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.

‘Don’t scare my children, take the assault rifle away’

16.06.2024    available: Українською | На русском
Oleksii Sydorenko
Serhii Bobko, a resident of the occupied village of Bohdanivka, hid his daughters in the basement when a Russian soldier came to the house. Fortunately, no one was hurt that day. Serhii and his family soon left the village, and when he returned he found his house damaged and looted.

My name is Serhii. I live in the village of Bohdanivka. On the 8th of March, around 10 a.m., the Russian troops entered our village. We heard various sounds, shots, the rumble of military vehicles on the road.

Were there a lot of military vehicles?

I didn’t see it, but I could hear it very well.

Later we saw other people’s videos. They said there were more than 200 units (of military equipment). I can’t tell you the exact number. They (the Russian troops) entered the village, started walking around the yards, putting people in front of the houses, checking where people lived. They came to our house and asked who lived there.

Who did you live with?

I lived alone, but I have children and a wife. They had been living in a neighbouring village, but they were here with me. Because I took them to my house on the 24th of February, when I understood that the invasion had already begun. We all hid in my basement.

Did the Russians come to your house?

They came once and asked who was in the house. I said: “The children are in the house. Don’t scare them. Come in if you want, but take the assault rifle away”. The soldier was alone. He came in, looked around. He even offered me some food, but I refused. And that was it, he left and never came back. But they came back later, when we had fled and the house was empty. They broke the windows and the doors. They made a mess of the house.

How long did you stay in the village?

We couldn’t evacuate, even though we had a car. We could drive out, but they (the Russian troops) wouldn’t let us go anywhere. If a car was parked in the street, they would shoot at it and smash it to pieces. It happened several times: here in this street, near our house, etc. I was lucky to have moved my car into the yard before, so it was not damaged!

Nearby, they (the Russian troops) slashed the wheels of my relative’s car and smashed the windows so that it couldn’t work. And later they (the Russian troops) allowed to evacuate people. Then the shelling started. I understood that our army was trying to retake the village. On the 21st of March there was the first evacuation, the so-called green corridor. My wife and children left, and on the 23st of March I left too. There were a lot of buses and cars. I left in my own car. At first, they (the Russian troops) didn’t let us through. Then the Red Cross representatives came, negotiated and finally we were able to leave.

Where did you evacuate to?

Me and my family went first to Brovary (a town in Kyiv Region). Later I went further on my own. My eldest daughter had a fractured cartilage in her spine, so she could not be transported far. So, my children and my wife went to their relatives in the village of Rudnia. There were no Russians there, the village was not occupied. I returned to my village on the 10th of April, when it was safe and we were allowed to return.

What happened to your house?

A shell landed behind the barn. I don’t know what kind of shell it was, but there was no fire. There was a knee-deep hole where the shell had fallen. The barn was destroyed, the house was damaged.

Serhii Bobko, Bohdanivka, Kyiv Region

So, you couldn’t live there?

Well, I changed the doors, fixed holes in the walls, changed the windows, and I live there now.

How often was Bohdanivka shelled?

It was shelled very often. They (the Russian troops) placed their military equipment on the farm nearby, so basically near our houses. The Russians thought that if they put the equipment near our houses, our army would not bomb them. But our army had to shoot where the Russian equipment was to drive them out of the village. I heard the shooting very well; it was very frightening. It went on day and night. My daughters are still afraid of loud noises. It was very hard for them.

How many houses were destroyed in Bohdanivka?

Quite a lot. I think about 15 percent of all houses were destroyed. I mean completely destroyed, not counting those that are partially damaged. Many houses have broken walls, roofs, windows, doors. Many houses have been robbed. I can say that every second house has been robbed, if not every house.

Did the Russian troops loot?

I wasn’t there at the time, but my house was looted and badly damaged. My sister and I have a common house with two entrances, so the doors and windows were broken and there was complete chaos in our house. So, yes, the Russians looted. They came into the houses and took valuable things: gold, money, anything they wanted. Nobody was there to stop them.

What was stolen?

Everything: my electric tools, microwaves, even the boiler was smashed. I don’t know what they were looking for in the boiler. The house was covered in dust. But I don’t know if they were living in the house or not.

Serhiy Bobko’s house, Bohdanivka, Kyiv Region

Before the 24th of February, could you have imagined that there would be a full-scale war?

Not at all. How could they attack? It’s the 21st century! What kind of war could there be? Nobody had any idea. To be honest, I wasn’t even watching the news. I wasn’t even interested in it. On the 24th of February, when the shelling started and the news came that the invasion had begun, I was at my daughter’s house: it was her birthday on the 22nd of February. On the 24th my daughters woke me up and said: “Dad, there are explosions!” I replied: “It can’t be, it’s just some firecrackers... Maybe someone is celebrating something...” And then it all happened. I went to Bohdanivka to fill up my car. And there were already such long queues at the petrol stations! I realised that the situation was serious.

Then I took the daughters to my house because I had a basement and we could hide there. We didn’t even think about leaving the village. We just didn’t believe they (the Russian troops) would get that close. Then we heard the sound of their equipment coming. They started firing from tanks. There was shelling. That was when we started hiding in the basement. That’s where we spent all our time. We only came up to cook food when there was electricity and gas. Later, when there was no electricity or gas, we cooked outside on the fire.

You have two children, don´t you?

Yes, two daughters. One is 19 now, the other 12. They were sitting in the basement and I was looking to see if they (the Russian soldiers) were coming to our house. The Russians were shooting. They just drove by in their APCs and shot at the houses. We didn’t go out; they forbade us to go out into the streets. They came to the people and said: “If you want, stay in your houses, but don’t go out!” Later they allowed us to be in the streets until 5 p.m. They went around and checked the houses. They didn’t hesitate to rob houses in public, to beat people up. They did whatever they wanted. If they saw an empty house, they just broke the doors and windows, went in and robbed it.

There were situations where people disappeared in Bohdanivka. Three people, I know, disappeared. One was killed. They found him in a basement in Dymerka (a village in Kyiv Region). His name was Oleksii and we were friends. He’d been shot in the collarbone and in the head. He was about 43 years old and had two children, a mother and a sister. He was a very good man and a welder. A lot of people disappeared at that time. I don’t want to remember anything! It’s like a bad dream: too horrible to remember.

What are your plans for the future?

I will wait for our victory. What else do we plan... We plan to live, to rebuild our state. We have to work and raise our children. We have to rebuild our house and our property.

Has your attitude towards the Russians changed?

Of course it has! What should I tell them? That they’re devils? Well, we all know that. What else can I say? You know what they’ve done to us. How much pain they’ve caused people. Everyone who sits in their State Duma near Putin, near their money trough, is guilty. Because all the orders come from them. But the Russians... They’re addicted to propaganda; they believe their TV. In fact, there are people who know what’s going on and support Ukraine. Some are even fighting for Ukraine. That’s true. There are people among them who are fighting for our state.

Translation: International Society for Human Rights (German Section)

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