АвторAuthor: Lidia Bilyk | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
22 July 2022
Oleksii Kozhedub, 45, is an entrepreneur from Bucha. When the enemy army occupied the city, he became an eye-witness to military crimes committed by russians against civilians. Read on to learn about russian captivity, interrogations and how he survived the occupation.
In the morning a friend called me and said that russia was attacking Hostomel. The war began. On February 28th I joined the Territorial Defense, but there were just eight rifles for all our neighborhood, not counting hunting weapons. We were told that a 65-km long russian column is moving towards Bucha. When enemy tanks started entering the city, people from the Territorial Defense (later TD) scattered and dug their guns in the ground. Because what are you going to do with a rifle against a tank? The first man from our district to be killed – Hrysha – had a gun in the trunk of his car.
On March 3, a convoy of 15 IFVs of Special Forces entered Bucha. We were in the basement and smoking. Our neighbor, an elderly man, was just returning home, he went up to his apartment on the 2nd floor, and the special forces soldiers literally followed him. As I was standing on the stairs, the closest one to the entrance, I was the first to see them. There were two of them, and one pointed a machine gun at us.
I told my people not to move. He approached. We saw that he was scared and very cautious. He was tall, wearing a balaclava, and he also had a helmet, a powerful-looking machine gun, eyeglasses, St. George’s ribbon – everything they could possibly decorate him with. I think his name was Denis.
The first thing he did was demand our mobile phones. I didn’t have anything on mine, and when its battery died, he threw it on the floor and crashed it with his foot. Then the conversation began.
He says: “Why do you behead russian soldiers and hang them? Why do you kill people in Donetsk?” Then he says: “My grandfathers fought in the Great Patriotic War”, and we said that so did ours.
Another russian soldier interrupted our conversation, when he saw a man walking down the street with a plastic bag. He shouted “Come here”, but the man didn’t understand where the call was coming from, then he saw a machine gun and went into our basement. He told them that he was going to feed his mother. They searched his bag, which really contained food jars, and checked his phone.
We told them to let him go, because he didn’t look like an artillery spotter. The soldier listened to us and, I’m sorry for a direct speech, told him to “Go the f*ck out of here”. Then he turned to us, made us undress to see if we had bruises from machine guns, and told us he wanted to see our right shoulder and arm.
Later another special forces man came in and said that their commander ordered them to take one person captive. Our men said they wouldn’t go because there were women and children in this basement. Later the soldier told us not to leave this place for 5 hours. I sat there for a while but then decided to go check my apartment. I was afraid they would do something to people, like Germans did to jews during WW2. I told everybody to go to their flats and not sit here in the enclosed space. Somebody listened to me, the others stayed in the basement.
Next morning about 10 meters away from our 5-storey building a missile hit, the windows were shattered. A gas pipe was damaged. We called emergency number 104, but they said they wouldn’t come, and that we must turn off the big taps.
I found an ax and together with my neighbor woman we made our way to the gas control points. I was hitting the taps with an ax, but bullets started flying above our heads. We hid behind the building, waited for 10 minutes, hit a few more times and turned the gas off. So we technically saved our settlement from the explosion.
Once, while sitting in the basement, I counted 100 pieces of russian vehicles. I tried not to go anywhere, only from the basement to the apartment, because I had to feed my cat. They had a command squad in our neighborhood. It was risky to go around, because you never knew what was there.
They were breaking into the shops, taking everything. I saw two soldiers shooting the man, who was crossing the street in front of them. They didn’t run after him, but were just walking and shooting. But the man survived.
There’s a liquor store here, called “Bile sukhe ”, they’d been looting it for around 3 days. Walked around drunk. They rolled the skittles of draft beer from the store down the hill. Vehicles were moving in the night, and I heard drunk soldiers crying: “L’onya, look!” as something broke down. On Sklozavodska street near us they had a base with a commander. There were ammunition dumps, out of which only one was undamaged. After the city was freed, janitors told us that on the first floor alone there were more than 200 empty booze bottles. They were drunk all the time.
Russians were supervising the Buryats, a subordinate was attached to each soldier, who told him what to do. They walked in groups: half russians, half Buryats. There was also one bearded Chechen.
Mostly enemy soldiers walked around private sectors, they didn’t enter apartment houses. I don’t know why. Their troops were located on Sklozavodska and 144 Yablunska streets, where the TD was shot – 8 people, 4 of them were my neighbors.
I know many people who were held captive. There’s a photo of a garage, where russians were burning people alive. They just locked the door and burned them. My friend’s wife was tortured to death. A few of my acquaintances went missing. A body of Oleksii Pohibay, who served in TD, was found next to the church, where the murdered people were buried.
When foreign journalists arrived in Bucha, I guided them to different locations and showed where people were buried. There wasn’t always a chance to actually put them into the ground, because we were valuing our own lives. Sometimes we threw a body into a pit, or a garage, and ran away. That’s it.
“Russians didn’t allow us to take the bodies away. God forbid anyone should approach or bow their head over them. Crows had already eaten their eyes out, but they wouldn’t let us take them”.
Our yard on 10 Sklozavodska str. was named “the one that saw death”. Three men are buried in this yard alone. One grandfather died of frostbite, because shelling broke his windows and he froze to death. People helped him, tried to treat him, but he didn’t make it. The other two men were shot.
There were many people who were shot, lying in the streets. My friend was killed on the intersection of Vokzalna and Yablunska streets, and there were many bodies on Yablunska, near the factory, and in the city center.
I don’t know what they were trying to achieve when they told people to stay in their houses. One fellow of mine, Oleksandr, was able to walk to Lisna Bucha and survived. When russians left Sklozavodska, he had to go to Lisna Bucha, so he walked past all the russian checkpoints and saw corpses lying along the road, and nobody touched them.
He was carrying water bottles and russians shot at the bottles. He said that he saw a person whose head was crushed by a tank. He also had to walk over dead bodies and drink puddle water near the corpses, because he didn’t have any drinking water. These were civilians, on bicycles with baskets. Russians didn’t allow us to take the bodies away. God forbid anyone should approach or bow their head over them. Crows had already eaten their eyes out, but they wouldn’t let us take them away.
I survived because their command squad had left our neighborhood and our apartment buildings. My garage was shot through but my car was left unscathed. On March 10th I drove out of Bucha and saw dead people along the streets. We were riding past and looking at this horror. We all are damaged by it. People are relying on the government to help put the glass back into the windows. We are uniting, helping each other, in other words – we’re holding on.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Lidia Bilyk | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk