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Ukraine war: Sharing space with the dead – horror outside Chernihiv

English News

Ukraine war: Sharing space with the dead – horror outside Chernihiv

Sunakhari News/Kathmandu-

On the white, damp wall of the Yahidne school basement is a crude calendar, drawn in red crayon. It marks a period of unimaginable trauma – from 5 March to 2 April – for the people of this village.

 

Yahidne, 140km (80 miles) north of Kyiv and just outside the city of Chernihiv which is close to the borders with Belarus and Russia, was occupied by Russian soldiers for nearly a month. When they entered, they took men, women and children from their homes at gunpoint and held them in the basement of the local school for four weeks – around 130 people cramped into a room roughly 65 sq m (700 sq ft) in size. Sixty-year-old Mykola Klymchuk was one of them. He offered to show us the basement.

 

As we climbed down a short flight of stairs, we began to smell the stench of disease and decay. The room was dirty – some mattresses, clothes, shoes and books were strewn on the floor, there were four small cots in the centre and a stash of utensils in one corner. “This was my half a metre of space. I was sleeping standing up,” he said. His voice choked up and he started crying. “I tied myself to the railing here with my scarf so I wouldn’t fall over. I spent 25 nights like this.”

 

Mykola said you couldn’t move at all for fear of stepping on people. About 40 or 50 children were among those held captive, including babies. The youngest was just two months old.Russian forces were quick to reach villages such as Yahidne as they launched their assault on Chernihiv. For weeks the city of about 300,000 people was cut off as Russian forces surrounded and bombed it, having met resistance. They also destroyed a bridge on the road to the capital Kyiv, leaving residents with nowhere to flee.

 

 

Now the Russians have withdrawn following their failure to take Kyiv. The BBC is one of the first news organisations to reach the area and the horror of what happened under both occupation and bombardment can be revealed. So close to the border, people worry too that the Russians could soon return. Fifteen-year-old Anastasiia was in the Yahidne basement along with her father and grandmother. “There was barely any room. We were living sitting up. We were sleeping sitting up. Not that we slept at all. It was impossible. So many shells were landing around here. It was unbearable,” she said. The room had no ventilation. Its two windows were boarded up.

 

Living with the dead

Most of them were elderly people. It’s unclear what they died of, but Mykola believes some suffocated to death. When people died, the bodies couldn’t immediately be removed. Russian soldiers would not allow it every day. And because of the constant fighting outside – mortar shelling, explosions and gunfire – it was dangerous as well. This meant that people, including children, lived amidst corpses for hours, and sometimes days, until they could be taken outside.”It was very scary. I knew the people who died,” says Anastasiia. “They treated us very kindly. I felt so sad, they just died here for no reason.”

 

“In normal conditions, they would not have died. Putin is a war criminal,” said Mykola. “My feet had begun to swell up. But I kept thinking to myself, I have to survive. I have to, for my daughter and two granddaughters.” Most of the time people were not allowed to go out even to use a toilet. They were made to use buckets instead. “Sometimes the soldiers took people out to use them as shields,” Mykola said.

 

They were allowed to cook on open fires outside twice a day. The village had enough food stocks and a well for water.One of the Russian soldiers told Mykola they had been told they would be in Ukraine for just four days, which would be enough to take over Kyiv.   BBC