Ukrainians detail terror Russian soldiers inflicted near kyiv

BORODIANKA, Ukraine – The first sign of trouble was when a squad of Chechen soldiers burst through the gate. They jumped out of their j...


BORODIANKA, Ukraine – The first sign of trouble was when a squad of Chechen soldiers burst through the gate.

They jumped out of their jeeps, combat boots slamming hard on the sidewalk, and ordered the 500 patients and staff at Borodianka Special Care Home out into the courtyard at gunpoint.

“We thought we were going to be executed,” Maryna Hanitska, the hostel’s director, said in an interview this week.

The soldiers pulled out a camera, Ms Hanitska said, then barked to make everyone smile. Most patients were crying.

“We order you to say to the camera: ‘Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,’ the soldiers asked Ms. Hanitska.

With multiple guns in her face, she said, she quickly ran through her options. She would never thank the Russian president, whom she had called a “liar” and a “killer”.

But she didn’t want the soldiers to hurt anyone. So she managed to say, “Thank you for not killing us.”

And then she passed out.

So began a nightmarish ordeal at a Ukrainian mental health facility in Borodianka, a small town of a few buildings located at a strategic intersection about 80 km northwest of the capital, Kyiv.

In more than a dozen interviews over the past two days in Borodianka and other towns in the devastated areas around kyiv, villagers described Russian soldiers as brutal, sadistic, unruly and juvenile. Their accounts could not be independently verified, but were consistent with other reports and visual evidence on Russian behavior in the region.

The siege of the mental health facility lasted for weeks, during which the building lost heat, water and electricity, and more than a dozen patients lost their lives. What unfolded there represents the depths of desperation and at the same time incredible courage under a brief but heartbreaking Russian occupation.

In all regions of Ukraine recently liberated from a month-long Russian occupationa long series of disturbing stories emerges from the terror and death that Russian soldiers inflicted on unarmed Ukrainian civilians under their control.

Every day, Ukrainian investigators walk into a damp cellar, a muddy field or someone’s garden and discover the bodies of villagers who have been shot in the head or bear signs of torture. More and more stories are surfacing of civilians being held as human shields and some dying from lack of food, water or heat. On Friday, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had killed at least 900 civilians as they retreated from the Kyiv region.

Much of that misery has been inflicted in small towns near kyiv, where the Russians occupied a large swath at the start of the war but were driven out two weeks ago by less equipped but much more determined Ukrainian forces.

Administrators of the Borodianka mental health home said Russian soldiers stole their pharmacy for rubbing alcohol to drink. Villagers in other places said they stole sheets and sneakers and defaced many houses they had occupied with childish graffiti. Workers at the mental health home also said that on their way out, Russian soldiers scrawled profane messages on the walls – in human excrement.

“I threw up when I saw that,” Ms Hanitska said. “I don’t understand how they were raised, by whom and who could have done this.”

Lypivka, a blip of a village dwarfed by huge fields of wheat, was occupied by Russian soldiers until March 31. Here, the villagers said that the Russians had passed them.

Some women in the village had begged the Russian commanders to allow them to evacuate, and the Russians seemed to agree. So on March 12, a group of older men, women and children piled into 14 cars and slowly began to drive towards what they thought was safety.

“We all had white flags and we had permission,” said Valriy Tymchuk, a trader, who drove a minibus in the convoy.

But then the Russian armored personnel carriers swung their turrets towards them, villagers said. A shell ripped through the first car. And then another. And then another.

The convoy turned into a ball of fire.

Mr Tymchuk said he saw a family of four, including a young child, trapped in their car and engulfed in flames. Many burnt out cars are still on the road. The charred bones of that child are still in the back seat, Mr. Tymchuk said. What appeared to be bits of bone were strewn among the blackened metal and piles of ash.

Next to the cars lay two dead dogs, their fur burnt.

Mr Tymchuk narrowly escaped after his minibus was hit and shrapnel slashed his face.

He shook his head when asked why he thought the Russians did this.

“They’re zombies,” he said.

These villages were on the front line, part of Russia’s failed attempt to surround and capture kyiv. The same was true for Bucha, another village north of kyiv and the site of the worst atrocities ever uncovered. All of these places are quiet now, allowing forensic investigators to do their job. And the more they search, the more they find.

In Makariv, another small town near kyiv, authorities said they had recently discovered more than 20 corpses, in different yards and houses, many of which bore marks of torture. In the district of Brovary, further east, police have just found six bodies in a cellar, all men apparently executed.

“We saw bodies with stab wounds and marks from beatings, and some with their hands tied with duct tape,” said Oleksandr Omelyanenko, a Kyiv region police official.

“The hardest hit places,” he added, “have been occupied the longest.”

This was the story of Borodyanka and Borodyanka’s psychoneurological retirement home.

Ms Hanitska, 43 and a former school headmistress, said she watched from the windows of the three-story building as Russian trucks drove in. She counted 500.

Then, worried about snipers, the Russians began shelling apartment buildings along the roads, and dozens of residents died under a cascade of rubble, according to emergency service officials.

Shockwaves rocked the home for the disabled, built in the 1970s to house adults with neurological and psychological disorders. Ms Hanitska said some of her patients had become aggressive and three of them even escaped and have yet to be found. Others were terrified and curled up under their beds and in their closets.

“It was more than 10 times scary,” said Ihor Nikolaenko, a patient.

On March 5, it got worse.

That’s when the Chechens introduced themselves. Chechen troops are particularly feared, seen as more ruthless than other Russians, a consequence of years of their own failed separatist war against Russia’s central government.

Ms Hanitska and other staff said they could tell the soldiers were Chechen by their light beards and the language they spoke to each other. Ukrainian authorities posted social media posts referring to Chechens and warning them not to harm patients.

“These are mostly sick people with intellectual disabilities,” Oleksandr Pavliuk, a senior Ukrainian military official, said in a statement. “But these are our people and we can’t and never will leave them.”

At this point, for some people inside, it was too late. Ms Hanitska said her first patient died from exposure to the cold in late February. In early March, half a dozen others died. In total, she lost 13.

It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit inside the building, even colder outside. There was no heat, no electricity, no running water and little food. Borodyanka was besieged, after all.

“We started drinking water from the pond,” Ms Hanitska said. “We all got sick.”

The Chechen contingent mysteriously withdrew the same day it arrived, but other Russians took their place. They did not allow anyone to leave the building, even to go out to look for food, and they surrounded the building with artillery, mortars and heavy weapons, knowing that the Ukrainians would be reluctant to hit it.

“We have become human shields,” said Taisia ​​Tyschkevych, the house accountant.

The Russians took everyone’s phone. Or that of almost everyone.

Ms Hanitska said she hid hers and used it to communicate secretly. She would peek out the nurse’s office window and spot the Russian vehicles, she said, then send the details to Ukrainian forces. “They were hitting the Russians,” she said. “If we hadn’t done that, the fighting would be in kyiv.”

Many Ukrainian civilians helped in this way, Ukrainian officials said.

While spying on the Russians, Ms Hanitska also cooked meals over an outdoor fire, hustled patients in the basement when the artillery became deafening, provided sleeping accommodations in the hallways for dozens of other people who fled the city’s bombed-out buildings and flocked to his establishment for shelter, and more than anything else, helped calm everyone’s nerves.

On March 13, Ms. Hanitska peeked out the same window and, for the first time in weeks, saw something that made her heart ache: a convoy of yellow buses. She knocked down the door.

“I was either going to get shot,” she said. “Or save people.”

The aid workers had organized a rescue and the Russians finally let the patients go. They were bused to other facilities in less contested areas.

Ms. Hanitska is tough but humble with a dry sense of humor.

When asked how long she had been working from home, she laughed.

“Two months,” she said. “I guess you could say I’m lucky.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ukrainians detail terror Russian soldiers inflicted near kyiv
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