They tried to take a boat to a safe place. Then Russian rockets rained

His mother Julia Nesterenko was delighted to promote the practice. “We even had a basketball ring at home,” the 33-year-old describes his first family home to CNN. She said it was their “nest”, a small garden and a vegetable patch.

“It is time to leave the occupied territories and move to a safer place.

With nothing but a backpack and their important documents, the family seemed to have an easy way to get to areas under Ukrainian control, he said. On April 7, the family of three and 11 boarded an evacuation boat driven by a local and sailed from the southern, Russian-occupied Kersen to the Ukrainian-controlled area on the other side of the river, crossing the Dniebro River. . The Dinifro, one of the longest waterways in Europe, passes through Ukraine and its Kersen region before flowing into the Black Sea.

The ferry that started on the shores of the fishing village of Pervomaivka must have been simple. This is the seventh expedition from the village to Ukraine on the north bank of the Dinibro River by boat since the start of the war, said Oleksandr Wilkul, head of the Kriev Rih military administration in the neighboring region of Dinibropetrovsk. .

Instead, it turned into a bloodbath, according to Julia, along with two other survivors, a friend of the victim and several regional officials. They described how Russian rockets and gunfire targeted the boat.

Roman Shelest, head of the Kryvyi Rih East District Attorney’s Office for Ukraine, told CNN that the boat was moving on the battlefield between Russian and Ukrainian forces and was shot down 70 meters from the shore.

One survivor, who declined to be named due to security fears, explained that the boat was lost in a smoke screen believed to have been created by the Russians. CNN could not independently verify this claim.

“This shooting was done using a multi-rocket launcher system, probably Grod, but we (only) can say the exact type of weapon only after the forensic (investigation) is completed,” Shelest added.

He said one of the survivors was believed to have been hit by Russian rockets.

The morning silence was quickly shattered by the sound of rockets exploding as the boat’s navigator’s crew approached the Russian-controlled village of Osokorivka, survivors said.

Vladimir bled in Julia’s hands. “My husband, who was behind me when I was shot in the head, also fell on me,” Julia told CNN, whose voice was soft and uniform, seemingly numb after realizing all she had lost on that trip.

Four people were killed in the attack that day. Ole was one of three dead on the boat; Vladimir died shortly afterwards at the hospital. Another lawyer, Tatiana Denisenko, a lawyer for the victim, told CNN that he had traveled to the Gerson area to rescue his son and provide humanitarian assistance.

Photographs of the aftermath of the attack showed what looked like the remains of a rocket on the shore and bullets and small pieces of holes in the boat’s surface.

Remains of a rocket found on the banks of the Dinibro River.
Bullet or shrapnel holes were filmed in the attacked boat.

“Based on the bombs and ammunition we saw in the area and along the coast, we can see the direction of the shooting – this proves that (they) are coming from the south, and that the occupied territory is under the control of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation at this time and below,” Chelest, a lawyer investigating the attack, told CNN. .

CNN has approached the Russian Defense Ministry for comment. Since the outbreak of war, Russia has repeatedly refused to target civilians – a claim proven by attacks on civilians and civilian targets verified by CNN and other news organizations.

Gerson in crisis

The Nesterenko family is one of several families uprooted or destroyed by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. According to UN agencies, more than 7.1 million people have been internally displaced, and nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have left their homes in the past six weeks. At least 191 children have been killed and more than 349 wounded since the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday.

Gershon was one of the first cities to be captured by the Russians. Mayor Ihor Kolykhayev said that following the Kremlin’s hasty exit from the north of Ukraine, people were “actively” leaving Kherson and other cities, mostly in the Russian-occupied south, after the outbreak of atrocities in the Kiev region.

“Cities are being emptied,” he said on Tuesday, with Russia re-focusing its offensive in eastern Ukraine. “It hurts me a lot that people are leaving Gershon. (By herself) if they leave their homes, people will not return home anymore,” he said.

Rumors are mounting that a referendum will be held in Russia-controlled Kherson, especially on the left bank of the Dnipro River, in an attempt to legalize illegal Russian land grabbing. A similar tactic was played out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, where pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk held referendums on the formation of “people’s republics”, which was falsely rejected by Ukraine and the West.

The mayor said on Tuesday that Ukrainians living on the left bank of the region had peacefully opposed the Russian occupation through rallies in Kersen and Golikaye. At an earlier rally in Kherson, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian forces of firing on unarmed civilians. “Russian soldiers do not even know what it means to be free,” Ole Badurin, a reporter for the local Novi Den newspaper, recently told CNN.

Protesters, some waving Ukrainian flags,
Badurin describes a “tragic situation” echoing the devastation around the Kiev region of the capital, on the right bank of the Kersen in Dinibro. He said people living in villages on the leading border in the Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions had told him about being looted, attacked and threatened by Russian forces.

“For example, in the settlements of Kochubeivka, Novovorontsovka (where Osokorivka is located), and Vysokopilia – there are villages that died in the first half of March and were completely looted and destroyed,” he said.

The full horror of the occupation will only be revealed when the Russians leave, Baturin predicts.

Deformed lives

In an interview with CNN last week, three survivors described the shock of the boat attack.

“It was very sudden and everyone was in shock,” said one of the survivors, who spoke to CNN. As the rockets hit the area, the pieces began to hit the passengers, he said.

The survivor said he was saved from injury as he fell off the boat in the first moment of the bombing. “I was wearing very heavy shoes and I was immediately dragged down (the river). Then we heard (rockets) hitting,” he said.

They encircled the north coast around the village of Osokorivka and moved in an active front. Ukrainian soldiers began shouting from the riverbank, threw their guns to the ground and wandered into the water to rescue the boat and civilians, the survivor said. It took up to 15 minutes to drain them from the water around the Novovorontsovka area. CNN made the geographical locations of the aftermath to that coast.

“Our comrades (the Ukrainian army) helped, of course … rushed into the water and swam to the boat,” said the survivor, pulling the boat ashore.

Julia said the shock of that moment, and the shock that followed, had blurred the memory of that event. “I do not know why we were fired upon. We do not understand what those sounds were: bullets, shells, explosions?” She said. “I did not understand what was going on – I was in a fog.”

She remembers the soldiers carrying her husband’s body and “putting him on the beach.” His son Vladimir was still alive, but badly injured. “He was breathing, he had a serious head injury (and) lost a lot of blood. We took him to a hospital 40 kilometers away,” he said. “He had surgery. There was still hope that he could be saved. But as the doctors later said, ‘this is a life-threatening injury’.”

By and Vladimir Nesterenko.

Maxim Kolomyets, a 37-year-old artisan, left the area and boarded a boat to join the Ukrainian army. He fainted in the first moments of the shelling and woke up a few hours later in the hospital with a stab wound to his left arm.

One day after the attack, on April 8, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, Lyudmila Denisova, described the shelling of the boat as a “war crime and crime against humanity.” Vilkul, head of Kryvyi Rih’s military administration, told CNN that the Russians were “doing everything they could to prevent civilians from leaving the occupied territories because, apparently, they were afraid they could say something about it.” Their positions. ”

Julia now lives with relatives in the Ukrainian-controlled area where she buried her son and husband. She suffers from not knowing what to do next.

“We wanted this trip to be an opportunity to escape the occupation … for us it was like a lamp at the end of the tunnel because being where we were was already unbearable for us,” he said.

“This war has destroyed my family and my life – the killing of people must stop immediately. Because it is (destroying) rules, lives.”

Reported by Tara John Lviv of CNN. Oleksandr Fylyppov, Sandi Sidhu, Julia Presniakova reported from Lviv. Nathan Hodge, Julia Kesiva and Olga Voytovich contributed to this area.

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