war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

‘I was afraid that I won’t be killed at once but will be maimed’ – a resident of Rubizhne

07.06.2022    available: Українською
Taras Viychuk
Natalia Shtepa left Rubizhne on March 26. She hid from the shelling with her neighbors in a cramped unfurnished basement. She says she slept sitting up for 17 nights.

Nataliya Shtepa, Rubizhne

– I arrived from the town of Rubizhne, in Luhansk oblast.  I left on March 26, there was still the corridor from our district “Yuzhniy”. There was a very violent shelling, my nerves were on edge. I left on March 26 and I arrived to the town of Skole on March 28.

– How did the war come to your life?

– It was a shock, my brain still cannot understand and accept how it can be, a foreign country attacked out country simply because we think differently, want to live differently, to improve something in our lives, to choose the countries with which to converse, whom to befriend. Why such a hostile policy towards Ukraine? I cannot understand, why such a hostile policy from Russia? Yes, we want self-determination, improvement, but does it have to be punished so cruelly... What life principles are those? Those are monsters. How could they ruin the lives of the residents of this country? So many victims. The thing is, we got the attack of the Russian troops, ambitious plans to occupy the Luhansk oblast, they failed in 2014, they were stopped. Severodonetsk, Lisichansk, Rubizhne, Kreminna, Varvarovka – it is all nearby, and back then, near Severodonetsk, they were stopped, but a part of the territory was occupied, unfortunately… And now they went since March 7… How did I learn? On that night, February 24, I could not fall asleep and I learned from the TV because it was turned on, and I heard that Russia began waging war on Ukraine, that a war has begun.

How did the events develop before your departure?

– All those events unfolded so fast around us. On March 7 a powerful attack of the Russian troops on Rubizhne began. They reached us through Varvarovka or elsewhere. We didn’t know, the electric wires were torn… We were sitting there without gas, without light, without water. So, between March 7 and 8 a shell fell in my niece’s apartment, Thank God, although they were usually sitting in the corridor or the bathroom, on that day they descended to the basement and survived. Because the shell flew in, smashed the wall, flew to the second room and ruined everything inside with the blast wave. There wouldn’t have been any chances. The Blast Wave is a very powerful force, we have felt it… So they moved to my sister’s place in another district. But the shells fell there, too, and the house burned down before her, they moved to yet another district, and then unfamiliar people simply gave them two cars and they left.  Our district was shelled very, very hard and suffered a heavy destruction.

Where were you during the hostilities?

– We spent 17 days in the basement, I slept in sitting position for 17 days. Our basement is not equipped, there are some cells, rooms that people built for themselves, well, we asked for someone to give us shelter. We only went outside to feed the cat, and twice I was under shelling, I ran and then I thought, why am I running, if it kills me so will it be. I was afraid that I won’t be killed at once but will be maimed, because we had cases when a shell fell and torn off someone’s legs… It is all difficult, they were brought out by the MoE. There were cases when a shell exploded outside the apartments, and the broken glass rained and cut someone hard, we were providing first aid…

How did you feed under the shelling?

– At first I dried some crackers, back then they still delivered the products, but then the shelling started and they said that they will not be delivering bread, so I dried two loaves in the oven, dried the bread. I think, when to cook? And then the gas pipe was broken and nothing was left… For the first 4 days we survived thanks to crackers and tea. Then, when the gas pipe was broken, everybody started bringing what they had. It was cold then, people started to leave, so they even left the keys and said: go, take everything from the fridges, take the products from the verandas. It was very cold, minus nine degrees. In the morning we cooked a big pot of something hot. At first, we cooked field porridge with shins and millet, I got up on 4 am, cut the potatoes, carrots, onions…We boiled it, poured it in some bowls, plates. On the next day someone brought something else, we boiled it, added the pasta or something else, gave everybody. During the day everybody drank tea, coffee. There was no bread, we fried the pancakes in brine. Well, and then they started delivering bread, some kind of humanitarian aid, cans, but we still used what people gave us.

Was it hard to leave home?

– Well, you understand, having hope for the future and losing it is terrifying. We were left without anything, everyone suffered, my niece’s and older sister’s house burned down, everything burned down. How to live after that? Well, we will think about that later, and on March 24 my son’s-in-law grandfather, Kyrylo, says: you should leave, too. I say: I don’t know.  We still had many people from two sections of our building, but many left. And then a shell fell near us. Out buildings formed a U-shape, two buildings, on Khymikiv street. And the shell fell in the yard: the windows were smashed in all the buildings. And the shells hit the buildings, too. Then a shell fell, so the boys barely jumped away. We prepared food, went outside around 4 or 5 am. While there were no such shelling, the boys made a bonfire, and we cooked something. We cooked for everybody, many people were sitting in the basement. Then other shells fell, the blast wave was so powerful that it torn the doors to the basement from the hinges. Well, basement is such a thing: if the building folds, who will dig you out. Guys from MoE delivered the products. Then the deliveries of humanitarian aid began, but you had to choose, humanitarian aid or life. Some went to get it, some didn’t. Such moment comes when you don’t care, you only want it to end as soon as possible. I was saying goodbye to my son, I tell him: “Son, who knows: whether we survive or not”. in the night they also shelled horribly. Then we left… 12 people left one day, and we were left 5 people from two sections. Well, I think – there will be nobody to bury me. And what do you think? They buried people… A shell hit an apartment, a woman went to get humanitarian aid, she was killed by a shard, so her husband took her in a wheelbarrow, dug a hole, well, somebody else helped, so… people were buried near the buildings because going somewhere… It was cold because the spring was late, it was -9, -10, corpses were lying on the streets, but it wasn’t like this in our district, in Yuzhniy, they were taken away.  And in the town they were lying on the streets. On March 26 I left, we were taken out by the volunteers and they said that the corridor will be closed soon, because the line of attack and defence was near us. We also learned that Kadyroiv’s fighters were sent to our district, they are still there, hanging the flags: LPR, the Russian flag and Chechnya. Yes, this cynicism is in our city, in Rubizhne, you understand, on March 26 we had to register, I was registered on March 25 and on March 26 we were taken to Novozolotarivka, there we were fed, we waited, and the people went to us to leave, came from the town on foot. I tell to my friend (we used to work in the institute for some time): “Lida, how are you here?”. And she says “They bombed everything”. There were 9 of them: she, her husband, her children and her little grandchildren. She says: “We came on foot from a completely different district, the bullets are whistling around like flies, and we go, because the children have to be saved, we came on foot”. On March 26 we were placed in small buses, and I was warned: “Put something in the bag to be able to sit on it”. Because there were no seats. They were delivering humanitarian aid, and then placed the people in, took them out like this. We were taken to Novozolotarivka, and then they gave diesel, we were taken to Sloviansk, waited there a bit, then a train Kramatorsk-Lviv arrived. We were warned that five cars for the displaced persons are free, second-class cars. At first there were many people who were even sitting down, and when we were leaving we slept because we had the opportunity. I want to thank a lot the people who received us here. I arrived here in horrible nervous condition, terrible one. I was worried for my head staying in place….You can’t understand: how can it be – someone took a decision and ruined the lives of so many people in my country, how can it be?… My relatives, I had many relatives in Rubizhne, they left elsewhere…When will we meet again, will we meet at all?..  I don’t know, it is terrible. Let God see our suffering and punish that monster who took the decision, in the most brutal way possible. It is very scary… The town lies in ruins, only some districts remained intact. Severodonetsk is 80% ruined. It is a young town, our town, since 1915. There was “Rosiyska Farba” plant, and a settlement was organized near it, and then the town. We had enterprises, they are ruined, we had work, we had life, it is all ruined… When will it all be restored – who knows..

Has anyone from your family remain in Rubizhne?

– My aunt and great-grandson remained there, they did not leave for some reason. I don’t klnow the fate of my cousin, they lived in the area of the railway station, their house also burned down. My cousin relocated to the children, but I don’t know what happened next. Because it is a terror…

Were the Russian speakers oppressed in Rubizhne?

– Nobody was oppressed! We have such enterprise that the specialists were trained in the Russian higher educational institutions, such special enterprise. Nobody was oppressed. People worked on managing positions their entire life.

Do you have any wished for our protectors?

– For those guys who protect us, it is very hard, so hard… They perform their duty before us, before our country, before the families, let God protect them. Now I understand how important it is, and I wish them all life and happiness. Because I am telling you: when you sit you don’t hear how our guys are booming. You say: yeah, those are our guys, it flies from them – and return to your cooking or boiling… And when the shell flies to you, when you hear the soft noise, how it will explode, you can’t always predict how close or far it will happen, – it is horrible, Heaven forbid undergoing this. Let the punishment befall those who started this, this terrible tragedy for out people…

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