- Yogita Limay
- BBC News, Chernigov
On a damp white wall in the basement of a school in Yahya al-Din is a rudimentary calendar drawn in red crayon. For the people of this village, this calendar records a period of unimaginable shock: from March 5 to April 2.
Russian soldiers occupied the armistice, located on the outskirts of the city of Chernigov, about 140 km north of Kyiv and near the border with Belarus and Russia, for about a month.
The invading army pulled the men, women and children out of their homes at gunpoint and held them in the basement of the local school for four weeks, About 130 people are crammed into an area of about 65 square meters.
Mykola Klimchuk, 60, was one of them. He offered to show us the basement.
When we went down some small stairs, we started to smell sickness and rot. The room was filthy, with a few mattresses, clothes, shoes and books scattered on the floor, four small cribs in the middle and a pile of pots in one corner.
Mikola led us straight to the other end of the room.
“This was half a meter across from me,” he said. “I slept standing up.” Her voice cracked and she started crying. “I tied myself to the railing here with my scarf so I wouldn’t fall. I spent 25 nights like this.”
Mykola told it You can’t move for fear a step on others. Among the prisoners were between 40 and 50 children, including children. The youngest was only two months old.
Russian forces quickly reached Jahidny when they launched their assault on Chernigov, the city of about 300,000 that the Russians had isolated, besieged and bombed weeks ago. They also destroyed a bridge on the highway to the capital, Kyiv, leaving residents with no escape route.
Now, the Russian forces withdrew after failing to take Kyiv.
The BBC is one of the first media outlets that was able to reach the region and reveal the horror of what happened during the occupation and bombing. Because of its proximity to the border, people are still worried that the Russians may soon return.
Anastasia, 15, was in the basement with her father and grandmother.
“There wasn’t enough space. We lived sitting. We slept sitting. It doesn’t mean we slept. It was impossible. A lot of artillery fell here. It was unbearable,” he said.
The room has no ventilation. Only two windows were closed.
“During my time here, 12 people have died,” Mikola said.
living with the dead
Most of them were elderly. It is not clear why they died, but Mikola believes that some of them suffocated.
when people died Their corpses cannot be moved immediately. Russian soldiers did not allow this daily. And given the constant fighting outside – artillery, explosions, shooting – it was also dangerous.
This means that people, including children, lived among the corpses for hours, sometimes days, until they could be taken out.
“It was very scary,” Anastasia said. “I met people who died.” “They treated us very well. I felt so sad, they died here for no reason.”
“In normal circumstances, they would not have died. Putin is a war criminal,” Mykola said.
“My feet started to swell. But I kept telling myself, ‘I have to stay alive.'” I have to, for the sake of my daughter and granddaughter.”
Most of the time, people were not even allowed to use the bathroom. Instead they had to use buckets.
“Sometimes the soldiers would take people outside to use them as human shields,” Mikola said.
They were allowed to cook over an open fire twice a day. The village had enough food supplies and a water well.
One of the Russian soldiers told Mykola that they were told they would only stay in Ukraine for four days, long enough to seize Kyiv.
Searching for loved ones among the graves
On April 3, the Russians withdrew from the armistice.
Ukrainian soldiers are in the village now and most of the trapped have been evacuated to neighboring areas.
“I wake up several times during the night,” Anastasia says. “I feel like I can hear gunshots. I ran to my parents, scared.”
The Russians occupied villages such as the armistice around Chernigov in an attempt to besiege and eventually capture the city.
They could not enter the city, but there was widespread destruction in many parts and Authorities say around 350 civilians have been killed.
Since Russia withdrew from Chernigov, volunteers have been burying the dead. Part of the local cemetery is now filled with new graves, with a sign placed on each grave so that they can be identified.
Families that are separated They are starting to go back to see if they can find the grave of their loved ones.
Officials said a Russian plane bombed a local soccer field. You can see a huge crater in the middle of the field where a bomb fell. Another ruined part of the grandstand, now a lopsided jumble of broken plastic seats and metal railings.
Near the stadium, a children’s library inside a historic building was badly damaged.
In Novosilivka, north of Chernigov, the devastation stretched as far as the eye could see.
Piles of stones and bricks lay where the houses were. We saw a pink winter jacket, a teddy bear, an elephant, and Lego bricks on one of the driveways into the residential areas.
Along the way, we saw more bomb pits.
“Why didn’t they tell us?”
A woman and a child on bicycles asked us to follow.
Nina Phonic, 62, and her 10-year-old grandson Danilo wanted to show us their home – now a shell – as the interior and surroundings were destroyed.
Ludmyla, 39, daughter of Nina and mother of Danilo, Lost one leg anda in the hospital.
When they began to bombard Nina’s house, they rushed to someone else’s house in search of shelter in the basement. But this too was bombed.
“The blast left us unconscious. Some were bruised, one was injured. When we arrived, I saw my daughter screaming, Mum, mom, I don’t have a leg. It was awful,” he said.
Lyudmila crawled to safety and was taken to the hospital.
Four generations of his family lived in that house. “At one point, there’s nothing left. I don’t know where I’m going to live in the winter,” he said.
He has no money to pay for a suit for his daughter.
And about Russia’s statements that it did not attack civilians, he comments: “It [Putin] It is full of lies. There is a lady in the hospital without a leg. this is the truth”.
“Let Putin pay for the surgery. Let Putin build this house. Wasn’t that how much he wanted to have? Let him pay for everything now,” he stressed.
Contribute to this article Imogen Anderson, Anastasia Levchenko s Daria Sibygina
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