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.

‘There were people screaming in the destroyed houses and nobody was allowed to help them’

03.05.2024    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksii Sydorenko
Serhii Vitkovskyi did not evacuate from Borodianka (Kyiv Region) because he could not leave his dog — a huge Alabai. Serhii tells how the Russian troops did not allow anyone to rescue people from the destroyed houses, and how his friend was shot dead in the middle of the street.

My name is Serhii Vitkovskyi. I was born in 1958. I live in Borodianka, Kyiv Region. I was an aircraft engineer, now I am retired.

Did you expect a full-scale war?

I was sure it would happen, judging by all the war exercises in Belarus. Of course I couldn’t know the date, but for some reason it seemed to me that it had to happen, knowing our “friendly” neighbours. We slowly prepared ourselves, but I can’t say that we were 100% ready.

Please describe the first day of the war.

On the 24th of February I woke up and had to go to work. I had already started the car and was about to drive off. Suddenly, I heard something strange, like explosions. And they were so loud, like cannon blasts. I don’t remember how that day ended. The next day the Russian troops tried to advance on Borodianka. They were met by the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces, and there was a fight. Now it’s all forgotten and confused, I don’t remember exactly what happened. But at that time a lot of (Russian) military equipment was destroyed.

Then we saw columns (of Russian military equipment). The columns were so long that they moved continuously for 2-3 hours. We wrote to our army’s chatbot that we had seen the columns, where they were and in which direction they were moving. It was not very clear where exactly they were going because they kept changing direction. I didn’t dare go out of the house to look at them because it was scary.

About 3-4 days later I called the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces and told them that (the Russian) troops were coming. And they said: “We know, Borodianka is already occupied”. But they (the Russian troops) had not yet occupied the whole village. They had only set up their checkpoints. And when their columns of military equipment passed by, they fired from their tanks and APCs at the houses. Their helicopters and war planes were also flying. They bombed an oil depot. I looked and saw everything in flames. This is what we saw from our house. It was very dangerous to go out into the streets.

Вітковський Сергій, Бородянка

Serhii Vitkovskyi, Borodianka

And I also remember there was a battle not far from us. Their APCs and “Grads” were set on fire there, and the ammunition started exploding. It was very loud, and we were hiding in the basement. It was unclear, where and what kind of shells were flying. And on the 1st of March, there was the first air raid. A bomb hit a house. The house was damaged, but not totally destroyed. Later, my neighbour called me and said that his mother was in the house. He asked me to find her.

And just before he called, there was a second air raid and the bomb finally destroyed the house. There was a fire, and people were running everywhere. I was looking for that woman and it took me half an hour to find her. It was dark, only the fire lit up the space. The woman was in total shock.

I wanted to take her to my sister’s house to hide in her basement. But as this woman had just almost died in her own basement, she was afraid to hide there again. And later my sis-ter called and said: “Our house has been hit too”. So, I took them both to my house that day. Later there was another air raid...

Around the 3rd of March, I sent my sister and the children for evacuation. They went by car, and my wife and I stayed. They managed to leave the village. Because there were situations when people were trying to leave the village and the Russian troops were shooting at the cars. There were two or three cars in which people were killed. At that time, they (the Russian troops) were not checking the houses, only their checkpoints were set up.

And on the 9th of March they started to go and check the houses. I was at home. My dog started barking and I saw their helmets at the gate. I quickly ran to open it because I was afraid that they would shoot my dog. The dog doesn’t like strangers very much. I quickly locked it in the enclosure. And they went into the yard.

About five of their military vehicles came into our street. About eight soldiers came into my yard. I think three of them were Buryats. I asked them: “Where are you from?” They answered: “From Russia”. I said: “There is no such country as Russia (meaining, there is no Russia, but the Russian Federation)”. They didn’t answer. I asked again: “What are you looking for?” They replied: “We need to search the house for weapons”. They searched everywhere. I had a shotgun in the basement, and it was luck that I had covered it with something before. I asked them: “What are you fighting for?” They didn´t answer. They didn’t even check the basement, they just looked there and left.

And then an officer came up to me. We talked for about 20-30 minutes. I asked him: “Why are you fighting civilians?” He replied: “We don’t kill civilians”. I said: “How come? Look at what you have done: destroyed houses are everywhere...” He replied: “Your military did that”. And I said: “Our military doesn’t shoot at its own people”.

He asked me how we lived in the Soviet Union. I said: “In 1937 we had repressions. In 1986 — the Chernobyl disaster with your stupid experiments.... And when were you born?” He replied: “In 1986”. I asked him: “What do you even know about the Soviet Union?” He said: “Well, my parents told me about it...” I asked him again: “Why did you come to our country?” He replied: “We don’t need your land, we want to change your government and your president”. I asked: “Why? If we want, we will change the government and the president ourselves. Unlike you”.

The most important thing for me was that they didn’t shoot the dog. Of course, the whole conversation was disturbing, unpleasant. Nobody knew what was going on in their heads. I didn’t want to show them that I was afraid. Then they went round the other streets, checking the houses. They said we should tie white rags to the houses to show that civilians lived there. And then the horror began.

Later, the true face of the Russian army was revealed. They were unwashed, dirty. They started opening garages, breaking down doors in houses and flats, riding other people’s bicycles. They looted and stole everything they could.

What other crimes have the Russian troops committed?

My friend was killed. He was walking and asked (the Russian troops) for a cigarette. They gave him a cigarette and then they shot him in the back. He lay in the street all night and then he reached his house and died. It happened that people were stranded in houses destroyed by air raids because the staircases were destroyed.

They couldn’t get down, nobody helped them. They were screaming, but nobody was allowed to help them.

There were many cases where there were people under the rubble, but no one could save them. And there was a situation where a woman heard screams in a destroyed building. There was a hole in the building and this woman took food and water there and fed those who could not get out of the building. So, when the Russian troops left, those people were rescued.

А ще був другий наліт і будинок, якраз на колі зруйнувало. Пожежа, люди бігали. Я шукав цю жінку, десь може через пів години знайшов, бо вона літня людина.

Destroyed Borodianka

Why didn’t you evacuate?

We thought it would be difficult to evacuate with our dog. We decided that what was going to be, was going to be. It was a matter of principle. I said I wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, if my house was so damaged that I couldn’t live in it, I would leave. But as it was intact, we could live there.

Was your house damaged?

I had a room made of foam concrete. One wall is off by five centimetres. Probably, the roof was raised during the explosion, the walls were torn apart by the blast and then the roof came down. One wall is cracked, another appears to be intact. Another wall has not collapsed but is barely standing. In my workshop, the roof was damaged by a piece of shrapnel. The plasterboard has come off near the windows. That’s all the damage. If there was more damage, we’d have to leave.

When was Borodianka liberated?

On the 31st of March they (the Russian troops) left. They plundered; they took cars from the locals. They drove their lorries up and loaded them with stolen goods: from toilets to prams. There was a tyre repair shop nearby, so they stole everything from there. They also refuelled their tanks and APCs nearby. They shot from time to time. We didn’t pay much attention. Then helicopters came and started shooting too.

On the 31st of March, in the morning, they fired from a parallel street and shells flew over our houses. At noon they fired again and then everything went quiet. They started to load their things. Then something exploded. And they just started running! They started packing very quickly. They even set fire to their petrol truck. Two wheels of the truck were cut. The soldier managed to change one wheel, but he didn’t put the nuts on. The officer shouted at him: “Leave it, set it on fire and let’s go. Or we won’t have time to escape”. They drove off, then there was a terrible explosion: they had blown up the bridge. And then there was silence. We could not believe then that there was no more fighting, that they had fled. The next day, the Armed Forces of Ukraine came to the village. And we gave them this burnt petrol truck.

Do you have any plans for the future?

I want to live. I’m retired and would like to find a job. I do some housework. I need to earn money.

Has your attitude towards the Russians changed?

I’ll tell you something. I worked with Russians many years ago. They always looked down on us. We were always “khokhly” (the derogatory term used by Russians for Ukrainians) to them. I studied with Kazakhs, with different nationalities from all over the Soviet Union, and everyone treated us as equals. But not the Russians. After our country became independent, we felt it even more. I worked in Mongolia for eight years, Russians worked there as well. I did not fight with them, but I kept my distance. Now I hold them collectively responsible for what they have done to us. It is impossible to talk to them, they are zombies. But they didn’t argue with the locals much because they also saw that their leadership had abandoned them on the battlefield. When they saw that we have good roads in our villages and toilets in our houses, it was an absolute shock to them. What savages!

Translation: International Society for Human Rights (German Section)

The article was prepared by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group with the support of the Prague Civil Society Centre
 Share this