war crimes in Ukraine

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People knocked on the train doors and begged: ‘Let us in; we are with the children!’

23.03.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Taras Viichuk, Oleksandr Viichuk
During the bombing of Kramatorsk in 2014, Valentyna Bondarenko suffered a stroke. Eight years later, two seniors barely squeezed into an overcrowded train to evacuate from their hometown, heavily shelled again by Russian troops.

My name is Valentyna. My husband and I came from Kramatorsk.

How did the events of 2014 develop in your region?

2014 was very difficult. We were in Kramatorsk when the bombings began. We had just left the building entrance and suddenly heard a strong roar! We saw people scattered like flies in all directions. They said a rocket was shot down. We live in the very center, next to the headquarters. Behind our house is a TV tower. A friend got off the trolley bus, ran home through the field, and next to her, a rocket fell. She ended up in the hospital. The rocket fell in the city’s center — Palace Street — but did not explode. Instead, it got stuck in the ground, and they fenced it with a chain.

There was such a case: we lived for a month with my sister in the village, and there, nearby, was the Air Conditioner plant. We all went out into the street from the entrances and heard a loud boom — nearby, a house blasted off. I am very impressionable, so I decided to go home. I took a taxi, and along the route, there were hedgerows and houses.

It was said that cars and buses were fired at from these hedgerows. So that’s how we drove. When we arrived home, I kissed the walls.

Then I took a fur jacket out onto the balcony. I wanted to ventilate it in case the moth settled in while we weren’t home. And suddenly, the “Grad” [rocket] flew. There was an airfield nearby, and this “Grad” was slowly flying past our house with the lights blinking. I’m on the fourth floor, and my friend is on the fifth. I grabbed this jacket so the spark would not fall on it and start the fire.

We went to the dacha [summer cottage] when they started shooting. And there were roadblocks. Somewhere pro-Russian militants stood, and somewhere – our guys. We could not understand anything. Again, sudden shelling, bombing. They say they bombed the Energomashspetsstal plant. Then we went to Sloviansk. We were driving along the highway: on one side, ordinary private houses, and on the other, huge places for “servants of the people” [a representative of power. You know, like in the movie, not a single house was intact. Everything was broken. Somewhere, only the foundation remained, and somewhere, the wreckage was lying around. There was not one whole house. It was a terrible scene.

In the morning, a bus was driving, carrying people to work; it was blown up near the covered market, and everyone died. One woman just took out a pension and worked in a hospital. In 2014, because of these events, I had a stroke.

How did the war of 2022 burst into your life?

We went out into the street, and there were people gathered near the entrance, discussing what was happening. We didn’t even think about leaving. My husband and I have nowhere to go from Kramatorsk. So we started to prepare the basement nearby. The guys cleaned up and brought us the racks. We slept on these racks and could not bend our legs afterward. Just imagine all this horror and a thick layer of dust everywhere. But we rushed there when the siren wailed. We ran from the fourth floor there several times a day. Later, we went to another shelter in a neighboring house on the ground floor. Just imagine a siren howls, and we run down from the fourth floor, past the house, into the basement. My husband is in front, and I am behind him. When the air raid stops, we go back. And so we ran all the time. My husband once said: “I’m not going anywhere anymore.”

Valentyna Bondarenko, Kramatorsk

Have you had any difficulty getting food?

There was nothing anywhere. The shops were closed. In the House of Trade, only one department sold bread and sugar. We stocked up on chicken and meat but left it all there.

What prompted you to evacuate from Kramatorsk?

I went out into the street and felt like no air was around. There were no people, no one. I told my husband: “Listen, I’m leaving; let’s go.” — “I’m not going.” — “I will go alone.” Finally, we packed in a hurry: some things, clothes, and galoshes and rushed out into the street. We looked and saw a car in the distance, near the basement. I screamed: “Stop, wait!” — “What do you want?” — “Take us to the station!” — “Don’t you hear the siren?” — No!” But with God’s help, he drove us.

We arrived at the station and found a huge queue to enter the territory. It was some registration that no one needed, which slowed down the process. We moved very slowly. Then we saw our military vehicles driving toward the airfield, and I thought: we have an airfield nearby. The Russians blew it up. There were a lot of victims there.

It was getting dark, and the siren was howling. People rushed to get into the station building. The trains were, it seems, to Khmelnytskyi; I do not remember exactly. We didn’t care as long as we left. And this crowd was crushing us! I dropped my bags and thought that I would not survive.

Kramatorsk, a residential building shelled by Russian troops

Then a volunteer led us to the boarding train. Solid darkness, rails, you step, and you don’t see where. People got into cars and turned on their flashlights: a light here and a light there. I was the last one to get in. We barely found a place. We traveled in the dark and could not turn on the lights. When we moved the curtain and looked out — it was dark. We went slowly, stopped, and stood for a long time. I didn’t even know how long.

We stopped at Lozovaia. Suddenly, people knocked on the train door: “Let us in, we are with kids, open the doors!”

Then they said they were hiding from the bombings under the bridge, and when our train was coming, they saw it and ran. So they were taken away too.

Have you witnessed the destruction of civilian facilities?

Our factories were bombed. We have eight: NKMZ, Lithium and Packaging Plant, machine-building, shipbuilding, “Conditioner”, lamp production, cement-slate, and metallurgical. They were shelled every day, as well as the entire city. First, a school, then a boarding school, then two more schools, then a hospital, but mostly infrastructure. I think it was all destroyed. It seems to me that there are no more places to shoot. And now they began to hit the villages around the city. I sit here with you, but I think...

Have you witnessed civilian casualties?

Our friend told us that a woman was walking with her daughter, and the girl’s head was torn off before her mother. Similar things happened back in 2014. There were two friends from the garage. One had his head blown off. Can you imagine this?

Do you plan to return home after the end of the war?

People called and said that they had bombed close to our house. They said there was a huge hole in the road. I don’t know where we should go back. Nowhere.

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