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‘There was no time to cry’ A firsthand account of how Russian troops laid siege to a care home in occupied Borodyanka
Borodyanka is a small town outside of Kyiv, not far from Bucha. At the beginning of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces occupied both towns, only to retreat from the Kyiv region in early April. During the occupation of Borodyanka, troops from Russia’s Chechnya seized the local psychoneurological care home. In an interview with Meduza, the care home’s director Maryna Hanitska gives a firsthand account of how its staff and residents survived the siege.
I live in the Kyiv region, in the Vyshhorodskyi district. On the morning of February 24, my husband, son, and I heard explosions and realized that a war had begun in Ukraine.
I understood that there are strategic facilities here, in Borodyanka. But at the time I still thought that we [Russians and Ukrainians] were brotherly people. I thought maybe Russia was simply trying to scare Ukraine. But when I got to work, at around 7:30 a.m., helicopters started bombing the Hostomel Airfield near Borodyanka. I understood that everything wouldn’t be as we had hoped.
Back then there was still Internet access and cell service. My husband called and said: “Maryna, Hostomel is burning, it’s war.” He asked if I was going home. But my staff hadn’t come to work, out of 250 people, six came. If I left my post, they would too. And what would I do with my 350 wards?
I decided to stay at work. From February 24 to March 13, I didn’t leave work for a minute. I’m grateful to those employees who weren’t afraid of the war, who stayed with me and worked around the clock — it made no difference if it was an accountant or a nurse. We slept for just a few hours, there was no time to cry and think about the fact that we’re at war. We just did our job.
When they started bombing Borodyanka in late February, more people came to us — civilians were looking for shelter. We took in everyone. At one point we had 800 people [here].
The sewage system didn’t work, there was no electricity or gas. We had food stores, but not much, and it was impossible to cook. We put three sturdy pots on the fire from five o’clock in the morning so that [the water] would boil by eight. We made porridge and soup. There was no bread. We got water from the old well behind the care home — people came down with gastrointestinal infections, everyone had diarrhea at night, both those who are bedridden and those who can walk.
While there was still cell service, we wrote to the territorial defense about how many enemy vehicles were entering [the town]. But after that terrible equipment with antennas arrived in Borodyanka and the connection was lost. It was probably jammed.
The most terrible thing that could happen to us happened on March 6. Before, the enemy went around our property — they laid mines all around us. We watched as they dug trenches. But on March 6, a [Chechen] regiment arrived. They broke down the gates, the vehicles drove in [carrying] about 80 soldiers. They brought us all [outside], even those who can’t walk. They said: “Director, come here.”
I was brought forward. A soldier stood in front of me and he introduced himself. He said he was Daniil Martynov, a Russian army colonel [editor’s note: this is also the name of the deputy head of Chechnya’s National Guard troops sent to fight in Ukraine]. He said that if we behaved ourselves, then we would live — they wouldn’t kill us, wouldn’t hurt us, and not a single pane would fall from our windows. He said that they came to free us from the Nazi authorities, that they wanted to burn our government. He said: “Now we’ll record a short video, you’ll thank us and you’ll be free, you’ll be under the protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” I asked, what’s there to be thankful for? He leaned in close to my face, looked me in the eyes, and said: “For the fact that you’re alive.” It was frightening. He didn’t scream at me, no. He said that he could blow us all up in two minutes, but if we recorded the video, everything would be fine.
That’s when I understood that I wouldn’t make it out alive. I realized that they had come to record a video and just murder us all. A soldier turned on a camera, and the colonel began to talk: “I’m Daniil Martynov, a Russian army colonel. We have come to free you from the Nazi authorities. Now you can freely go to rallies on May 9 [and] wear the ribbon of St. George.” Those standing in front of me, behind the camera, aimed their weapons at me and the others. And those soldiers who were among the people behind me stood there and smiled. They all had beards, they were very scary, like special forces from a movie. Only it wasn’t a movie, it was real.
To be honest, I was shocked. You came [here], killed our children — the light of our nation — in order to record some kind of video? How long will this lie make the rounds in Russia? And how many Russian mothers will send their sons to their death? In order to steal our underwear? I’m sorry. My neighbors told me that not only the washing machine and the microwave were stolen, but also six pairs of shoes, along with women’s underwear.
On March 13, we evacuated to Zhytomyr along with our patients. Almost all of [the care home’s] wards stayed there — every day I promise them that I’ll bring them back.
I wouldn’t call myself a “female warrior.” I started working as the care home’s director a month and a half before the war. Before I had a completely different job. I didn’t really want to work at the care home, but now I know for sure that I won’t leave this post. This is my work and I will make this institution the best it can be.
The entire time I was there, at the care home, my family was in a village near Hostomel. It was also occupied and we had no cell service. I didn’t know whether or not they were alive. Six years ago I buried my son, I couldn’t lose the other one. I was scared I [would] return and my husband, son, and parents would be no more. They are alive, but there’s nowhere to go back to — my home is wrecked. We are living with friends.
I don’t understand why Russia is acting so cruelly towards us. Because we don’t have a Putinist regime and we have a normal president? What kind of “liberation” are we talking about? We are a free people, we are a free country. We are freedom-loving, we are friendly, we love each other. We are a self-sufficient nation.
I am a mother, I also have an adult son, and I don’t understand how you can send your son to attack another country. May their mothers be ashamed of their children.
I used to be a history teacher. Now I get calls about which of my grown-up students have been killed. These guys could have raised children, this was our future. In school, I told my students that we [Russians and Ukrainians] are brotherly people. And now I’m ashamed of myself, we aren’t brothers and sisters. These are our enemies, we won’t forgive them for killing our sons and raping girls.
Before the war I had long, blonde hair, past my waist. After we escaped captivity, I wanted to get rid of everything these people touched. And [so] I cut off my hair.
Translation by Eilish Hart
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