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‘I can do whatever I want to you’ Russian soldiers raped and murdered Ukrainian civilians in the village of Bohdanivka
The world continues to learn about the atrocities committed in Ukraine’s Kyiv region in the weeks before Russian troops retreated from the area in late March. Together with news outlet Astra, Meduza discovered that in one village alone — Bohdanivka, in Kyiv’s Brovary district — at least three murders and two rapes occurred during the Russian occupation. To get an accurate picture of these (and other) crimes, we spoke with local residents, compared their accounts, and reconstructed the events that occurred in the village between March 8 and March 29, when Russian troops were in Bohdanivka.
- Russia’s occupation of Bohdanivka, a village 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from Kyiv, began on March 8. An armored vehicle column (likely the 6th or the 239th Tank Regiment from Russia’s Chelyabinsk region) passed through the village’s main street and exited onto the highway leading to Kyiv, where it immediately came under heavy shelling from the Ukrainian army.
- On the evening of March 8, Russian soldier began hiding their surviving tanks and armored vehicles in Bohdanivka — the soldiers likely recieved orders to occupy the village and conduct a “cleaning operation” (which entails finding all of the men with military experience and possible territorial defense forces members) and wait for reinforcements.
- Around midday on March 9, a group of soldiers going from house to house reached the easternmost part of Bohdanivka: Zalesskaya Street. Civilians were still living in the houses there. Their testimonies allowed Meduza to reconstruct the crimes committed by Russian soldiers.
- The commander of the unit checking all of the houses in Bohdanivka was named Mikhail Romanov. He didn’t hide his face — he even asked local residents to find him on social media. This meant the residents Meduza spoke to could identify him from his photos online. Other, indirect evidence confirms that this person might be a contract soldier from Chebarkul (in the Chelyabinsk region) who is assigned to one of three military units: No. 93992, No. 89547, or No. 87441.
- At about 10:00 p.m. on March 9, Russian soldiers in this part of the village committed their first crime. They shot repairman Alexey Rudenko because there were khaki-colored pants hanging up in his house and the soldiers thought they were part of a military uniform (though they were actually just for fishing; Rudenko was not in the military). He died in his young daughter’s arms.
- At about midnight, Romanov and one other unnamed soldier in an all-black uniform shot another local civilian: Alexey Zdorovets, a former deputy from the nearby town of Brovary. After killing Zdorovets, the men raped his wife for two hours while the couple’s son was locked in a boiler room. The woman was miraculously able to escape and later gave a statement to the police. The soldiers buried Zdorovets’s body in the yard outside the house, then burned the house down. They also killed all of the family’s dogs.
- On March 23, in the northern, forest-covered part of the village another murder occurred. Konstantin (name changed) told Meduza that a Russian soldier broke into his home and shot his father-in-law while he watched — after getting spooked by a ringing cell phone. The man’s body was found a week later in the same spot with bullet wounds in the head.
- Another rape occurred in Bohdanivka on March 28 — just a few days before the end of the occupation — in a more remote garden community called Voloshka. Soldiers broke into the house of Svetlana Perminova in search of food and valuables, then raped her in the basement. Afterward, Perminova wrestled with thoughts of suicide and even took measures to harm herself. Her husband, Edward Shpilevoi, left the village during the occupation to help the Ukrainian armed forces. In mid-April, he was found dead in the basement of a private home in the nearby village of Shevchenkovo. There were signs of torture. Six other bodies were found with him.
- Presumably on March 30, Russian troops retreated from Bohdanivka. Parts of the village were mined. Judging by messages left by soldiers on walls and other evidence, a second group of Russian soldiers came and replaced the first group during the occupation; they seem to have lived in the same houses that were taken from Ukrainian civilians. Forensic examiners are currently working in the village.
In early April, the world learned about Bucha, a town that’s since become a symbol of Russian cruelty in Ukraine. In Bucha, the Russian military targeted apartment buildings with artillery at point-blank range; they executed, tortured, and raped civilians. Unfortunately, these atrocities weren’t limited to one town: Russian troops committed similar acts in multiple villages in the Kyiv region on the right bank of the Dnipro River that came under total Russian occupation in the first weeks of the war. On the river’s opposite side, the Russian offensive sputtered as columns of armored vehicles came under heavy Ukrainian shelling on the outskirts of the Kyiv satellite town of Brovary; the troops then scattered into the surrounding villages.
One of the places where Russian troops hid is Bohdanivka (or Bogdanovka in Russian), a small village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Kyiv. Before the war, about two and a half thousand people called it home. It’s on the path to Brovary, the largest municipality in the Kyiv region and a satellite of the capital city. Bohdanivka’s old center extends along Khmelnytsky Street, the village’s main thoroughfare; the north part of town is full of townhouses, while the “fields” in the east are a popular area for young middle class families from Kyiv to build private homes.
If you go to the village today, you’ll still see the words “Civilians. Checked” written on gates outside people’s homes — usually in large, dark blue letters that can easily be seen from far away. After Russian troops made their rounds, purportedly in search of weapons and Donbas veterans, they left these large notes throughout Bohdanivka. Later, after the Russians retreated from the Kyiv region and the occupation came to an end, Ukrainian bomb squads came in and left new messages on the same gates: a large period means that a homes has been checked, while a question mark means it’s dangerous to go inside. Many residents who returned home found bombs and trip wires in their cars and homes. Some also found fresh graves in their yards.
March 8 at midday. The start of the occupation
The first column of Russian tanks appeared in Bohdanivka on Tuesday, March 8. Traffic cameras captured the tanks moving down the village’s central Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street at midday. Several armored vehicles immediately turned into people’s yards — for example, on Krymets Street, where soldiers hit in unfinished buildings. “There were about 10-15 people,” Bohdanivka resident Valentin told Meduza. “They just broke into a store and plundered it — then, with their bags of loot thrown over their shoulders, they came to live with us.”
37-year-old Kristina (name changed at her request) lives with her father and her sister-in-law in the eastern part of the city; their house is “in the fields” on Zalesskaya Street. “On March 8, heavy fighting broke out [on the highway that goes to Kyiv through Brovary]; we saw tanks going through the village and a lot of smoke on the road [Route E-95]. Some of our neighbors managed to escape that day — apparently they somehow snuck through the column [of armored vehicles] that was headed for Kyiv, and past the ones that had already returned from battle,” she said. Kristina has worked for several years at one of Ukraine’s largest construction companies, but before the war, she was planning to quit and start a career in data analysis. In early March, she bought tickets to Paris, but the trip didn’t end up happening.
Viktoria (name changed at her request) lives in the house next to Kristina’s; she watched the approaching tanks through her binoculars. “The tank that came closest to us had a white ‘O’ sign and came to the intersection of Zalesskaya Street, next to the pine forest. It went into our neighbors’ yard, remained there for a minute, then turned around and moved on and went somewhere else.” Viktoria and her husband usually move to their house in Bohdanivka in the springtime, but in 2022, they decided to come here from Kyiv in late February — when the war started, they thought it might be safer there. Not long beforehand, Viktoria’s husband, Alexey, had finished building a fireplace; it kept the two warm during the occupation.
34-year-old Yevgeniya (name changed at her request) has a house at the end of Zalesskaya Street, in Bohdanivka’s easternmost district. “All we could see was smoke coming from the highway. I hung up a sheet so it would immediately be clear that there were civilians living in the building,” she told Meduza. Yevgeniya saw three tanks move down Khmelnytsky Street towards the highway to Brovary, then turn back towards the village, then drive through people’s gardens, then finally disappear into the pine forest. A few hours later, soldiers started lugging bags of groceries from a looted store to empty houses, said Kristina, who lives next to Yevgeniya in the village.
In early March, Russian troops were still determined to cut off Kyiv — which would require taking over both banks of the Dnipro at the same time. On the right bank, they launched a full-fledged occupation, systematically shelling apartment buildings and murdering hundreds of civilians; the world now knows the consequences as the massacre in Bucha. The events that occurred in the villages and towns neighboring Bucha were no less terrible.
On the left bank, most of the 90th Tank Division encircled Brovary. Some of the division, acting as part of one or two battalion groups, tried to break into the city, but came under heavy fire from Ukrainian artillery near the village of Skibin. Residents of Bohdanivka, Velyka Dymerka, and several other neighboring villages that Russian troops would soon retreat to witnessed the shelling. After that, Russia’s plan to advance into Kyiv from Chernihiv essentially died on the spot.
The investigative group Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) explained to Meduza where exactly the tank column that came under fire near Skibin had come from. “Officially, during ‘peacetime,’ the Russian army fights with ‘battalion-tactical groups’ (BTGs) — combined groups of contractors with different specialties, usually with 500-1000 people to a regiment. We believe they assembled and sent two BTGs with servicemen from the 6th Tank Regiment and the 239th Tank Regiment to Ukraine from the city of Chebarkul in Chelyabinsk region. Even back in winter, these troops were concentrated in the Bryansk region, near the Ukrainian border, as part of the 90th Tank Division.
According to CIT, these regiments’ arsenal was full of old and rare equipment, which makes their movement fairly easy to recreate based on photographs of broken and abandoned armored vehicles taken by local residents. That the regiments came from Chebarkul is also confirmed by recordings of wiretapped conversations about the death of Colonel Andrei Zakharov (a commander from the 6th tank regiment) that were published by the Ukrainian armed forces, as well as documents from the 239th Tank Regiment that were found with dead Russian soldiers in villages north of Brovary.
Additionally, reports of soldiers from Chebarkul who have died during the invasion have regularly been appearing on social media groups like “Typical Chebarkul” since late February.
March 9. Russian soldiers murder two civilians and rape one
On March 9, at least two murders and one rape occurred in the eastern part of Bohdanivka. The crimes were committed by the same two soldiers, who knew one another. This much is clear from the accounts of that day given by all of the residents of Zalesskaya Street.
Morning: Russian troops start going door to door
On March 9, a group of Russian soldiers began closing in on Zalesskaya Street. They got their hands on alcohol almost immediately. “A machine gun in one hand, a bottle in the other. He’d shoot, then take a swig. And he’d dress for it — he already had someone’s red sneakers on,” said Oleg, a Bohdanivka resident who lives in a cottage on Zalesskaya Street.
According to locals, the Russian soldiers used a stolen red ATV to transport the items they stole from people’s cottages. “They attached a compact trailer to it and drove everything into the forest,” said Alexander, who lives on nearby Krymets Street (Bohdanivka residents really did find a pile of TVs in the forest near the village after the Russians retreated).
Valentin, another Bohdanivka resident, watched the encirclement of Zalesskaya Street from his window. “They went into every building. You’re sitting there by the window, watching them move around, and then you realize they’re about to get to your place. It turned out there was already a tank under my gate. Its barrel was poking at my window.” In videos posted on social media by Bohdanivka residents, Russian military vehicles can be seen moving through the village in search of a place to park, some of them driving right into people’s yards.
It only took half a day for Russian troops to turn violent towards village residents. “They went into my mother-in-law’s home,” said Oleg. “Thank God she was over at a neighbor’s house at the time. And I was watching it all happen from my own home.” At that moment, Oleg had guests hiding in his house: “There was my daughter, there was also my friend and his girlfriend… a 20-year-old girl. My son is 16. I saw how this could all end,” said Oleg. “And eventually the decision made itself. We had a hunting rifle — and my friend and I decided that if they came in, we would shoot.”
When some soldiers hopped over the fence into Oleg’s yard and proceeded to open his gate from the inside, someone fired from the house (Oleg didn’t specify who). “I’m pretty sure we even wounded someone,” Oleg said. “At the very least, they called out, ‘300!’ [injured]. We bought ourselves 15 minutes to quietly escape. We climbed over the fence and went over there, into the forest.”
Kristina, his neighbor, heard someone fire a rifle from Oleg’s property. After that, the group of frightened soldiers tried to hide in her yard. There were 10 of them overall, Kristina told Meduza; she went out to the porch to meet them. “At first, they broke the glass and demanded to know who our neighbor was. They wanted to throw grenades at him,” she said. “But then they seemed to relax and move to the terrace. They started chatting, asked for cigarettes, and took our beer. We entertained them like that for about an hour.”
The main soldier in the group, Kristina told Meduza, seemed to be one named Mikhail Romanov. According to Kristina, he offered them his name himself and tried to swap contact information; the other soldiers referred to him as their commander. “Mikhail looked to be 30, but he was very emotional,” said Kristina. “He quickly started hitting on me — like a teenager. He said, ‘Ugh, if it weren’t for the war,’ and so on. He wouldn't leave me alone. He asked me to find him on social media so we could become friends.” As a result, we managed to find Mikhail Romanov.
Romanov, judging by his social media accounts, is 31 years old. He was born in the city of Plast in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region. Phone numbers that Meduza determined belong to him, however, have been used on a number of announcements for the sale of various items (such as furniture, children’s clothing, and tools) in the town of Chebarkul, so he seems to have been living there before going to Ukraine to join the war. Chebarkul has 11 military units assigned to the 90th Tank Division.
Nothing is known publicly about Romanov’s career. Meduza learned from tax records that from 2011 to 2013, he worked as a cashier at Magnit, a Russian grocery store chain. Deleted social media accounts that Meduza found archived copies of show Romanov’s son playing in a military uniform. The Russian Defense Ministry didn’t respond to Meduza’s questions about whether Mikhail Romanov represents the Russian army.
Astra also learned of two train journeys made — to the Ukrainian border and to the Russian army’s largest training center — by a passenger named Mikhail Romanov with the same birthday and middle name as the Mikhail Romanov who was in Bohdanivka.
Romanov’s first trip was to the town of Millerovo in the Rostov region in December 2014. Millerovo is located just 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the border with Ukraine and is the site of a military airfield. Experts from CIT believe the travel may have been related to a trip made by Russian soldiers from Chebarkul to the Donbas, where active fighting was going on at the time. “The 7th Separate Tank Brigade, which has now become the 239th Tank Regiment, was fighting in the LDNR (the self-proclaimed Donbas republics) that fall.” In 2022, after a battle near Bohdanivka, Ukrainian soldiers found documents from that same tank regiment.
Mikhail Romanov’s second trip was in October 2021, when he went from Chebarkul to Yelansky Station in Russia’s Sverdlovsk region and back. Yelansky Garrison is the Russian Army’s largest training center near Yekaterinburg, where servicemen and conscripts gather from all over Russia’s Central Military District for additional training, including before serving as contract fighters. What exactly Romanov did there isn’t clear, but his social media includes photos taken from a feast with his former conscript friends after demobilization but before he became a contract soldier (in some of the comments on the pictures, Romanov’s friends wish “the boys” “good luck”).
Based on information collected by both CIT and Meduza, CIT concluded that Mikhail Romanov may be the flight commander in the 139th Tank Regiment (military unit No. 89547) or the 6th Tank Regiment (military unit No. 93992). Both units are based in Chebarkul, the city where Romanov lives with his family.
It’s also worth noting that local residents helped Meduza find documents left by gunners from the 80th Tank Regiment (military unit No. 87441, also from Chebarkul), which had previously suffered losses near Chernihiv.
Meduza was unable to independently confirm that Romanov served in any of these units.
Four Zalesskaya Street residents recognized a user called Mikhail Romanov on two Russian social media sites as the man they had seen in Bohdanivka.
Mikhail Romanov himself has not responded to any calls from Meduza’s correspondents. The user Mikhail Romanov goes on the Russian social media site Odnoklassniki every day, but so far has not responded to Meduza’s messages. His relatives and girlfriend have also not responded to any calls from journalists.
Meduza’s editors did manage to get in touch with Mikhail Romanov’s family. His father, Sergey Mikhailovich Romanov (who we managed to identify using photos on social media that showed him with his son), stated over the phone that he doesn’t know a Mikhail, and hung up the phone. On Odnoklassniki, Sergey Romanov read Meduza’s correspondent’s messages asking him to comment on his son’s possible participation in crimes, but he didn’t respond and immediately blocked the account.
Kristina and her sister-in-law “entertained” the soldiers by conversing with them on the terrace for about an hour. According to Kristina, Romanov seemed to be the older man in the group; the rest looked to be between 18 and 20 years old. They listed the different Russian cities they had come from; the ones she could recall are Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Chelyabinsk. “Mikhail said he was a contract fighter, while the rest were conscripts, and that we’d gotten lucky with their group: ‘You have no idea what’s going on right now in other areas. The atrocities,” Kristina told Meduza. Indeed, right across the river, Russian soldiers were conducting “clean-up operations” in villages and cities such as Bucha.
Another soldier who stuck in Kristina’s memory was a “modest and polite” guy of about 25 who Mikhail called Vitalik (a nickname for Vitaly). “When they came to our home, Vitalik broke the glass and cut his hand. We started yelling at him, like, do you go into your own home like that? He started constantly apologizing and offering to fix it,” she said. Vitalik also drank a lot, Kristina said, but he continuously repeated that he’d recently gotten married and that he wanted to go home.
“The sound of their stolen ATV became a trigger for our entire block. As soon as we heard the sound, it meant they were back,” said Kristina. Mikhail and Vitaly came a total of three times. The last time was at about nine o’clock on March 9. Both men were very drunk. “[After parking,] he [Mikhail] came down the street and shouted, ‘Kristina! Kristina, where are you?’ like some backwoods hillbilly. He demanded I go with him. Mom got on her knees in front of him and started begging him not to take me anywhere. Then Mikhail offered to go up to the bedroom on the second floor, but I convinced him to go out to the yard to smoke. Then he became hysterical — he took out his pistol. “There are no laws in war!” he said. “I can do whatever I want to you — and I won’t be punished for it. If you don’t go with me right now, I’ll shoot!”
According to Kristina, she just turned around and went inside. Then Mikhail shot into the air and ran after her. This was confirmed by Kristina’s mother, who was watching the events from a window. Inside, said Kristina, Mikhail started crying, and said, ‘What, do you think I want all this? I’m sick, I’m psycho. You’re a crazy woman, evil. Why aren’t you afraid of anything? You think I’m not scared? We’re all going to get shot here, they’re going to gouge out our eyes. They just abandoned us.”
By the time this conversation was happening, the 90th Tank Regiment’s tactical team had already suffered serious losses in a battle on the highway leading to Brovary. Colonel Andrey Zakharov, the regiment’s commander, had been killed. It was also unclear when reinforcements would arrive. The remaining soldiers were presumably tasked with hiding the equipment in neighboring villages and conducting “cleaning operations” to rid Bohdanivka of Ukrainian soldiers and territorial defense forces.
Kristina tried to distract Mikhail by talking about his family and how they were waiting for him back home. Mikhail named his wife, who he said he was saving up to by a home with, as well as his two children, a son and an eight-year-old daughter (all of the names match up with the social media profiles Meduza found). The two soldiers finally left when they realized they had run out of wine.
“My family and I had just gone back to sleep when we heard the sound of gunfire outside,” said Kristina.
It’s currently unclear whether anyone was injured or killed by the exact shot Kristina heard. However, her neighbor, Viktoria, lives only about 100 meters (328 feet) away from Kristina, and Viktoria’s husband was shot around that same time.
Evening: Viktoria's house
Two Russian soldiers in balaclavas showed up at 52-year-old Viktoria’s home at about 9:30 p.m. “I heard steps. Then some glass broke in the kitchen — it was hit by machine gun fire. My husband and I cried out that we didn’t have any weapons — and that there were children in the house. They hadn’t turned the electricity on, so we were trying to distinguish the sounds [in the dark],” Viktoria told Meduza.
Everything happened very fast. The soldiers turned on a bright flashlight and kept it shining in everyone’s faces. There were four people home: Viktoria; her elderly mother-in-law; her husband, Alexey; and their 10-year-old daughter. The flashlight lingered on their daughter, and one of the soldiers, the tallest one, said, “Sorry, kid.” “Then the second soldier said, ‘Do you have a cellar?’ ‘No, just a pump room,’ we said. It’s literally a two-by-two meter (or 6.5-by-6.5 foot) hole,” said Viktoria. “They let us grab a blanket, then the soldiers started herding us towards the pump room, but my husband made a fuss about how my mother-in-law is overweight and can’t get in the hole. The soldiers waved her aside and seemed to forget about her.”
The entrance to the pump room in the yard outside the house is covered by a light green hatch. There’s a wooden ladder to make it easier to descend into the shaft. Several people can fit on the brick-lined floor if they all stay standing.
The soldiers closed the hatch for two minutes, then opened it again, said Viktoria. “One of the shorter soldiers looked down, his gun in his hand, and asked, ‘Got any cigarettes?’ ‘No, I haven’t smoked in four days myself,’ said my husband — and the soldier shot at us. The bullet hit my husband in the arm. Then the same soldier said to the other one, ‘Fucking finish him,’ and the second one immediately shot my husband in the head. He went limp and fell right onto our daughter, pinning her down, and died like that, right on top of her. I held his hand until I realized it was over and he was starting to get cold.”
Anatoly, another Bohdanivka resident, confirmed to Meduza that the murder happened there in the underground pump room: three weeks later, after the occupation had ended, he was the one who removed Alexander’s body. “He was my comrade. I brought the Ukrainian soldiers the identify him — they helped me raise him out of the shaft,” said Anatoly. “The body had been lying there the whole time. They shot him in the head — everything was clearly visible."
Viktoria’s neighbor Valentin confirmed the story as well. Valentin saw the soldiers walking through the house with flashlights and heard them shouting, “Cigs! Cigs!” “It was so quiet here, everyone was keeping watch. The soldiers never found their cigarettes. So they went back to the pump room to demand them from the house’s owner,” said Valentin. “They opened the well. And first they shot him once, then they finished him off.”
Leaving Viktoria and her daughter in the pump room, the soldiers started shining their flashlights at Valentin’s windows. “And I had neighbors hiding in my basement — two 16-year-old kids,” Valentin told Meduza. “So we took off. We ran out the back entrance and through the gardens to other cottages and begged to be let in. We ended up hiding in [our neighbor] Alexander’s place.” For some reason, the Russian soldiers didn’t end up going into Valentin’s house — they headed towards the last cottage on Zalesskaya Street.
Viktoria agreed to give Meduza her deceased husband’s name: Alexey Alexeyevich Rudenko. He wasn’t serving in the army because he had a spine condition. For the last few years before his death, Alexey worked as a repairman, painting and fixing up people’s homes around Kyiv. “We didn’t keep any sort of weapons in our home. But my husband did go ice fishing, so he had a camouflage jacket with black fur and matching pants,” she explained. “I always rolled up the jacket and put it in the wardrobe, but I hung the pants up on a hanger. After the murder, when I went into our house, I saw that the pants were lying on the floor and the hanger was broken. Apparently, this all happened because of those pants.”
“It was already 2:30 in the morning when we crawled out of the shaft,” Viktoria said. “I went home to find my mother-in-law. She was pacing around the house alone, crying and unable to understand anything. Then I changed my child into dry clothes, because she was soaked down to her underwear with her dad’s blood. I was soaked in it too.”
Outside of Mikhail Romanov, his companion who he referred to as Vitaly, and one other man in a black uniform, nobody was walking around Zalesskaya Street that night. Still, Viktoria has been unable to confirm the identities of the two soldiers who killed her husband; their faces were covered by balaclavas.
Night: Yevgeniya’s house
On the night of March 9, at what seemed to be about 10:00 p.m., Mikhail Romanov appeared at Yevgeniya’s house — the easternmost house on the street.
He’d already been there early that day with a group of conscripts — just like they’d gone to Kristina’s home. One of the soldiers had shot Yevgeniya’s dog and started breaking through the gate, Yevgeniya told Meduza. One of the soldiers in the group was Vitaly, who immediately started apologizing; he told her he breeds dogs at home in Russia, and that he wasn’t the one who’d shot her dog. Romanov didn’t try to introduce himself to Yevgeniya. “He’d already had something to drink, so he got on his knees and kissed my hands,” she said. “He said he wanted to go home, and he asked us not to be afraid of them. At that point, we still thought the dog being killed was the worst thing that would happen.”
Then, however, Romanov saw a khaki-colored jacket in a car parked outside the house, and his demeanor changed abruptly. He became furious and shot his gun over Yevgeniya’s husband’s head. The couple managed to calm him down by saying it was an Airsoft uniform.
Later that evening, Mikhail Romanov came back on an ATV — though not with Vitaly, but with a different person, who was “wearing an all-black uniform,” said Yevgeniya.
“It was already completely dark, and they knocked at the gate. I went down to the boiler room, where my son was sleeping, and my husband went to open the gate,” said Yevgeniya. “Then I heard a gunshot outside, then footsteps in the house. ‘Come out!’ they yelled. ‘Where’s my husband?’ I asked them. Then that man in the black uniform said, ‘You don’t have a husband anymore — your husband was a Nazi, so we shot him.’”
Yevgeniya started crying. The man in the black uniform put his gun up to her head and said, ‘If you don’t shut your mouth, we’ll go get your little one and show him his mommy’s brains flying around the house.” Then Mikhail Romanov ordered her to undress.
As Yevgeniya told Meduza, for about two hours, Romanov and the man in the black uniform took turns raping her in the hallway and on the staircase. Her son was in the boiler room the entire time. “They would leave and then come back and keep doing the same thing. They held a gun to my head the entire time. Eventually, they came back so drunk that they couldn’t stand up — they were pissing themselves right in the house — and finally they sat down in armchairs and fell asleep.
Amnesty International and The Times confirmed the circumstances surrounding these events through independent interviews.
While the Russian soldiers were sleeping in Yevgeniya’s home, she got her son from the boiler room and explained to him that they “needed to run away right now” or they would be “shot.” Before leaving the property, she found her husband’s body and touched his hand; it was already cold. “We ran through the field to the first house we could find, climbed over the fence, and started knocking. We were lucky it was a house that still had people in it,” she said.
March 10. Escape
At about midnight, Kristina heard someone knocking on her door. It was a woman with a child in her arms. She told Kristina that two Russian soldiers had brutally raped her, and that her husband’s body was lying in the middle of her yard.
“It was Yevgeniya. She was wearing a thin sweatshirt and pants — no jacket or hat, even though it was below freezing outside,” Kristina told Meduza. Yevgeniya’s son was wearing a jacket and had a small blue backpack (other witnesses who saw Yevgeniya earlier that day listed the same articles of clothing). Kristina set Yevgeniya and her child up on the couch in her living room, wrapping them up in blankets — it was extra cold because Russian soldiers had broken the windows.
According to Kristina, she realized in an instant that not a single Zalesskaya Street resident was safe, because Romanov would soon discover that Yevgeniya had escaped — and he might decide he needed to find the remaining witnesses of the murder and the rape he had committed.
At dawn, someone else knocked on the door: Alexander, a neighbor from Krymets Street and a former Emergency Services Ministry employee. He said he’d heard gunshots, he was “aware of the situation,” and his family thought they needed to evacuate immediately.
Alexander’s house is located closer to the village center. Early in the morning on March 10, 20 people had already gathered there: Alexander had called over all of the neighbors left in his block. Then he went to find Viktoria (whose husband had been killed by Russian soldiers in the pump room) and her daughter.
“I saw it from my second story through my binoculars, how they were herded into the shaft,” Alexander told Meduza. “And I thought, ‘There’s a child there. They’re going to fucking freeze.’ At dawn, I decided to go over there, just like I did with all the rest. Whether there were still soldiers there or not, I had no idea, but I was hoping they had at least gotten black-out drunk and fallen asleep like babies. Those fucking Russkies drank an ungodly amount. Before that, I’d been hiding for two days, because they were shooting all of the police officers, soldiers, emergency service workers — everyone with any connection at all to the state.”
Alexander didn’t go rescue his neighbors alone; he brought a Valentin, who had watched through his window as the Russian soldiers shot Viktoria’s husband. “When the sun came out, we ran to Alexey and Viktoria to see who was alive,” Valentin told Meduza. “Just imagine you walk up to the house, and a child opens the door. She said, ‘they killed Papa.’ Just because he didn’t have any cigarettes, and because — like everyone here — he had fishing pants. They killed him for nothing.”
When the neighbors brought Viktoria back to Kristina’s house, Kristina saw how Viktoria’s daughter’s white sneakers were covered in bloodstains. There was no time to rinse them. Viktoria immediately called the “murder department” in Brovary: “I laid it all out at once — that they killed my husband in front of my very eyes. I got the same answer they gave all the other victims: ‘Everything there is occupied, there’s no way for the police to get to you.’ Then they called back a few times, and they even asked me to send a photo of my passport, but I wasn’t going to send anything to people I didn’t know. The worker promised to call me back, but he never did.”
Meanwhile, Kristina got in touch with her brother, who lives in Kyiv. They came up with a plan to get out of the village without running into any soldiers. “At first, we thought about going by foot to the neighboring village, Velyka Dymerka, because a car would attract attention — and then we could look for transportation from there. But it would have been five kilometers (about three miles) through occupied territory, with children — not realistic” (the Ukrainian Prosecutor General later announced that at least 11 civilians had been killed). So at seven in the morning, Kristina got behind the wheel of her car and, following her brother’s directions over the phone, drove Yevgeniya, Viktoria, and the children through vegetables gardens and bombed-out dirt roads all the way to the highway that led to Kyiv.
After that, Yevgeniya filed a report with the police about her husband’s murder and her rape. She was given a “victim’s booklet” (now in Meduza’s possession). Yevgeniya also agreed to tell Meduza her deceased husband’s name: Alexey Zdorovets, former secretary and former deputy on the Brovary City Council, though he wasn’t serving on the City Council at the time of his death. Brovary Mayor Igor Sapozhko confirmed that Zdorovets was killed in statements made to the Ukrainian media. Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko also confirmed Alexey Zdorovets’s murder and his wife’s rape, adding that “M.S. Romanov, a serviceman of the Russian armed forces” had been charged in absentia with “suspicion of cruel treatment of the civilian population, which is a violation of the laws and customs of war as specified by international treaties.”
After the escape to Bohdanivka
Yevgeniya soon started receiving information from people who had returned to Bohdanivka. The big house she had shared with Alexey on the outskirts of the field had been burned to the ground. There was a freshly buried body in the yard. The Russian soldiers who replaced Mikhail Romanov had put up crosses made out of wooden sticks nailed together over Alexey’s grave.
By mid-April, when Meduza’ correspondent went to see Yevgeniya’s house, Alexey’s body had already been exhumed. “The police and the prosecutor had gone and taken [the body],” Alexander, the family’s neighbor, explained. Kyiv regional police officers told Ukrainian reporters about the murder and rape in Bohdanivka on April 10, and a man’s body can be seen in a video filmed at the site. In the same video, Kyiv Regional Police chief Andrey Nebytov says the name of one of the suspects: Romanov.
The house’s gates are still there — they’re just over to the side. A washing machine, black from soot, is the only thing visible through the glassless window openings. Other than that, there’s nothing left inside the house; no walls, no furniture. In the garden, blankets, underwear, children’s shoes, and jars of pickles, which someone tried to open by piercing the lids with something sharp, are scattered under the heat-seared fir trees. Part of the lawn is black because someone made a fired and tried to cook.
Right before the dug-up grave is a large empty dog cage, but there are no more animals in the house; a puppy’s corpse lies on the lawn. Yevgeniya and Alexey used to have two Central Asian Shepherds and nine puppies.
Before the war, Yevgeniya told Meduza, they and Alexey were planning to finish their landscaping work — they’d already dug a hole for a pond. Alexey wanted to go on a motorcycle trip around western Ukraine and had already bought camping gear: tents, sleeping bags, and dishes (which the family ended up using to cook during the Russian occupation). “Look what they’re leaving behind,” said Yevgeniya, showing pictures of the ash. “We had a happy life with a bunch of plans, and now it’s just me and my child living who knows where. I just can’t put myself together and figure out how to live with this. They all need to be punished.”
March 23. The third murder
Meduza was able to confirm the story of one more civilian who was murdered in Bohdanivka. It happened about two kilometers (a little over a mile) from Zalesskaya Street, in a district separated from the main part of the village by dense forest; this might explain why Russian soldiers didn’t find Konstantin’s house (name changed at his request) until March 23.
According to someone who witnessed the events, the murderer was “ethnically Buryatian” and covered his face with a handkerchief. It’s unclear whether he knew the soldiers who committed the first two murders and the rape. Judging by these events, the Russian “cleaning operation” in the city was still going on even two weeks after the occupation began.
Konstantin’s house was one of 17 buildings on a farmstead not far from the main part of Bohdanivka. “On March 23, at around 11:30 a.m., we got a knock on our door. It was so insistent and sharp — someone was just banging on the door. I came down from the second floor; my 67-year-old father-in-law Viktor was already on the first floor. I looked out the bedroom window on the first flood and saw a soldier in a dark green uniform with a machine gun. He was alone. He was knocking without saying anything for about five minutes; we didn’t open the door. Why should we open the door for him?” Konstantin told Meduza.
After that, the soldier walked around the building and saw the half-opened window. “He broke the glass out of its frame with the butt of his gun and said, ‘Open up — otherwise I’ll throw a grenade.” I said, ‘No need for a grenade, I’ll open the door.’” Meanwhile, Konstantin’s father-in-law escaped the house through the boiler room.
“I opened the door, put up my hands, and told him I was a civilian and I was unarmed. And he immediately aimed his gun at me. Then he said, ‘Get back.’ I started moving back, and then [the soldier] said, ‘Turn around,’ so I turned my back to him,” said Kontantin.
At that moment, a phone rang from the bedroom Konstantin was standing in.
“The soldier opened fire. I was standing with my back half turned to him, but I could see him and I saw the gun light up. And at that moment, I leapt further into the bedroom. Then I knocked out the anti-mosquito net and jumped through the window. I was barefoot. At that exact moment, I heard my father-in-law going in through the house’s main entrance. I heard two gunshots, and I knew the soldier had killed him,” said Konstantin.
Escaping through a hole in the fence, Konstantin ran barefoot to his neighbors. As he ran through the garden, he heard at least six gunshots. His neighbors gave him the keys to an empty house nearby, and he went there to hide.
From the window of the house where Konstantin was hiding, he soon saw a tank pull into the yard next to his own home. He learned later on that the Russian soldier had torn the place apart; they took all of the phones, the chargers, the most expensive alcohol, and any other electronics they could find. After that, they left the house and continued down the road in the tank; Konstantin is certain they were looking for him so they could kill him. “They drove the tank all the way down the road to the very end, then they turned it around and went back up the same road to my house. I heard a bit of what they said, that they ‘need to open fire to be sure to kill,’” said Konstantin.
Later in the day, the man who owned the house Konstantin was hiding in returned home. They decided to escape together into the forest, and when it got dark, they returned to the village to get their documents, phones, tents, and food.
“I went into the house and saw what had happened. There was no power, it was dark, so I was using a flashlight. My father-in-law was lying in the entryway. I covered him with a blanket and started to pack. I grabbed a tent and some essentials, put on some warm clothes, and locked the door. Then my neighbors and I went into the woods, set up our tent, and tried to sleep. But we couldn’t sleep, of course — all those nerves and adrenaline. The evening had been two degrees [Celsius, or five degrees Fahrenheit], so already cold. By three in the morning, we couldn’t just lie there anymore; we started pacing around the tent [to warm up],” said Konstantin.
In the morning, he and his neighbors managed to get in touch with a friend who was rescuing people from occupied villages. He helped them get out of Bohdanivka and brought them to Brovary. In the Brovary police station, Konstantin filed a report about his father-in-law’s murder.
On April 2, Konstantin returned to Bohdanivka. He immediately got in touch with burial service workers about burying his father-in-law, but they told him that investigators were working in the city and taking all of the bodies of people murdered by Russian soldiers for forensic analysis. Konstantin’s father-in-law’s body was taken to a local morgue.
The following day, April 3, the forensics report was finished. Meduza has a copy of 67-year-old Viktor’s death certificate in its possession. The cause of death indicated on the document is a “gunshot wound to the head.” The circumstances of the wound were described as follows: “Injury during military operations in the village of Bohdanivka.” Konstantin buried his father-in-law on the same day.
March 28. The second rape
Meduza learned that on March 28, only a few days before Russian troops retreated from Bohdanivka, another rape was committed by Russian soldiers.
Before the war, Svetlana Perminova (she agreed to share her real name with Meduza) worked as an accountant in Brovary. But during the Russian occupation, Svetlana and her husband, Edward, along with their pregnant daughter, left town and went to their dacha — which is located in a garden community called Voloshka.
“My daughter was in her ninth month,” Svetlana told Meduza. “My husband made up a big bed especially for her and brought it down to the basement, where we were hiding. We were just afraid she was going to give birth there.”
The setup of their basement — concrete walls insulated with carpet, a TV, and a couch right under a shelf full of pickle jars — can be seen in one of the videos Edward took at the beginning of the war. In the video, the family is getting ready to eat a dinner of millet porridge with canned liver; the news is playing on the TV.
On March 20, Svetlana and Edward’s daughter managed to escape Bohdanivka through one of the humanitarian corridors. Then on March 24, Edward left on foot through Shevchenkovo, a neighboring village; Svetlana’s not sure why he chose to go that direction. “He’d just been dying [to join the military] recently: he needed to do something, to change something,” said Svetlana. “Because we were under complete occupation: the Russians were in Bohdanivka, Shevchenkovo, and Dymerka. And he just couldn’t [sit and do nothing]; it was tearing him apart.”
Edward didn’t come back on March 25, nor the next day. Svetlana was left in the dacha alone.
On the evening of March 28, three armed Russian soldiers appeared on her property. “The gate had already fallen down from the wind — they just walked past and saw the car [sitting in the yard],” said Svetlana. “And from what I understand, they’d been looking for a car. They probably knew they’d be chased away [from the suburbs], and so they needed a car.”
The soldiers were ultimately unable to steal the car because it wasn’t functional. “It didn’t have a battery,” Svetlana said. “So then they came down to the basement, where I was. They ate all the food I had; they took the bread, the eggs, the money. They started asking whether there were any soldiers out here in the gardens, how many people were in the co-op. And we had eight retirees — we had just buried one in the forest, because there was no cemetery to bury him in.”
Svetlana isn’t sure how long the soldiers stayed at her house. “For me, it was eternity,” she said. But by ten at night, when it was completely dark, one of the soldiers noticed the big bed in the basement. “He pointed at it and said, ‘Look what a good bed for fucking on,’” said Svetlana. “And that was it: I backed into a corner and then they just raped me. They took my food, they took my money — that’s fine, that’s nothing. But then they just raped me. I’m 55 years old — who needed that?”
Two soldiers took turns raping Svetlana, she said; the third masturbated while he watched. “I thought they would just strangle me,” she said. “They choked me — they completely wrapped their fingers around my throat — and I can’t even remember if I lost consciousness or not.”
The soldiers didn’t address each other by any names or nicknames. Svetlana doesn’t remember their faces. “They were ethnically Slavic. The police showed me photographs of another [Mikhail Romanov], but I honestly don’t know [whether he was one of them].”
The Brovarsky District Police Department recorded the details of everything that happened to Svetlana and opened a criminal case on April 6, according to Ukrainian Interior Ministry Advisor Anton Herashchenko. The investigation is ongoing.
Later that night, the three soldiers left, taking Svetlana’s food and money with them. “I wanted to hang myself. I’d already made a noose in the garage,” said Svetlana. “The person who stopped me was my daughter, who gave birth on April 2. How did I stop? When was getting ready to hang myself, my phone buzzed — either Viber or Telegram — and I came to my senses: ‘What about my daughter? She’d never survive this.’”
Svetlana didn’t find out what had happened to Edward until mid-April. “They tortured him, and then they shot him,” she said. “And the body was found in a basement in Shevchenkovo [note: a village in Kyiv’s Brovarky district about 16 kilometers, or 10 miles, east of Bohdanivka]. He went that direction and apparently they got him. He was sending our guys from [the Ukrainian armed forces] the geolocation and the number of [Russian military] vehicles that went by, and I’m afraid they found everything on his phone.”
Shevchenkovo Mayor Vladimir Yovenko had already mentioned six bodies that had been found by police in the basement of a home in the village in a conversation with Meduza on April 11 — clarifying that two of them had yet to be identified. “Then they said that five had been identified, and only one hadn’t,” said Svetlana. “And the sixth turned out to be him. You should have seen what they did to him. Half of his head is just gone.”
On April 16, Edward was buried in Brovary. The rest of the men whose bodies were found in the basement had been buried in Shevchenkovo several days earlier, on April 12. “Not one of the victims had any connection to the territorial defense or to any other military structures. The village of Shevchenkovo had long been under occupation, and it was then that Russian troops were kidnapping civilians, abusing them, and then shooting them,” said Kyiv Regional Police chief Andrey Nebytov.
Perminova believes that both her story and other witness accounts of what happened in Bohdanivka under Russian occupation should be reported in the press. “They’re beasts. They’re monsters,” Svetlana told Meduza. “And now I’m lost. I’m dead. I don’t have the strength to hold my grandchild in my arms.”
March 30. Liberation
Dmitry, another Bohdanivka resident, told Meduza that the first whispers in the village of the Russian army’s retreat began in late March. “The first suggestion that Russian troops might be leaving came when two armored vehicles started leaving the yard next to us; they were there from March 9 to March 29,” said Dmitry. “That entire time, they had never left. They started to pack up the things they had managed to steal from local residents. I heard from behind my fence how they were rushing each other, shouting, ‘Faster!’”
According to Dmitry, on March 29, Russian military vehicles could be heard moving towards the village of Shevchenkovo. “On March 30, we left to go to the village center on the main road — and there were no Russian vehicles. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was one of the Russian soldiers riding a bicycle, with three or four of his subordinates following him on foot. One of them ran up to us and asked what side Russia was on. We pointed in the direction of the Russian Federation. Then he asked where the military vehicles had gone — we pointed him towards Shevchenkovo, and they went that way. A little bit later, another soldier on a moped and another one on a bicycle went by, trying to catch up with the others [Meduza wasn’t able to find other witnesses of this scene].
“What, did they forget you?” asked one of the Bohdanivka residents. The Russian soldiers said yes. “We laughed at them and went home,” said Dmitry.
The Kyiv region’s official liberation was announced on April 2. After that, a curfew was declared, and people were forbidden to enter or exit Bohdanivka until April. Immediately after that, Meduza’s correspondent went to the village.
* * *
Entering one of the houses on Zalesskaya Street, I have to step over the shards of glass covering the floor. Inside the house is an inside out chest of drawers, a kitchen cabinet with the doors flung open, an open refrigerator, and a broken safe. The only thing not overturned is a chair — somebody put it at the bottom of the staircase leading to the second floor, and there’s a rusty wrench on top of it. On the floor nearby is a water bottle and a can of peas.
Oleg’s home (where Russian soldiers arrived on March 9 during their “rounds” on Zalesskaya Street), built of red brick, is halfway blackened by soot; there was clearly fire reaching out through all of the windows on the first floor. “Everything on the bottom was completely burned,” said Oleg. “[Russian soldiers] took everything they could take and then burned the rest. They took my car, too. I thought they would load it up good and take it to the Russian border, but instead, they used it to break down my neighbors’ fence.”
Some streets in Bohdanivka weren’t so badly damaged. But you can still see the question marks they left on the gates outside people’s houses, and the rides are still lined with trenches half the height of a person. The trenches even still have office chairs in them — that’s how Russian troops set up their firing positions to protect the path leading to one of the cottages they turned into a base. Half of the building’s roof was destroyed by an artillery strike, according to village residents. Another building the troops took over — a village school — was also destroyed. According to village resident Dmitry, the damage may have been done by Ukrainian soldiers.
According to official data from April 9, 2022, in all of the villages in the Velikodymerskaya Village Community, which includes Bohdanivka (along with 21 other villages), 67 civilians died during the Russian occupation. A list of the victims’ names was published in the community’s official Facebook group, though it only includes the names of people whose bodies have been identified by their relatives. Residents are still posting reports of people who either disappeared or were taken hostage.
On their way out of Bohdanivka, Russian soldiers planted mines around the village school, though the building has since been demined by a Ukrainian bomb squad. The schoolyard is littered with wrappers from military rations, unopened crackers, energy drink cans, and bottles of wine. Two washing machines sit out in the open. According to Bohdanivka resident Dmitry Bobko, Russian soldiers stole them from nearby homes and wanted to bring them home as “trophies,” but were unable.
The windows of the school cafeteria are filled with sandbags. Tomato paste is smeared on the desks. Remains of food rations are all over the place: cans of food, crackers, and a candy bar. In the auditorium, the soldiers appear to have left a cheap plaster statue of a half-naked woman kneeling in a golden helmet and a loincloth on the stage. Her breasts are uncovered: the “jewelry” and “clothes” have been scratched off, along with the paint.
Translation by Sam Breazeale
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