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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.

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‘I remained in the occupation because I couldn’t leave my dog’

25.01.2023    available: На русском | Українською
Oleksandr Vasylev

My name is Vitkovska Nataliia Fedorivna. I am a high school teacher. I lived in Borodianka in the Kyiv region and survived the Russian occupation there.


What was the first day of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation like for you?

— We have a two-story house, and someone looked out from the second floor all the time to see from which side the glow was. Because, on the one side, we had Hostomel, but the Russians were coming from the other side, from the north. We heard a roar, the sound of aircraft, and then explosions began. As a family, we organized a watch to know where it was flying from. We have a two-story house, and a two-year-old grandson was with us. We had to run to the cellar constantly, and it was difficult to go upstairs; therefore, we were on duty to understand when it was dangerous and had to go to the cellar.

We also put metal protection on the windows and created a chat with the neighbors to share information. But by and large, it was useless because the light and communications disappeared almost immediately. I also remember the first day because we left the house hoping to buy groceries, but the stores were already almost empty. So therefore, we sat in the cellar, looking out occasionally to find out what was happening, where it was thundering, and what direction they were flying from.

— How did the occupation start for you?

— The occupation began with fires. On 7 March, my colleague wrote that invaders were already walking down the street and checking houses. It was the last correspondence, and then there was no phone connection. The invaders came to us on 9 March, a mini-column and some armored vehicles on which the snipers were sitting. Eight people entered our house: Buryats and one Russian. They looked through the entire place. They said they were looking for Banderites. I asked them why they came to Ukraine, but they hardly entered discussions. However, we talked with a Russian officer, and he asked where the “Nazis” were. He was also interested in our way of life, and we again asked him why they had come. We tried to explain that there was no need to liberate us, that no one discriminated against Russian speakers here. I explained that I once taught Russian, but he kept talking about Bandera and nationalists. It seems they did not understand that no one was waiting for them.

There were three waves. First, the columns passed through Borodianka, and they didn't return. Then, around 15-20 March, the second wave came. They did not look as polished as in the first wave but already looked somewhat shabby.

They were looking for a place to keep warm and dragged blankets from the houses to the basements to equip their layers. And the third wave was utterly ragged. Just awful beyond words. Like the homeless, they climbed into the neighboring houses. They did not touch us but only checked homes. However, the neighbor was beaten for smoking through the window at night. They thought that with a cigarette glow, he signals to the partisans or the Armed Forces of Ukraine in this way.

— Have you witnessed the crimes of the Russian military?

— They looted. For example, they cleaned a neighbor's house on Novaya Street, 7. They also climbed into the windows of houses, took stuff, and loaded it into cars.

— Have you seen the Russian military torture or kill civilians?

— No, because we seldom left the house and were always only on our street.

— Why didn't you evacuate from Borodianka?

— Firstly, we had no fuel because my husband and I gave everything to the children so they could leave. Secondly, we have a dog, an Alabai, and we could not leave him. Thirdly, we did not want to go to someone and eat their food when we had our property and supplies. Finally, and most importantly —  this is my land; why should I give in to someone who invades my territory?

— Even before the war, could you have thought there would be a full-scale invasion?

— I understood that relations with Russia were deteriorating, but I did not believe they would do such a thing until the very end.

— Were you preparing for a possible full-scale invasion?

— The day before the invasion, the husband and son said some things needed to be packed. So, on the 24th, I had an emergency suitcase prepared and all the documents, but earlier I didn’t prepare in any way.

— What can you tell about the bombing of Borodianka by Russian aircraft?

— Horror! I have never heard such a sound from an aircraft when it comes in for a bombardment. It was scary, and we ran to the cellar. When we sat in the cellar, everything inside was trembling. The bombs fell 400 meters from us, but it was felt very strongly. My daughter-in-law covered the child with herself. It was terrifying, and I could not express it. Then our children and grandchildren were evacuated, and my husband and I somehow adapted to such a life.

Borodianka, the aftermath of Russian airstrikes

— What about your property?

— Partially damaged. Thank God the house survived, but a piece of debris flew onto the roof and damaged the slates. The house extension was damaged with cracks all over. We have a place to live, but gaps near the windows formed from the shock waves. I don't know how to survive the winter. But God had mercy on us compared to other affected people who lost everything.

— What did you feel when Borodianka was released?

— Great happiness! But the anxiety remains. The Russians were here, trampling on our land, causing colossal troubles.

— Has your attitude towards Russians changed?

— Even though my friends have relatives there, and I know them very well, I don’t know what I will do someday, but now I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t know yet what should happen for me to sit down at the same table with them. I feel sorry for the mothers of Russian soldiers, but, on the other hand, if they let their sons kill us, they do not deserve sympathy.

Vitkovska Nataliia, Borodianka

The article was prepared by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group with the support of the "People in Need"
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