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.

‘If the house is intact, we will certainly return’

21.04.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Taras Viichuk, Oleksandr Viichuk
This is the story of Nataliia from Bakhmut. In 2014, she and her husband saw the burning Sloviansk and the “referendum” conducted by Russians who landed from KamAZ trucks. Then, on 24 February 2022, they heard the first explosions while looking for where to withdraw their pension. They left on 7 April from the railway station in Kramatorsk, the day before the tragedy.

I’m Natalia. I am from Bakhmut, Donetsk region.

How did the events of 2014 develop in your region?

We were affected by the “referendum”, although my husband and I did not participate or even think about it. There was a polling point near us; they voted there. We didn’t go, didn’t support it. And when they started shooting in 2014… It was already warm, and they were in tattered pants, real tramps, God forgive me. They ran around the yard with machine guns. And I shouted to my husband: “Give me a brick, and I will hit his forehead from the fifth floor!” God forgive me, I can’t stand them, to be honest.

We saw how they disembarked from KamAZ trucks. “Orderly and handsome” Russians.

We have a non-ferrous metal plant in Bakhmut. So, our plant and the Kolchuginsky plant in Russia maintained contact. Ours went to Kolchugino for training, and from there, they sent people: katsaps [ethnic slur for Russians] sent their students to us for practice. They, as young specialists, were the first to get apartments. Our village, to be honest, is all Katsapian because these Kolchugins are everywhere. The plant has existed since 1953, and here they are, the scoundrels, who have been living with us since 1953.

Nataliia, a resident of Bakhmut

Did you witness the shelling of the region in 2014?

In 2014, shells flew in. They used to fly around the village, rambling. We sometimes stood on the balcony and watched how Sloviansk burned. It was dark, but on the horizon, you could see — it was on fire. Planes flew, fell, and dived.

I don’t know how one day a man said the planes didn’t fly anywhere: neither into the roof nor anywhere. I saw a plane in a dive, and the pilot maneuvered it. It roared scarily!

These “Dnrovites” [Donetsk People’s Republic fighters], like masters, loitered around the city: with beer, with machine guns. They stood under the prosecutor’s office, and what did they say? “Your time is over, and ours has begun.” That’s how it was.

How did the war in 2022 burst into your life?

I woke up in the morning (my husband was sleeping in the bedroom, and I was in the hall), I looked, and he was on the Internet. I asked: “Valera. Are you home?” And he replied: “The war has begun, Natasha, the war.” So, we got dressed and went out. And we have a large town. We looked, and there were already many people near the ATM, and you couldn’t get to the store to get bread. However, we needed to get a pension. So, we began circulating and looking for where to withdraw a pension. Finally, we came to the center. The trolleybuses were no longer running, but we got there. We stopped at Silpo, where ATMs dispensed 3,000 UAH per person.

I was standing in line when the shooting started. I told my husband: “I’ll go to the pharmacy (there was a pharmacy next to the shopping center) and buy bandages; at least, I need to buy something.”

As soon as I entered, they started shooting. It is next to the market; it’s the city center. They shouted: “We are closing the pharmacy, get out, we are closing!”

Somewhere in the market, something exploded, God knows where. Sales girls shouted: “Well, to hell with it! Let’s close and go home!” This is how the 24 February began.

Have you witnessed the destruction of civilian facilities?

I had a toothache, and I had to go to the dentist (as always, something happens at the most inopportune moment). I had to remove the tooth, so I had to go to the city in a roundabout way (trolleybuses no longer ran).

We drove and noticed the glass was scattered here and there on the way. And then we went back, and there was a hospital where the windows were also broken. Photo: Depositphotos

We drove and noticed the glass was scattered here and there on the way. And then we went back, and there was a hospital where the windows were also broken. We passed a store (we have an outlet called “1000 little things"): not a single stained-glass window left in the store. The intersection of Gorbaty and Artem: we had a nine-story building there (my husband’s cousin and his wife live there; they are now in Kremenchuk). So they smashed the television center there: not to the ground, but the building was shattered. A friend’s apartment was smashed: no windows, no doors. They now live in their neighbor’s place. The neighbors probably have a basement, and they were given the keys.

Have you witnessed civilian casualties?

My classmate died. There was shelling… We have the Budenovsky mini-district, the private sector. There they hit and killed people. Kolomoytsev Nikolay. He was sixty-two years old. The Russians didn’t care: the private sector, not the private sector. They hit just to hit.

I’m not surprised because I watched in the telegram how the katsaps are lying around, some without a head... My husband said that they wrote in the telegram: at the beginning of the war, dogs were thin — skin and bones. And now the dogs and foxes fatten up. And I said: “Lord, do they really eat katsaps?”

How was your evacuation from Bakhmut?

In the evening, the son called but did not get through. And then he called again and shouted: “Mom, are you thinking of leaving?” He called on WhatsApp and shouted: “Leave immediately!” I told my old man, and he said: “I won’t go; I don’t want to. You go yourself.” And I told him: “I won’t go anywhere without you, so we’ll stay here.” He immediately responded: “Natasha, you have no idea what will happen.” In the evening, I lay down (I have a shelf, and when I lay down, I put my laptop on it), and my husband was in the bedroom. And for no reason at all, it hit violently! Even the computer jumped. There was one explosion, then a second. And again, the son called...

He could not get through and called in the middle of the night: “Mom, where are you?” I said: “At home,” and my husband said: “We haven’t gone down yet.” The son replied: “Pack up and leave immediately!”. However, we stayed a little longer. We thought to stock up because the war and the shops would close, and we couldn’t buy anything anywhere. Crazy… We stocked up. And then I began laundry, and it hit again. Again strong explosions. The washing machine worked, but I was confused, shaking with fear; I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I shouted: “Valera, turn off the machine, I can’t!”

And sometimes, we would go out to the store, and they shut and shut. Each time, the rumble was getting closer and closer.

Then the husband said: “Like it or not, but we have to leave.” And he began to call the hotline at the military registration and enlistment office. He phoned, probably all day, until he got through. On the hotline, the woman answered: “Wait, I’ll call you back.” She called in the evening, at 23:30; I had not yet slept. The phone rang, and it shook me; I was hysterical. The husband picked up the phone and asked me: “Do you refuse?”. I answered: “We refuse.” He answered the call: “Sorry, my wife’s blood pressure has risen, she feels bad, we won’t go.”

And then again, I had to go out into the street in the middle of the night to avoid getting slammed. We were between heaven and earth going back and forth, back and forth. The son called again, and the two of them persuaded me. Again I was shaking but gathered my strength. We decided to go. We left on the 7th.

On the morning of 7 April, I went to get some bread and cucumbers for the journey. I heard the girls in the store said: “The taxi does not go; nothing goes. All transport has stopped. Photo: Depositphotos

On the morning of 7 April, I went to get some bread and cucumbers for the journey. I heard the girls in the store said: “The taxi does not go; nothing goes at all. All transport has stopped.

As we left our house, a guy drove up. The husband asked: “Will you take us to the city?” He answered: “I’ll.” So we got to the center. And there, we were put on an evacuation bus and taken to Kramatorsk. And in Kramatorsk in the evening, they began to load people onto the Lviv train. We thought we would go to Khmelnytskyi. But suddenly, at 18:45, they shouted: “Get off, everyone!” They announced from the loudspeaker: “Immediately leave the station building; get out!” And there was a tent, and we went inside. We thought we would have to spend the night there.

Then they started to kick everyone out of the station’s territory and send them behind the station because the tracks had been bombed toward Barvinkove. And where would we go at 18:45 if the curfew starts in 15 minutes (at 19:00)? Where to go if the house is forty kilometers from Kramatorsk? We stood and stood and did not know what to do. Finally, the locals who were about to leave began to disperse. Fortunately, at half past nine, they announced it was possible to border the Lviv train. We ran there and boarded the train, and in the morning, while on the road, we watched the telegram, and there we saw an explosion in Kramatorsk and the children lying dead ...

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

We were away for a month. Even the refrigerator was left on because there was meat in it. If the house is intact, we will definitely return.

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