Porodianka, Ukraine – A group of Chechen soldiers exploding through the gate is the first sign of trouble.
They jumped out of their jeep, battle boots hit hard on the sidewalk, and ordered Borodianka’s Special Needs Home 500 patients and staff to enter the yard at gunpoint.
“We thought we would be hanged,” said the director of the house, Marina Hanitska, in an interview this week, just days after Russian troops withdrew from Borodianka.
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She told me how the soldiers took out a camera. They barked at Hanitska to make everyone laugh. Most of the patients were crying.
“We command you to say to the camera,” Thanks Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, “the soldiers demanded from Hanitska.
With so many guns in her face, she quickly ran through her options. He will never thank the President of Russia for calling him a “liar” and a “murderer.”
But she did not want the players to hurt anyone. So she was able to pronounce: “Thank you for not killing us.”
Then she fainted.
A gruesome trial has begun at a Ukrainian psychiatric center in Porodyanka, a small town with a few apartments located at a strategic junction about 50 miles northwest of the capital, Kiev.
In a dozen interviews conducted over the past two days in Borodianka and other cities in the ruined areas around Kiev, the villagers described the Russian soldiers as brutal, brutal, immoral and young. The accounts of the villagers could not be verified independently, but they were consistent with other reports and visual evidence of Russian behavior in the region.
The siege of the mental health complex lasted for several weeks, during which time the building lost heat, water and electricity, and a dozen patients lost their lives. What emerged there reflects the depth of despair and at the same time a wonderful flush under a brief but brutal Russian occupation.
Across parts of Ukraine, recently liberated from a month-long Russian occupation, a long series of disturbing stories of horrific deaths and deaths by Russian soldiers against unarmed Ukrainian civilians under their control are emerging.
Every day, Ukrainian investigators enter a dense cellar or mud field or someone’s backyard and find the bodies of villagers shot in the head or with signs of torture. More and more accounts are emerging of civilians being held captive as human shields and some dying from lack of food, water or heat. On Friday, Ukrainian officials said at least 900 civilians had been killed as Russian forces withdrew from the Kiev region.
Much of this tragedy occurred in small towns near Kiev, where the Russians occupied a large area in the early days of the war, but were evacuated two weeks ago by less armed but more determined Ukrainian forces.
Executives at Porodianka’s mental home said Russian soldiers had robbed their pharmacy of alcohol. Villagers elsewhere said they stole bedsheets and sneakers and vandalized many of the houses they occupied with childish graffiti. Staff at the psychiatric home said on the way out that Russian soldiers had painted slanderous messages on human feces – on the walls.
“I threw it away when I saw it,” Hanitska said. “I don’t understand how they were raised, by whom, who can do this.”
Libipka, a village dwarfed by vast wheat fields, was occupied by Russian troops until March 31 in Philippi.
Some village women begged the Russian generals to allow them to leave, and the Russians seemed to agree. So on March 12, a group of elderly men, women and children gathered in 14 cars and slowly began to drive what they thought was safe.
“We all had white flags and we had permission,” said Valerie Timchuk, a shopkeeper who drove a minibus on the convoy.
But then villagers reported that Russian armored personnel carriers had turned their towers towards them. A shell was torn in the first car. And then another. And then another.
The convoy turned into a fireball.
Timchuk said a family of four, including a small child, was trapped in their car and engulfed in flames. Many of the sung cars are still on the road. Timchuk said the baby’s burnt bones were still in the back seat. What appeared to be bone fragments were scattered among piles of blackened metal and ash.
Two dead dogs lay near the cars, their fur singing.
Tymchuk escaped after being hit by his minibus and slit in his face.
He shook his head when asked why the Russians think they did this.
“They are zombies,” he said.
These villages were at the forefront, part of Russia’s failed attempt to encircle Kiev. The same is true of Pucha, another village north of Kiev and the site of the worst atrocities ever discovered. All of these places are now quiet, allowing forensic investigators to do their job. And the more they look, the more they will discover.
In Makari, another small town near Kiev, authorities said they had recently found more than 20 bodies, in different courtyards and houses, bearing the marks of torture. In the Browery area to the east, police officers found six bodies in a cellar, all of which were apparently hanged.
“We have seen signs of stab wounds and stab wounds on the bodies, and some hands tied with tape,” said Oleksandr Omelianenko, a police officer in the Kiev region.
“Severely affected areas have been occupied for a long time,” he added.
That’s the story for Borodianka and Borodianka Psychiatric Nursing Home.
Hanitska, 43, a former headmaster of a school, said he saw Russian trucks coming in from the windows of a three-story building with special needs. He thought it was 500.
Later, worried about the shooters, the Russians began shelling apartments on the roads, and dozens of residents died under the rubble, emergency service officials said.
Shock waves pounded the special needs home built in the 1970s to cater to adults with neurological and psychological disorders. Hanitska became aggressive with some of his patients, and three others escaped, yet to be found. Others were frightened and curled up under their beds and shelves.
“It was more than 10 times scary,” said patient Ihor Nikolenko.
By March 5th, it had gotten worse.
That is when the Chechens appeared. Chechen troops are particularly feared to be believed to be more ruthless than other Russians as a result of the defeat of their own separatist war against Russia’s central government.
Hanitska and other staff said the troops were Chechens because of their pale beard and the language they spoke to themselves. Ukrainian officials posted messages on social media in which they referred to Chechens and warned them not to hurt patients.
“These are mostly sick people with developmental disabilities,” said Oleksandr Pavliuk, a senior officer in the Ukrainian army. “But these are our people. We can never leave them, we will never leave.”
This time, for some inside, it was too late. Hanitska said her first patient died in late February due to exposure to the cold. In early March, another half dozen people died. In total, he lost 13.
20 degrees Fahrenheit inside the building, it was still cold outside. No heat, no electricity, no running water and little food. Porodianga was under siege, above all.
“We started drinking water from the pool,” Hanitska said. “We were all sick.”
The Chechen group mysteriously retreated the same day it arrived, but the other Russians took their place. They did not allow anyone to leave the building, even to go out for food, they hit the building with artillery, mortar and heavy guns, knowing that the Ukrainians would be reluctant to attack it.
“We have become a human shield,” said Taisia Tyschkevych, the house’s accountant.
The Russians picked up everyone’s phone. Or almost everyone.
Hanitska said he used it to hide his identity and communicate secretly. The nurse peeks out the window of the office, finds Russian vehicles and then sends the details to Ukrainian forces. “They attacked the Russians,” he said. “If we had not done this, there would have been fighting in Kiev.”
Ukrainian officials say many Ukrainian civilians have helped.
While spying on the Russians, Hanitska also cooked food on the fire outside, hid patients in basements because of the deafness of the cannons, and set up sleeping quarters in the corridors for the dozens of people who had left the bombed-out buildings in the city. Shelter, and – above all – helped to calm everyone’s nerves.
On March 13, Hanitska looked out the same window and for the first time in weeks saw something that lifted his heart: the convoy of yellow buses. She broke her ear.
“I’m going to shoot,” she said. “Or save the people.”
Humanitarian workers arranged for a rescue and the Russians finally allowed the patients to leave. They were taken by bus to other facilities in less competitive areas.
Hanitska is tough, but humble with a dry sense of humor.
When asked how long she has been working at home, she smiles.
“Two months,” she said. “I think you can say I’m lucky.”
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