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Ukrainian villagers count dead after weeks of being held in a school basement According to Reuters


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© Reuters. Ivan Balanovych stands inside the basement of a school, as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, in the village of Yahidne, near Chernihiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. REUTERS / Marko Djurica

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By James Mackenzie and Silvia Aloisi

YAHIDNE, Ukraine (Reuters) – The names of the dead are scrawled on the peeling wall of a school basement where residents say more than 300 people have been trapped for weeks by Russian occupiers in the area. Yahidne, a village north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Halyna Tolochina, a member of the village council, struggled to prepare herself as she went through the list, scribbling in black on the plaster either side of the green door, in the landscape haunted where she said she and hundreds of others were detained.

To the left of the door are the names of seven people killed by Russian soldiers. She said on the right were 10 people who had died from the harsh conditions in the basement.

“This old man died first,” said Tolochina, pointing to the name of Muzyka D., to Dmytro Muzyka, who died on March 9. “He died in the great room, in this room.”

She said Muzyka’s body lay for several days in the boiler room until, during shelling, some people were allowed to take the dead to be buried in hastily dug graves in the village cemetery.

(Open https://reut.rs/3rddyMa to see the image pack)

Reuters spoke to seven residents of Yahidne, who said that in total at least 20 people died or were killed during the Russian occupation. No official death toll has been given by Ukrainian authorities.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the villagers’ accounts. Reporters saw a freshly dug grave in the village’s field and two bodies wrapped in white plastic sheets.

The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment on the events in Yahidne.

The accounts of what happened in the village add to the testimony from ordinary Ukrainians about the sufferings in the towns around Kyiv during the weeks of Russian occupation following the 24th invasion. February.

The last victim recorded on the walls of the basement, Nadiya Budchenko, died on March 28, Tolochina said, two days before Russian troops withdrew from the village as they headed towards the capital. Ukraine stalled.

As well as people, mostly elderly people, who died from exhaustion in the sweltering, cramped conditions, Tolochina named others she said were killed by Russian soldiers, including Viktor Shevchenko and his brother. Anatolii, known as Tolya.

“This is buried in the yard,” she said, pointing to Shevchenko V. “And this, they say he’s there (buried in the village), somewhere,” she said, pointing to Shevchenko’s name. T, whose body has not yet been recovered.

Reuters interviewed six other residents who corroborated Tolochina’s account and described them as being held in bare concrete rooms in the basement, with about 60 children, little food or water, no electricity and no electricity. there are no toilets.

Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of war crimes, following the exhumation of mass graves in towns around Kyiv, such as Bucha and Motyzhyn, and the discovery of bodies with their hands tied and shot. into the head.

Russia has denied extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of civilians.

The Kremlin said its forces were not targeting civilians, accusing Ukrainian authorities and the West of fabricating evidence.

LOOTING

Two of the residents interviewed by Reuters said that initially, some Russian soldiers who arrived in early March were well behaved, offering to share rations and expressing surprise at the prosperous appearance of the village. . But the others started looting immediately.

Petro Hlystun, 71, who witnessed the scene, said: “They started looting, taking everything they could get. “There was a bright torch, a tablet that my son brought back from Poland. They took it all.”

On March 5, villagers said they had been ordered to enter the school’s basement, where they would stay for the next 25 days, given only brief breaks to clear off or stretch their legs.

The Russian soldiers told them the detention was for their own protection, the villagers said.

They describe sharing buckets to go to the bathroom and taking turns sleeping in small cramped rooms because there isn’t enough room for everyone to lie down.

“It’s almost impossible to breathe,” said Olha Meniaylo, an agronomist who was in the basement with her 32-year-old son, wife and children – a 4-month-old boy and an 11-year-old boy. – Golden girl.

She said the Russian soldiers asked for a list of people in the basement to organize meals, and she counted 360. Two other villagers said there were more than 300 people.

“For the elderly, it is very difficult to be there in the dark with no fresh air, so most of the old people have died.”

She said that the first burial – a man killed by soldiers and four elderly people dead in the basement – took place on March 12. Russian soldiers allowed some young men to dig shallow graves.

“As soon as they started digging, there was shelling,” Meniaylo said. “The diggers had to lie on top of dead bodies in the graves to protect themselves from shelling. My husband was there.”

A cowherd woman was escorted one morning to collect milk for her children. Others were occasionally let out at the will of Russian soldiers. When they returned to their homes, the villagers found that everything from televisions to women’s underwear had been taken.

AGENCIES PRESENTED

Tamara Klymchuk, 64, said that it was not until the Russian troops began to withdraw on March 30 that people trapped in the basement were brought out permanently.

“We opened the door. We went out as if we were born again.”

Yahidne, a small farming village with just five streets, was once a popular spot for city dwellers from nearby Chernihiv to stay in a cottage. Now it was a ruined ruin with burned houses scattered with intact armor.

An abandoned tank is hidden across the street from the school. Ukraine’s military, police and explosives disposal technicians sift through the rubble, exhume bodies and recover unexploded ammunition.

“We had a very good life,” said Klymchuk, the son-in-law of Viktor Shevchenko, 50. “We never thought such grief would come our way.”

Viktor, she said, was shot on March 3. He stayed behind to guard the house after taking his wife and two children down to the school basement.

The Russian soldiers told the villagers that Viktor was wearing a military uniform and armed with a handgun.

Klymchuk did not witness the murder herself but said she saw Viktor’s body after commandos exhumed his body from a mass grave at her request when the town was occupied by troops. Ukrainian team recaptured. She was wearing blue jeans and a black jacket, she said.

“They just shot him in the head.”



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