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.

‘Grandchildren cried and said they didn’t want to die’

30.11.2022    available: На русском | Українською
Taras Viychuk
Kharkiv resident Nadezhda Bratashevskaya recalls living with her husband in the basement for two months: “As you go for humanitarian aid, you keep praying to God. Then, you press against the wall until the shell flies by or explodes.”

Nadezhda Bratashevskaya

On 24 February, at half past five, we woke up from loud explosions. Our house shook, and we ran to the children, we were all terrified, but we still did not understand what was happening. We looked out the window - everything was burning and smoking outside. Then it calmed down a little, but we realized the war had begun. We began packing the children because we understood what would come next ... We sent away our children and little grandchildren, but my husband and I stayed because we did not want to leave the house.

Where did you hide during the shelling of the city?

It was terrifying from the first day, and we went to the basement because the shelling could happen at any moment without warning. So the children left, and we stayed in the basement. We spent two months in it: it was frightening to go home. When we went up the stairs, and the house shook from shelling, we would stop near the elevator shaft, wait for the shell to fly by, and then continue to the next floor. Half of your life had passed by when you returned from the seventh floor to the basement. After that, the basement was a little quieter but still scary. There were more and more explosions. We didn’t feel safe even in the basement because we were afraid that the house would collapse and we would not be able to get out.

Did you have difficulty buying groceries and medicines?

We needed to eat, of course. There was humanitarian aid delivered, but it was also dangerous to go and collect it. We prayed to God when we went and pressed against the wall if shells flew by, then waited.  Once we received humanitarian aid, we quickly ran back through the snow and ice. You run and pray to God to reach a safe place. The store worked initially, but many people gathered there and waited in line for almost two hours.

Later, the shelling of this particular store began. The store was hit, and two people were killed: a man and a woman. Also, many were injured.

Eventually, the store closed to avoid crowds. It was also scary to dart to the pharmacy. As soon as you enter it, the shelling starts, and you don't know what to do: run away or get to the ground. Afraid that the windows will shatter or the building will fall.

Have you witnessed the destruction in your city?

Yes, of course. Many houses, shops, and kiosks were destroyed. Everything was broken,  and glass shards were everywhere. It was frightening to enter the apartment for even five minutes, change clothes or make tea.

How did you get out of the city?

At first, they announced that there were evacuation buses to the train station. But we were still hoping for something to change. Then the water supply and electricity were turned off. Our utility services tried repairing it all, but later the Russians targeted the infrastructure again, and everything collapsed. There was no way out without water, light, or gas. The trains started to carry people out because using bases was more dangerous. Finally, volunteers began to help: in the morning, somewhere from six to seven, they tried to slip by and drive people to the station in their cars.

Were you preparing for war?

We read the news and heard that Russian troops were on the border, but we did not believe it until the end. We thought there would be fighting again in the Donbas, but we did not believe that all of Ukraine would be attacked. My relatives and relatives of my friends live in Belgorod.  All of us didn't want to believe it, but unfortunately...

And so, the war began at half past five in the morning on 24 February. I remember how frightened the grandchildren were and began to cry.

My son-in-law bent over the children and covered them with his body in case something happened, and my granddaughter said to him: “Daddy, we don’t want to die!”

I cannot forget it. Almost every family had the same experience. After that, I no longer worried about myself, only about my children and grandchildren. It is one thing when you hear about the war on TV, but when everything shakes nearby and plaster falls on your head, it is horrifying.

The article was prepared by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group with the support of the Prague Civil Society Centre
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