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.

‘Three shells exploded in my yard,’ — a Bohdanvka resident’s story

27.04.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksii Sidorenko
Marіia Petrivna has long retired; she has two daughters, a son, and six great-grandchildren. She ended up under Russian occupation with her son, and the Russians set up a headquarters next to her house. Mariia urged the Russian military to remember God and not disturb the villagers.

I am Herhel Mariia Petrovna. I live in the village of Bohdanivka, in the Brovarsky district of the Kyiv region. I have been retired for a long time and have not worked anywhere. I have three children: a son between two daughters. Now both my daughters are in Germany. And my grandchildren are there. I have seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Could you imagine that there will be a full-scale war?

They said on TV that nothing would happen, that no one would attack. I could not think that Russia was so stupid to start a war. Are they really that stupid? Oh, you can not covet someone else’s! [Putin] did the wrong thing. He will not win, mark my word, will not win. Can not.

According to God’s Law, I will say that you come with a sword and will perish by the sword.

I couldn’t, couldn’t imagine that brother would attack brother. It didn’t fit in my head. This is the first. Secondly, I think seventy-two, or how old is Putin? Is he so stupid to start a war? Go, uncle, live in peace in your old age! For example, I lived long and didn’t need to create any Russian empire. You have to live for yourself. Why fight? Shame and disgrace! Well, I have relatives there, they live close to Moscow. I stayed there for ten days — time flew by in one moment. My son and I were there back in the 80s.

Mariia Hergel, Bohdanivka

Since the war began, I have lived here all the time.

On 8 March 2022, tanks moved along our main street in Bohdanivka. I counted 35 tanks.

I saw no end to them, and I thought: why count? So then, Russian soldiers settled in my neighborhood. They had their headquarters here. Here in that house: the children left from there, and they occupied it. And they took all their shell-shocked people to the school to be treated.

And then they went with machine guns in twos and came to me. I was sitting in the cellar, and everything was still intact. Knock on the door. I said: “Come in, guys; I haven’t gotten out of the cellar yet.” I came out and said: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. What do you have to say?”. There was a pause. I thought: “Maybe they are praying?” They spoke to me: “Who do you live with?” — “Me and my sixty-year-old son. Would you like to see?” — “Yes.” One stood in place, and the second went with me around the house. I told him: “Don’t be afraid; no one will kill you here. There is no one here but me and my son.” The son was still sitting in the cellar. He walked, looked around, and they left together.

No sooner they left than others knocked. I crossed myself again. This time they came with machine guns and said: “Maybe you want to eat?”. I answered: “We still have food. Unless you give me some bread.” “We,” they said, “have no bread ourselves.” I asked them: “What is your nationality? Pray to God!”

Also, I asked the Chechen: “Do you want to fight?” And he replied: “No, I don’t want to. It is what Putin wants.”

I said: “Pray to God and don’t kill people like me, understand? Otherwise, you will go to hell.” I sang in the church choir for thirty years, and so you know, God has the first place for me! So one of them began to shout: “Allah!” He hugged me and shouted: “Allah! Heavenly Father, save us!” That’s what they shrieked in front of me.

Was Bohdanivka under the fire?

I don’t know when it was, but before that, it squealed and screeched, and I thought, what is going on? The son approached me and said: “What are you listening to near the window!” And it kept squeaking! I thought maybe cats or children were screeching, but I couldn’t figure it out. It turned out the shells were all around.

Damaged house of Mariia Hergel, Bohdanivka

See, there, the shell exploded. I got three hits. They bombed here until I left. And we kept hiding. I asked them: “What should we do?” — “Hide in the cellar.” So I went into one, then into the other. It was a barn, and my granddaughter asked me, and I allowed her to make a “cottage” out of it. When I left, a neighbor told me that on the 29th, it was hell here. Imagine a shell hit and some kind of special vehicle flared up.

They came while I was still here, the BMP [Infantry fighting vehicle]. They drove straight into the fence.

I prayed to God for four days that they would go away because ours were hitting those cars. They left after four days.

When and how did you decide to evacuate?

I didn’t think to evacuate. However, already on the 19th, people began to leave Bohdanivka. Two huge buses carried our people. My daughter came (she also lives here, but a little further). She came and said: “Get ready! Everything will burn here!” I said: “But not me!”. Then she grabbed me by the collar and said: “What are you thinking about!”. So, we got into the car. It was 19 March, in the afternoon.

I kept praying and said: “Heavenly Father, I leave my house to your protection and pray for every millimeter.” And so I went.

We spent the night in Brovary, and from there, we went to the Cherkasy region. To Khrystynivka, a city near Uman. And then to the Khmelnytskyi region, because there is my Motherland. I went to my family. We were there for a month and a half. Then, around 29 April, I returned. There was the Last Judgment here. I arrived and did not recognize anything.

What’s up with your house?

It was impossible to enter the house. The windows were broken, and everything upstairs was broken. I was told we had zero damage. However, there was a crack in the middle of the house. The veranda was 100% destroyed. One wall is intact, and even that one is barely holding on. And here was the extension for the granddaughter. They made room for themselves. Everything was destroyed.

What happened in the village?

The Last Judgment, people said. Imagine a shell hit, and everything caught fire. Everything was on fire. It was a new building, a room of 40 square meters, which the granddaughter built. We threw everything away from there. I had a garage. And now, you see, everything is different.

Everything I had burned down and how it burned! Here, look!

Everything I had burned down and how it burned! Here, look! Those are things my son has already gathered.

There were a lot of shops here, but as soon as the Russians arrived, they robbed everything: one store after another. The doors were opened, and they were robbed. Then, as they left, they behaved very impudently.

They broke everything using cars and tanks. They behaved terribly. The son went with them once for water and bandaged his hand with a white handkerchief to signify that he was peaceful. I gave him the handkerchief and wrapped his hand, and he went. I kept looking out until he brought the water, thinking: “Why did I send him? What was I thinking? I should have gone myself!” Someone was already shooting while I was looking.

Has your attitude towards Russians changed?

This is what I say. I heard that 74% are zombified people. Things were taken from my house: a carpet, blankets, and clothes. Thank God they left the fridge. They also left me an inscription “We love you” and signed: father such and such, son such and such. They saw that I had a Bible, and probably that’s why they didn’t dare. The TV, here, is not broken. But they couldn’t remove the TV from other people’s house and broke it. And they took from me some clothes and new towels. Let them have it — I feel sorry for them too. They are unhappy, and 74% are zombified people. However, I didn’t think they could be so shameless.

Attitudes have changed, of course. I think as if someone cast a curse on them. Well, you have no brains to start a war with Ukraine. For what? Live well! Bring us your products, and we will return ours. You give us gas, and we provide you with wheat. Right or wrong? It is a rich country, the granary of the whole world, our Ukraine. My mother called it that, and my mother lived for 102 years and died with a clear head! Of course, we had God in the first place, and we are all very devout people.

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