‘Our psyche is blown’ Eyewitness accounts of life in Bucha under Russian occupation
For the third day in a row, international media remains flooded with horrifying reports about hundreds of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. Russian forces began occupying this and other satellite cities of Kyiv in early March, but have since retreated from the Kyiv region altogether. In their wake, independent journalists have recorded haunting scenes: in Bucha, the lifeless bodies of civilians were left lying in the streets — some of the victims had their hands tied behind their backs. Predictably, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the photos and videos emerging from Bucha were “staged” by the authorities in Kyiv. Meduza compiles eyewitness accounts of life in Bucha under Russian occupation, as told to journalists.
Warning. The following describes scenes involving abuses and murder. Due to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, Meduza cannot independently verify these accounts.
Mayor of Bucha
The bodies of executed people are still lying on Yablunska Street in Bucha. With their hands tied behind their backs with white “peaceful” rags. [They were] shot in the back of the head. You can imagine what atrocities [Russian soldiers] have done here.
Any war has rules of conduct with civilians. The Russians showed that they killed civilians knowingly. They practically got the green light from Putin [to go] on safari — and they shot Ukrainians.
Bucha resident, 66, speaking to Reuters
The tank behind me was shooting. Dogs! […] We were sitting in the cellar for two weeks. There was food but no light, no heating to warm up. We put the water on candles to warm it… We slept in felt boots.
Bucha resident, 74, speaking to Reuters about her “brushes with death”
The first time, I went out of the room and a bullet broke the glass, the window, and got stuck in the dresser. The second time, shattered glass almost got into my leg.
The third time, I was walking and didn’t know he [a Russian soldier] was standing with a rifle and the bullets went right past me. When I got home, I couldn’t speak.
We don’t want them to come back. I had a dream today — that they left, and didn’t come back.
Bucha resident, speaking to The Insider
Those were the scary days. Neither your courtyard, nor your house, not even your life belonged to you anymore. No light, no water, no gas. It was forbidden to go out, and if you did, you would be shot. Enemy equipment was stationed in our courtyard. On March 5, they broke the windows, broke in and took our phones. On the sixth they took my father and husband for interrogation. They found correspondence and phone calls to the territorial defense (we were trying to get out and find out a little bit about the situation outside). They looked through everything — the posts, the Telegram channels, and if you wrote something they don't like — you're dead.
People are being shot around the house, and what a scary sound that is. Even scarier than the sound of a bomb. You just sit in the basement and pray for your relatives to come back. And we were lucky, we found a commander who was nice to children; he knew my three-year-old daughter was in the basement and ordered his soldiers to move the equipment to another location. They brought food, water, and candies for the little ones. They let our men go, they couldn't prove their guilt.
Before this group of soldiers, some Kadyrovites [Chechen forces] marched by and miraculously ignored our house. The commander said that if they had come in, we would have no longer been alive. They were taking revenge for the column that had been smashed up earlier, and they didn’t even care who to kill. We were lucky.
The next three days passed in the cold, we sat in the basement in terrible fear to [the] sound of shelling. Fifteen people who had fled from Hostomel were brought into the house. We tried to feed everyone. If it hadn't been for my dad, we would have all been sitting there hungry.
On the tenth we heard on the radio that a green corridor was opening at 9 o'clock, so we realized we had to get out. We asked them if we could take the child out. They said no, not by car, in that case they'd shoot us. We decided to go on foot. A stroller, a white flag, as few belongings as possible. We pushed the stroller around the corpses of innocent civilians (I don't how many were there), which had been there for days.
There are Russians in almost every courtyard. Suddenly we hear the shout: “freeze!”, and we freeze with our hands up (later we noticed that my daughter had also raised her hands). They let us through two checkpoints, at the third one they won't let us through, they turn us back, saying the corridor will open at 3:00 pm. We are desperate. We go back, we wait. Another attempt. We can't look back, only forward. A car with civilians rushes by, hits a mine and explodes, there is almost nothing left of the car; the path ahead is mined. The men are in front, I'm behind them with the stroller. Amid mines, corpses, broken equipment, then on through the swamp we made our way to freedom.
At last, our soldiers meet us, and we are handed over to the guys from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, get on the bus and go. We arrive at the Russian checkpoint and wait four hours. We hear bad news. They won't let us in, we have to spend the night in the bus on the road. Not many people at the checkpoints know about the humanitarian corridors and they make them angry.
Meanwhile, it gets dark and rockets start flying over us. We find a basement, women and children are there, it's minus 10 outside. A sewer in the basement had burst, and in this stench, horror, and cold we sit until morning.
In the morning, our soldiers arrange for us to be let through, and this time we are lucky. One last dash, an enemy roadblock, my heart sinks, they could fire at any moment, and we pull into territory controlled by our troops.
We are safe for now, but our psyche is blown, we have changed, nothing will be the same as before. We try to communicate normally, even joke around a bit, but when you close your eyes, you immediately see a road full of dead bodies, and how we froze with our hands raised, waiting for them to decide.
It's a blessing we managed to get out. But my soul and thoughts are with Bucha and with all the hero cities, with the people who are trapped, with the children who should not be involved in the war at all.
Bucha resident, 80, speaking to The Times
They [Russian soldiers] came to my house. I asked them what they were doing there. They told me, “We’re just trying to do our job”.