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.

‘Only the walls are standing, and nothing else is left of the house’

22.04.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Taras Viichuk, Oleksandr Viichuk
Svitlana Hryhorivna used to live in the village of Yakovlivka, Bakhmut district. The woman says the place was perfect, and its inhabitants prospered. Now the village has been destroyed by the Russian military. The house of a seventy-year-old pensioner and her three sisters homes have been burned.

Spyrydonova Svitlana Hryhorivna, 70 years old. I came from the Bakhmut district, the village of Yakovlivka. We lived well there and had a beautiful town — asphalt on all streets and lights. We received a pension, and there were many shops. Everything was there, and we prospered.

How did the 2022 war burst into your life?

It was terrible; no one believed it. So I began calling my sisters, asking what was up. What do they need? We were terrified. What did we do to make them attack us? Well, what have we done to him [Putin]? I don’t even know.

And then we had Teroborona [Territorial Defence Force] stationed here. The tanks drove along the highway and the village streets and fired. We have an interstate route: the Lisichanskaya route through the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Tanks and armored personnel carriers drove there. We have seen it all.

And there was such traffic when people fled! They shut at buses with children. It’s tough to recall it.

Once a shell hit, an ambulance arrived, carrying people and children out of the bus. Ambulances were still coming from Bakhmut. Back then, there was no such battle in Bakhmut.

Have you witnessed the destruction of civilian facilities?

On the 28th, it started, and the first shell was fired. It hit my house, into the roof. It broke through three windows, and the glass flew out. I covered the windows with plastic and went to live with my sister. Three streets were damaged: on Pervomayskaya Street, windows were broken in two-story buildings, and windows and fences were damaged on our road. The bullets made many holes.

And then, they started shooting again at the end of April and in May. The bullets hit a house. Not mine, someone else’s. The house burned down, but the man survived. Three people were killed that day because the neighbors were sitting outside. There were many destroyed houses. A shell hit the two-story kindergarten. It was no longer working, and there were no children. Also, the store and village council burned down.

Село Яковлівка, скріншот з відео Радіо Свобода Україна

The village of Yakovlivka, a screenshot from the video of Radio Liberty Ukraine

A shell hit the “BakhmutAgro” farm. The seeds were on fire, but no one came to extinguish them. By then, help didn’t come either from Soledar or Bakhmut. And we did not have firemen in the village. I left in May, and later people said that a shell hit this house and that house. All streets were shelled. I didn’t see it, my neighbor told me. I left, and she stayed. We have two owners’ houses.

She said: “Svitlana, our hut burned down, and I was sitting in the cellar and saw everything.”

She is 74 years old, has an ordinary phone, and she could not film it. She said only the walls remained, the windows burned out. She said: “The roof burned down entirely on your half, and when yours burned down, mine caught fire. You had a fence, but where did it go? Such a feeling like no one has ever lived there. Only the walls stand — no fence, gate, nothing.” Where it all went, God only knows.

Maybe they took the iron for scrap as if no one lived there. The whole village suffered; our Yakovlivka is no more. The news does not say what there is: maybe the Russians occupied the town, I don’t know. Everyone has already left, and there is no phone connection.

“BakhmutAgro” is such a pity. A farmer built plastic grain sheds there. Berestovo — also there is no village. Bakhmutskoye on the highway — not there. There is no Soledar, and the mines were wrecked there. “Knauf GIPS” was smashed. Everything burned down. This German, Nicholas Knauf, came when the plant was opened. How much money he had invested. We thought, perhaps they don’t touch it if it’s German. But still, they destroyed it.

Have you witnessed civilian casualties?

One guy was shot in the head. He survived because he had a car, and they immediately took him to Soledar. The hospital was still open then. Then it started… Probably, in May, when they hit the house, killing three people. They were not allowed to bury them in the cemetery, and they buried them in the garden or the vegetable patch. They say that now coffins and corpses are lying around in the graveyard. The cemetery was shelled so hard that everything was unearthed and scattered.

Have you had difficulty accessing food?

Our community head, Anastasia Serhiivna, helped us. Although she is young, she is good, and she gave us humanitarian aid. In addition, we had our reserves: preservations and potatoes. Even back in April, we planted potatoes. In May, I weeded it but did not have a chance to collect it. I planted and went along the highway to my sister, who lived in Malinovka, and they shot. It flew from all sides. Well, let it fly, but I kept going. And what? Did I have a choice? If a bullet hits, it will hit, so this is my fate. God was merciful, but I lived to be 70 years old and left with nothing.

Спиридонова Світлана Григорівна, село Яковлівка

Spyrydonova Svitlana Hryhorivna, Yakovlivka village

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

No. And where to return? We are four sisters, and we all lived there. All houses were destroyed. Everything burned down, and nothing was left. Where should we return? We do not know. We are discussing it, but we don’t know where to go. My sister was in Bakhmut. Her apartment was also damaged: windows and a balcony on the first floor of a nine-story building were shattered. We have nowhere to return. We sit and think. We decided that we would stay here until we got kicked out. Once we are out, we’ll look for something. I say that then I will go live under the trees. Where should I go? I will not return to the ashes. What can I do myself? Nothing! So much money is needed. And when there is nothing ... I don’t even know ...

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