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.

‘For two weeks I slept on damp earth’, — a resident of the village of Zalissia

14.08.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksii Sydorenko
Iryna Kovalenko celebrated her golden wedding and was involved in peaceful activities usually done by villagers. She never thought that the so-called “brothers” would come to kill and destroy houses. She had to leave the occupation in a car shot through by the Russians, and when the woman returned, she saw ashes and devastation.

I live in Zalissia with my grandson. I worked on all sorts of things. What people in the village always do. The garden was plowed; we have many gardens. Here, potatoes are growing, and I can pick them up for you now; there are plenty of them. And suddenly, everything was gone. I used to ride both a bike and a car. I can still ride a car, perhaps, but I don’t ride a bicycle because my leg was in a cast. The cast was removed two or three days ago, but the leg is still not bending. I drove the car to the hospital. It was shut through many times. The Russians blasted it in the garage.

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

I could not! We thought that Ukraine, Russia, and Bilorus were brothers and sisters. We have lived here for more than fifty years, and if someone had a car break down on the road, they were always sent us. The road organization is nearby, my husband is a tractor driver, and my son is a driver. Sometimes, when the car breaks down, people — go there, they will help you. However, I told the Russians: “Get out of here! We were brothers and sisters, and we will be brothers and sisters, but get out!” And he: “I’m not a friend with those I am at war” Can you imagine?

On 8 March 2022, Zalissia was occupied. What happened here?

There were a lot of military vehicles. Here one tank stood, the second at the neighbors’, and the third — two houses down the road. There were more tanks farther away. It was a horror. There were a lot of tanks. Ours drove them back, and one Russian reproached me. He said our chief in Skybyn was shot dead. They eventually returned to us. God knows what they were doing here. We ran to the cellar, and they marched back and forth: into the forest and out of it. I carried food to feed the neighbor’s dog all the time. So I brought it something to eat, and this [Russian] said: “Don’t go! I will shoot! They started to mine everything and burned the house near the forest. But I would not say they were very intolerant towards us.

Iryna Kovalenko, a resident of the village. Zalissia, Kyiv Region

Where did you hide?

Over there, by the barn. You can go and see it. We stayed in the cellar for two weeks. I was lying on damp ground, on potatoes, and here the neighbor was lying on the cot, and there — his mother-in-law. I placed my grandson on an improvised bed in the corner. They [Russians] came and checked him because my grandson was 22 years old. They checked that everything was fine and took away the phones. I had a simple [phone], and whoever had a good one was taken away from them. Once, an elder [Russian] spoke to us: he dropped a square bag like a salt package. And I said: “You dropped something.” And he looked and put it back in his pocket. “It’s nothing,” he said. It was probably drugs. They must have been on drugs.

Have you thought about evacuation?

I didn’t want to go or leave the chickens: the household, the house, and that’s all. I was still looking out of the cellar, saying: “Thank God the car and garage are intact.” And then the grandson told me: “Grandma, we’re leaving.” We got my car out, and it was with no windows. The rear [window] flew out, the front was pierced, and the car was shot through. I didn’t even take anything because I wasn’t going anywhere, but then I had to. The grandson took the neighbors, which I accepted: we sat together in the cellar. I also took the neighbor from the other side [of the street] because her daughter went to work and never returned here. So we got out. I went to my sister’s in Brovary.

We were there probably for two months, and they didn’t tell me the house had burned down. And it turned out that when we left, it immediately burned down. From the 21st to the 22nd, our house burned down. It burned very intensely. The summer kitchen was huge, the vineyard, the barn… Everything burned down! They didn’t let me back so I wouldn’t see the house was gone. There lies the iron, see? It is ours — the heap of iron.

My husband and I thought (we have three children) the material in the yard would go to whoever will be building. We bought it, and it lay in the attic. We had a lot of materials to make a home.

My husband and I thought (we have three children) the material in the yard would go to whoever will be building. We bought it, and it lay in the attic. We had a lot of materials to make a home. Also, my grandson put car parts and tires there. You can imagine how long it burned. The Russians took away the TV in the house. Even the sneakers he bought were taken from the grandson. All have been taken. In short, they made trouble. And [we] were left with nothing, nothing at all. I have no teeth and no meat grinder. Volunteers came and asked what to bring. I said, get a meat grinder — I have no teeth to chew. They also brought us a pruner and a saw; the trees needed to be pruned because it was spring. Oh God! What they did is beyond words. I don’t even want to tell — it’s better not to know. Let normal people not know, but they [Russians] know.

Has your attitude towards Russians changed?

Completely! I have relatives in Gorky. They’re not all the same anyway, right? But it has completely changed. I hate them. Both Belarusians and Russians. We have Belarusian friends who visited us. I even asked for parcels; they sent what we didn’t have. Now they are not our friends. They are enemies. I would never have accepted anything from them, and I would never have helped. We were friends... And who would have thought that Belarusians and Russians would attack Ukraine?! Who would have thought? I never did! My husband and I lived for 50 years. The children celebrated our golden wedding. We had everything, and now we have left with nothing. The money we had went to fix the roof, to restore the house at least a little. And now, how to live — God knows. God knows!

This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Human Rights in Action Program, run by the Ukrainian Helsinki Group on Human Rights (UHSHR).

The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the US Government, or UHSHR. The authors and KHPG are solely responsible for the content of this article.

USAID is one of the world's leading development agencies facilitating the end of extreme poverty and supporting the movement of recipient countries to self-reliance and resilience. USAID also contributes to the national security and economic well-being of the United States. Its activity is a manifestation of the philanthropy of the American people. USAID has been partnering with Ukraine since 1992: during this time, the agency's total assistance to Ukraine amounted to more than 3 billion US dollars. USAID's current strategic priorities in Ukraine include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health systems, and reducing the impact of conflict in the eastern regions. For more information about USAID's activities, please contact the Public Relations Department of the USAID Mission in Ukraine at tel. (+38 044) 521-57-53. We also invite you to visit their website: or the Facebook page:

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