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'There was a cemetery here' — a resident of the village of Zahaltsi

01.05.2024    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksii Sydorenko
Serhii Smyrnov lives in the village of Zahaltsi, Kyiv Region. The family finished fixing the house just before the start of the war. They kept goats and poultry. The Russians forced the family to leave their native village, and when the family returned, neither the house nor the birds were there.

We bought a house seven years ago. We restored it, installed water, and then the war began. In the morning, I woke up, and my wife woke up and said we overslept because martial law was declared by then. Then I went to the store to buy bread and realized I couldn’t buy anything. There were long queues; people were clearing everything out. I just bought a pack of rice. There was nothing else — no bread, no food, nothing.

Then explosions began from Ivankiv’s side. We immediately lost power, and there was no phone connection. They started giving humanitarian aid near the village council. We went to the village council on 8 March. A man was driving a car and shouting: hide, the tanks are coming. Our guys came in four infantry fighting vehicles and went to the end of the village. The Russians met them there, and ours returned to the village. Then, it all began.

The bombing began. As the military told us, what can we do? They had orders to release Borodianka. They approached Borodianka, and the Russians greeted them with fire. They returned to the village. Ours did not have much equipment, and the Russians were stationed in the town of Halynka. There were 20 infantry fighting vehicles and 20 other equipment. It was like this: our guys would shoot there once, and a dozen would fly in response — Grads [rpckets], shells, and a drone.

Serhii Smyrnov, resident of the village of Zahaltsi, Kyiv Region

We have goats, and on 8 March, we moved into our neighbor’s cellar. A helicopter flies over the village, and as soon as it flies by, in 20 minutes, you can milk and feed the goats. 20 minutes have passed, and the bombing begins.

We stayed until the 16th and saw that coming out of the cellar was impossible. Fields and houses were all shelled. On the 16th, we got into the car in our best clothes and headed toward dachas [summer houses] and into the forest. We stayed in the forest for three days: the goats and us. Then, the kind people who stayed in their dachas showed us an abandoned house. We fixed it and spent the winter there. Then, sponsors supplied us with a modular home, and we moved into it.

They [the Russians] came when we were at the dachas. There is a dacha settlement and a dead end. There is nowhere else to go. They arrived in two infantry fighting vehicles and drove around the dachas. They saw that there was nowhere to go and no military personnel. They went door to door, looked at who lived where, took away the phones, and wanted to take away the passports from some people. And here in the village, they got drunk and drove drunkenly in abandoned cars. They accelerated and hit the fence with the car. “Bang-bang,” — they came; “Ha-ha,” — they left. The dogs were shot at the dachas.

Our house burned down after we left. We just stood and watched from the dachas. Just as the Russians were expelled, we returned. We came around the bend and saw that one house had burned down, then another, and ours was gone.

This is what Serhii’s house looked like when they returned to their native village

We had a wooden log house with a stove, and It was one thing that didn’t burn. The temperature was such that the three-liter jar did not burst but simply crumpled. That’s how high the temperature was. Hit here, hit there. There was a barn here. Three hundred houses in the village were destroyed. On the seventh, either a bomb or something else hit, the school was demolished, and the electrical substation was damaged. There was a hole there as big as half of our plot.

When the neighbor’s children, son-in-law, daughter, and children left, but the neighbor remained, we stood here, talking through the fence. A fighter plane was flying, and I saw the house “bang-bang,” and the pieces were flying. The plane threw off the shells, turned around, and flew away. They flew a lot at night. Not so much during the day, but much worse at night. When you go outside, it seems right above your head. Such a roar... I was crouching. It was scary.

We were in the cellar with the elderly couple, and the beginning of the street caught fire. I went out and saw that the house was on fire. I asked if it was theirs. The old man rushed out, ran there, the woman screamed, why did you go there! Our military stood here at the crossroads to keep the Russians out. They [Russians] wanted to go through Maidanivka to Zhytomyr.

We had an emergency suitcase and some food items. We slept in the car because I managed to stuff two mattresses into the car. We burned fires and had goats near us, so we had milk. We returned on the 16th, left the car in the forest, and came here on foot. As soon as we entered the yard, a man from the terrorist defense arrived. Here, we had corn and millet stored in iron barrels. There were also chickens, geese, ducks, and goats. So, I emptied the barrels so they would have something to eat. I returned the next day, and this one from the terrorist defense said: “Oh, you have corn; give me a bucket of corn.” I said: “Take it.” I think the Russians saw through the drone that the car had pulled up and started shooting. Before, both roosters and chickens flew here.

A yard littered with dead poultry

When we returned on the third, there was a cemetery here. What did they [Russians] hit with? You can imagine a good old cast iron bathtub. It was all beaten up on top. I probably broke about ten chains when I cut everything out here with a chainsaw. A bunch of shells so hard that when the chain stroked them — that’s all. I took everything to the trash. So it goes…

I wish they didn’t come here anymore, and they all drop dead! They have caused so much misery.

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