Yuliya was staying with her two children in the home of her elderly parents in a village at the outskirts of Chernihiv, when Russian troops entered the village. She recalls:
They came on March 3d and we hid in the cellar. The next day they forced us out and made us go to the schoolhouse. They wouldn’t let us take anything with us, just the stuff we had in the cellar, like a few blankets. Grandma couldn’t walk, so we rolled her in a cart.
Once we got there, we saw that the entire village, around 400 people, had been rounded up and herded into the basement that used to be the school gym. We were packed there like sardines. There were 71 children in the basement; the youngest just a month and a half.
People put pieces of cardboard and blankets on the floor for the children, but the floor was still damp. It was also very hot and stuffy and hard to breathe. The children were drenched in sweat, some fainted. The air was foul; some elderly people couldn’t hold it in and soiled themselves. After a couple of days, a few older people went mad and started stripping off their clothes and screaming.
When old people died at night we weren’t allowed to carry their bodies out till morning.
If the Russian soldiers were in a good mood, they would let us out to use the bathroom at a certain hour. If they were in a bad mood, we would be locked up for the entire day. People had to use buckets. We would beg them to at least let us take out the buckets, and every other time they would allow it. It was a nightmare.
When we asked to let us go to our homes and bring back some clothes, soldiers followed us holding us at gunpoint. My mom and I went to get some underwear and found it had all been stolen, even the used underwear — and all the children’s clothes too.
The worst thing was the worry for the children. My son wouldn’t stop crying and kept asking: “Are you sure they won’t kill us? Are you sure we won’t get killed?”
April 27 2022. Abridged and translated by Lena Nekludova