.
I washed vegetables for soup under a tiny stream of ice cold water, cut them up, my fingers were freezing and cold. But that’s nothing compared to the pain of cooking the soup. To even warm up water, you had to stand right next to the fire and breathe in the smoke in the room. Dad came back all black and I could see that he was not well. Thanks to him, we maintained the child’s food schedule, despite everything. After all, that’s immunity.
In addition, we fed everyone who was brought to us.
Every second, my men cared for us. They could not rescue us, but they made living conditions more or less comfortable to the extent that was possible. I understood how difficult it was for them to realize that nothing could be done. that we were thrown into that situation… that they cannot defend us. I listened to Dad and did everything he told me without arguing. In him, I saw the only person who always had a plan and knew what to do. And I understand very clearly that if my daughter and I had a chance to leave earlier and the men remained in the house by themselves, they would have been killed right away.
March 10, 2022. Evacuation, Part 1
In the morning, we found a radio. After putting in batteries from children’s toys, we heard that the green corridor was agreed upon starting at 9:00 today. Dad immediately and decisively said that we will be getting out of here. Everyone get ready. He went to ask the russians if we are allowed to leave by car. They did not allow it. Only by foot and only to Irpin, and only the way they indicate. My hands fell, I thought we would be able to go to the center of Bucha and not to another city. But we could only do what they said. We learned that rule very well during those days.
We got ready, wrapped ourselves in white rags, and attached a stick with a large piece of sheet to the stroller. I took my dog on the leash, hoping that he would run next to the stroller. He got scared and could not walk, so I put him in the bottom of the stroller and pushed along with the child.
I was shaking. We had not been outside in a long time and I did not recognize my native places. First, we got to the school (we live nearby). There were people there, noone was going anywhere, and they were surprised that we were going somewhere. We kept walking, about 10 minutes from the school-and we got to Yabluns’ka street. There were three dead young men with their hands tied right in front of us. We turned into Yabluns’ka…At that moment, I got a feeling of living «inside a picture,» not fully perceiving the reality, as if all this was happening with someone else (the psychologist later explained that my mind turned off the reality to enable me to somehow keep functioning).
Dead people were lying on the street, a lot of people, there was a lot of blood on the road, they were killed fairly recently. My husband said to cover the child’s eyes. Unfortunately, I was not able to do that. Russian soldiers ran out of the first house, pointing their weapons at us, and yelling: «Stop! Where are you going? Who gave you permission?» They were not like the ones that were at our house. These ones were aggressive and impulsive. It was impossible to reason with them. We said that we were evacuating; they argued but let us through. After passing another house, the same thing. We all put our hands in the air and waited to see whether they would let us though. They let us through so we kept walking. The little one kept asking why uncles are lying on the ground and why blood is coming out of their heads. I could not say anything in response… how do you explain that to a 3-year-old child? After that, she sat very quietly, and sitting in the stroller raised her little hands in the air whenever we did the same. We got to the intersection of Yabluns’ka and Vokzal’naya. Again the shout: «Stand!» We stood right in the midst of dead people, and I was thinking that none of that was real and noone will let us pass, we saw their crimes, and they will shoot us right now. A rather aggressive soldier shouted: «Not allowed. The [green] corridor starts at 15:00. Go back!» Dad starts talking to him, that the ones before let us through, but [the soldier] starts getting angry and begins to threaten us. I start to panic. I whisper to everyone: «Let's quickly turn around, quietly, don’t look at them, back, back!»
The russian soldier orders us to come back, and tells Dad to walk over to him with hands raised. I tremble, I stop and realize that I can’t go without Dad. Even though I have a huge responsibility, after all I am pushing the stroller with the little one.
It turned out that they were looking for cigarettes, and thankfully Dad had them. They let him go. We returned to the school, to wait until 15:00.
That feeling of «living inside a picture» stayed with me for many months after that. I became emotionless, did not feel life, and thanks to that I did not go insane.
Evacuation, Part 2
There was a warm shelter in the school, there was food and many people. I started talking about staying there… I did not want to go back to where we had been. Dad immediately cut off that idea. The child needs to be brought out of here and that’s the end of it. I am counting minutes until 15:00, pray, and mentally prepare myself.
We went again. Walked by everything that we passed the first time… I was thinking that we cannot even process all this, the murders of people, our neighbors, and we are just walking by.
Noone is stopping us at the intersection of Yabluns’ka and Vokzal’naya, but there are a lot of russians. One, leaning on his leg and holding a machine gun, looks and smiles mockingly.
We turn towards Irpin, the bridge is ahead.
To look around is not possible; you would get a bullet right away. A car takes off from a small intersection ahead and immediately spins into a pillar of fire, and after a second, we hear the sound-a terrible explosion. The bridge is mined. I cannot hear anything. I lean over to check on my child in the stroller, to see if she is okay. At that moment, I wanted to turn around, but I understood that back there the chances of survival were non-existent. But if we goy lucky, we could cross the bridge. Dad is in front. Let’s go. We pass by the blown-up car, it is burning, obviously everyone in it is dead. We are stopped by the shouts ahead of us: «Stop! Hands up!» We stop, we stand. Coming towards us are ours! So all that time, we not only lived under occupation but we lived on the front line where it is almost impossible to live. I was certain that ours had moved much further and I couldn’t believe that they could hold back the occupiers right here. They meet us and take us around. We climb up the hill, there is a path laid out on top. I try to push the stroller and get stuck in the swamp up to my ankles. There are no options and I push on. The boys from the State Emergency Service greet us, we board the buses and take off… toward the russian checkpoint.
Irpin is partially occupied. One can come out only to the now well-known destroyed bridge, by foot. But evacuation buses that were permitted through the [green] corridor had come form Kyiv, and the only road is through the occupied territory (through Stoyanka).
The line in front of the checkpoint is huge. There are many cars and our column of buses. We stand there for 4 hours. They are not letting us through and won’t let us through today. Soon there will be an air raid and bombing. The driver comes up to us and says that we will sleep on the bus, right on the road. It is minus 10 outside.
If there are angels on this earth, they are undoubtedly the employees of the State Emergency Service. People who save the lives of others, sometimes at the cost of their own. We had the best people with us who gave us hope.
They found an abandoned building and brought everyone there. It was terrible outside, the sky was on fire, Irpin was bombed.
Women and children were put up in the basement. There were even couches there and I put Sasha down next to a woman with a little baby. I myself sat down next to her and started to think that those are not the worst conditions.
The building was not fully finished and the bathroom was on the third floor. After some time, there was a terrible stench and we heard shouts that the sewer broke through. All of that started to flow on our feet. I grabbed our things, woke up the child, dressed her, and started to leave to go elsewhere. But there was no place to go. We found space next to the basement exit and an old reclining chair. My husband sat down and we put our daughter on top of him, covered her with everything we had, and he sat like that with her until 5 in the morning. My back couldn’t take it, I tried. I found a small chair for fishing that wobbled terribly, took the dog in my arms, and sat in a curled position, waiting for the morning., rocking back and forth. It was terribly cold and it stank so badly that it made you dizzy. But my daughter slept and that was the most important thing for me.
March 11, 2022. Evacuation, Part 3
There were about 45 people in the basement. Some had a high fever, it was a terrible night. We had neither water nor food.
At 5:00 in the morning, our boys from the State Emergency Service came and told everyone to get on the bus, it looks like there was an agreement for the continuation of the corridor. We were so cold that we had no feeling in our toes. I was very worried for the little one. We boarded buses, got in line. Behind the window was an apocalypse. Broken, bullet-ridden cars everywhere, almost each one with the sign «children.» That part of Irpin was as if dead, only a lot of abandoned pets running around.
We get to the russian checkpoint. Every car is carefully searched, it is forbidden to have a phone, they are being confiscated. By then, we forgot what a phone is (ours had been taken away on the 5th). A russian soldier walked into the bus. My daughter and I are sitting in the front, so he is right in front of us. All men are brought out of the bus. We can’t see outside the window, they are all covered. After a minute, the shooting next to the bus begins. The children begin to panic and cry. And we, women, as well. We all thought that our men had been shot. Turns out they found some people’s phones, placed them on the ground, and shot through them. The men returned. The russian came back and said that if we get through the forest, we should consider ourselves lucky. There are a lot of russians in the forest. They don’t give a damn about these evacuation corridors.
We keep moving. There is complete silence on the bus. Everyone is praying. We don’t look where we are going. We stop after half an hour. A soldier comes on the bus and says: «Glory to Ukraine!»
Even now, I cry when I remember that moment. I hugged Sasha and could not believe that we were safe. We survived even though we were not supposed to. Our beloved Bucha is behind us, enveloped in great sorrow. I thought of those people on Yabluns’ka, the world does not even know, it keeps living on… But they-no, they are lying there. I thought that we had come out of hell; surely that is what hell looks like. We arrived in Kyiv with almost nothing… Black, dirty, and we stank. We saw people, our people, and that was so unbelievable. One can walk freely, no need to stare at the floor the whole time. Stores and pharmacies are open, noone is shooting. Bucha is not far from Kyiv, but the difference is massive.
I did not know where my Mom was. I sat on the bus and berated myself, crying that I left Mom. We live on the same street, but it was impossible to get in touch with one another since the 5th. I tried walking to her so many times but was not let through.
My husband’s parents remained in Bucha. They could not undertake tha journey for the second time and decided to remain in the school. After a few days, the russians got there and moved them to a kindergarten, throwing grenades after them, and then kept them there for a month! We had no way to get in touch with them and that was maddening. Every night, I prayed for hours for God to protect them… and He did.
My Mom and grandmother evacuated almost at the same time as we did, only by a different route. I first heard from Mom when I was already in the Lviv region. I will remember that phone call and will remember it for the rest of my life.
A month after our escape, Bucha would be liberated. They would find people, children… we could be among them. That thought does not leave me alone for a long time. I did not know what russian soldiers were doing to women and children when I sat in the cellar and bravely begged them to return my husband from questioning. I could pay dearly for such audacity.
But we got lucky. We got out. Ruined inside and changed forever. I still get scared when I hear someone speak russian next to me. And my child is afraid of people dressed in military uniform.
My daughter and I returned to Bucha in June. It was hard but that’s our home. My husband went back right after its liberation in order to prepare the house for our arrival. We continue to live here and sometimes can’t believe that we survived all those horrors. But our city is amazing.
In conclusion, I can say this: Friends, value what you have. Value the time you have with your loved ones. Value life!
Translated by Natalya Barden