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.

‘Every minute we wondered whether we would survive or not’

16.08.2023    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksiy Sydorenko
“Day and night merged into one. We were terrified of them, and I still fear them now,” says Vira Kaidan, a Zalissia resident who hid from the Russians in an unfamiliar basement for nine days. Seeing a man on the street, the Russians fired into the air, and when the family tried to evacuate, they assured them that the Ukrainians were shelling the village.

I am from the Rivne Region, and my husband built a house here. I have lived here for ten years. Everything was good, and my soul rejoiced. The house had been finished, and the child was studying. I have a good boy, and I am delighted with him. He is 22 years old and already earning his bread. Learn and hustle, as they say. And then there is the war. They attacked us ... Unexpectedly. On 24 February, at six o’clock, I heard explosions. I told my husband: “Somebody is shooting somewhere.” And he: “Yes, it’s nothing.” Then my coworker called me, saying: “Vira, the war has begun — the Russians have attacked.” — “No, it’s a lie!” — “Not a lie, that’s for sure.” They heard explosions in Kyiv, and they were afraid.

On 8 March, the guys from the defense were standing on the corner. I told my husband, let’s bake something and take it to them. I started baking gingerbread, then my cousin called me and said the Russians were already in Bohdanovka. I ran to turn off the stove and called the neighbors to run away. We don’t have a cellar. We called my brother: brother, his son, grandfather, my husband, and I rushed behind the house, and they were shooting. We can already hear the noise. Something was flying, but we didn’t know what. Tank barrages were such that the earth trembled. We stood there, then ran on. We went to someone else’s house and spent the night there. While we were sitting there, the rockets flew over our heads, and it was the end. We spent another night there and came home on the morning of 9 March. The husband said: “That’s all — probably, there will be no more.”

Vira Kaidan, a resident of the village. Zalissia, Kyiv Region

There was no more light, but we still had gas. It seemed calmer already, and I called my mother and said the day had passed, and the Russians had left. Then my husband looked out the window and said: “Vera, tanks are coming.” I counted more than a hundred tanks on the road. I said: “Maybe it’s ours?” — “No, these are Russians!” They drove to Skibin, but they were turned around, and they were back. We ran back to that house and sat in the basement. I am with my husband, his brother with a child, my grandfather, and a neighbor. We climbed into the basement through the window and stayed for nine days and nine nights. I froze my fingers. The Russians used to come here, and they even visited us. They knocked on the door so that we thought they were shooting. I prayed to God. God saved us. The Russians were shooting so! On the second and third day, the tank drove through the garden. Even the dogs did not bark because they were terrified.

Did they come to the basement?

They wanted to enter, but we didn’t let them in. They started knocking on the door and firing machine guns. We did not let them in: we pretended that no one was there, and they left. They never returned to us. We sat there and watched: how they drove, how they shot. They were near the DEO [children’s environmental organization], and then barricades were erected in front of the building so that our Ukrainian cars would not pass. They blocked the road and dragged buses from the DEO.

People couldn’t walk. They [Russians] shot as soon as they saw someone coming.

We were afraid to go out into the yard. We no longer had water, and there was no light. My husband went to get water as soon as the tank started. We were afraid because the water pump rasped intensely, and they could hear it and come. Who knows what they had in mind? Neighbors opposite us said they came to them. But he said probably, normal ones because they didn’t jeer.

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

I didn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it all. I thought maybe he [Putin] was just intimidating us. Even when they started shooting, I still didn’t believe it was them. Only when they came here ... We bought five kilos of flour and three loaves. That’s all! Nothing was prepared.

Have you thought about evacuation?

Of course, because we were afraid they would kill us. But we didn’t leave ... I can’t even say ... The son did not want to go, and the husband did not wish to. He said I don’t want to leave the dog and the house. And so we didn’t leave. Until 8 March, it was more or less OK, but it was still scary. Explosions were heard all around. If the dog barked at night, we didn’t sleep at all. We took bread, lard. But who ate? We had a lot of water: we drank water, and that’s it. It was terrifying. Day and night — merged into one. Every minute we wondered whether we would survive or not. We were terrified of them, and I still fear them now.

What about your property?

In principle, everything is intact, only the ceiling is damaged, but we have already patched it up.

The slate was broken, and we fixed it. The door was wrecked — whether they tore it out to go in or something else happened. The window was broken. But the furniture, clothes, everything in the house was intact.

The slate was broken, and we fixed it. The door was wrecked — whether they tore it out to go in or something else happened. The window was broken. But the furniture, clothes, everything in the house was intact.

How did you decide to return home from the basement?

It was impossible to stay there. The water was almost gone. We slowly ran into the house In the evening so they would not notice us. I had the impression that I ran three kilometers, but in reality, it’s very close. We ran, and I stopped in the garden and told my husband: “Go, look; maybe they are in the house.” The husband ran and looked. He said: “The house is closed; no one is there.” And they were near the DEO, standing near the cafe. We tried not to let them see us. We were petrified.

I spent the night in the house from 18 to 24 March. On the 24th, we left with the neighbors. They tied white ribbons on the car and drove off. We were stopped near Bohdanovka, and they began to check. We hid our phones and turned them off. They said: “Where are you going?” And I said: “Boys, we’re running away.” — “And why? We don’t bother you.” — “Well, what do you mean don’t bother us? We can’t stay here.” — “Your guys are shooting.” “Our people don’t shoot at us. Why did you come here? Go home where your parents are waiting for you.” — “Soon we will go, the war will end, and we will go. Putin will talk to Zelensky, and everything will be fine.” So he said and checked the car; he didn’t ask about phones. Then he said, “Go on.” We went to Bohdanovka and then to Brovary. We left the car in Brovary, and a volunteer took us to my mother in the Rivne region. On 24 March, we left, and around 11 April, we returned home.

What was in Zalissia when you returned?

When we returned, we found the window broken and the ceiling fell. There was a stretched ceiling in the hall, and it sagged. There was a lot of water there. There was a mess in the house. The houses were on fire — you can see what was there. People ran away. It’s good that we survived. My husband’s aunt’s house burned down. She has no home. People saw it but were afraid to put out the fire because the Russians were standing by. In Bohdanovka, they tormented the priest, so people say. What happened here, I don’t even know. I cannot say.

What are your plans?

I want peace. We want the damned war to end soon because I cannot sleep peacefully. I want to live so that there is health and calm. And so that our guys returned as soon as possible. Our warriors! I feel bad for the youth. I want them to come home as soon as possible. Such are my plans.

Has your attitude towards Russians changed?

My eyes wouldn’t see them! I would have killed them! They are just jealous of us! Our Ukrainian people are very hardworking, we have everything, and they didn’t even know what a toilet was. They don’t even have toilets. They envy us, and they are not worth our little finger. You envy us, Russians! We don’t want to see you! Just like that!

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:

 Share this