Yaroslav: War Crimes Through my Eyes

During my second visit to Ukraine, Yuri introduced me to one of his friends Yaraslav, a resident of the city of Bucha that saw heavy fighting during the first few months of the war and the location of some of the worst-known atrocities of the entire war carried out by the Russians. Most of the city's population, including Yaroslav, were hiding in basements for months living in constant fear of being found by the Russians, with the consequences often being fatal. I asked him to describe his time in Bucha, his experience living in constant fear, what made him endure the physiological stress that it brings, and what he saw when he left his basement. As he did not speak English and my Ukrainian was bad, so we decided that we would conduct the interview through text messages. The audio is me reading the translated text messages.

Translated Transcript from my Interview

Can I describe the first days when the Russians were in Bucha? What did I do, what did I see? Yes, I can describe it. It was around 5 a.m. I woke up from the call of my friends, and realized that it had started. Because it was discussed the day before, after the Russians legally incorrectly recognized the Donbas region. And we ourselves, Matthew, as you know, everyone and whom you saw are my friends from Donbas, that's why we discussed all this. 5 in the morning, the occupation began, calls from friends began. We all didn't believe each other until I saw with my own eyes here in Gostomel, heard the explosions and saw how the army invaded. And how our boys are regrouping to defend the land. We sat at home all day, packed an "anxious suitcase", watched all the news, called relatives, father, collected all the things we could get our hands on. But we went to the basement only when we saw a russian fighter plane in action. This fighter was flying to Gostomel airport, flying at low altitude. And when I saw 4 anti-aircraft missiles (anti-air defense) in its rear and I realized that at this time we hear hyper sound so we took an "anxious suitcase"...

and ran to the basement. When we ran to the basement, people met us there. People were some scared, some not so much, they showed us how and where everything is arranged. Where can we sit. Little by little, we began to disassemble things and arrange the basement. Somewhere in the first week, day 5 or 6, the full occupation began. I don't remember the exact day, to be honest. And when the full occupation began, we realized that at this time we do not go outside the territory at all, we do not go to any shops at all, we do not go anywhere at all, because it is worth the price of life. The orcs captured everything - the private sector, and the neighboring residential complex and went further towards Irpin, but for some reason, they did not enter our residential complex all this time, so we were very, very lucky. Why - no one knows. We left the occupation for 5-6 days, and after 40 minutes they occupied our residential complex.

When I was in the basement, did I lose my sanity? I can't say, it's a state of shock adrenaline, where I calmed down as much as possible. It was alcohol in very small doses and valerian and talking to people, believing in the best, news of our soldiers and all that. This gave a little opportunity and desire to live on.

Describe how we left the basement and went outside. Well, we went out into the streets throughout the occupation. There were constant cannonades and explosions. You have an audio recording that I personally recorded under the entrance. And there a lot of shelling is heard in those 40 seconds. On the 17th day, March 11, 2022, we left the occupation, for some reason the orcs released us, a column. We saw a lot of dead civilians, torn limbs, children. And everything is terrible. I had three women in the car - all in tears. We drove 5 kilometers per hour. We were led out by 2 russian soldiers, and nearby was the whole city, where it had been captured and destroyed. And russian soldiers walked around the corpses and ate their food, products, not even paying attention to the fact that dead people were lying on the ground next to them. They defiantly crossed them. It really caught my eye. How a small dog ate the head of a civilian man. There were a lot of such little things. This is what we saw when we stepped outside our fence. After the 24th and on March 11.

Unfortunately, I have still no such direct friends who came from russian captivity. But there are simply stories of how on the third day one person went to occupied Gostomel to check his house, he was caught by Kadyrov's, beat, checked his phone, checked his passport and was told to leave and don't look back. And so, he traveled several kilometers from Gostomel to get here. Although he thought he would be shot in the back. In my residential complex, a person was killed right on the first floor of a commercial building. This is such a closed room that did not work. And this person was found shot in the mouth. Already after our army, our boys, entered the courts, after March 11. Russians also killed a neighbor who did not want to go down to the basement. He was 35 years old, kingdom of heaven for him. And when there was a full occupation, on the 10th or 12th day he flashed something, either binoculars or a mobile phone, through the window. The enemy saw him and fired a large-caliber machine gun. Two floors burned, the bullet was incendiary and very powerful. Somehow people ran upstairs and extinguished the fire for themselves. They immediately saw black smoke from the basement, but everyone was alive. In addition to the neighbor, unfortunately. We will talk about the russian captivity later.

Briefly, I will summarize my view on this. All the food was cooked on fires, the water was very cold. There were a lot of fights. It was very cold. People came out of the basements only when the shelling ended. And if shelling started, people all ran to the first nearby buildings. People took food under fire from all around the shops. That is, it was "looting", but survival. At first, people left money at the cash register, who took what, put money in, showing humanity. But then they realized that there is no point in this, no one will take the money. Or someone else will take it. And that's it, and it began. Chaos ensued. People with carts of food ran to the basement. Pharmacies, diapers, children, medicines. At this time, there are a lot of K-52 rotorcraft in the sky. Very very creepy thing. And every time someone approaches the residential complex, everyone is very scared. There are two guards, they relay the news, no one knows whether they come to us or not. Around young Buryats and russian soldiers arrange races on their armored personnel carriers, because we have a good road, and they had a lot of fuel. Well, this is the most reckless behavior that leads to nothing. And that's all.

I mean, reckless orc’s behavior that leads to nowhere. Because people, on the contrary, had some sense, tried to survive, but not all of them. There were also reckless people who went out during the fighting, when all the shops around had already been looted. They are asked "Where are you going, dear?" There is a war. And they have no weapons, nothing, they are civilians, a man and a woman. They say "We are going for cigarettes". We say, "Are you out of your mind? This is the price of your life. You just won't come back now." And there were quite a few of them. But those who returned had such a face that you could not ask them anything and they were not going there again, that's for sure.

The story of how I ran out of IQOS electronic cigarettes on the 3rd or 4th day. And I realized that going outside the fence just for a pack of cigarettes when there are battles going on or russian soldiers are walking around our native occupied city is an abnormal desire. And I began to borrow a little from neighbors and not go anywhere. I have a neighbor, my friend, who on a wrongly chosen day very unexpectedly decided to go to his friend on Vokzalna Street. If you google what this Street in Bucha is, there were very heavy, heavy battles there. And on the very night when the fight broke out there, my friend went to Vokzalna Street and spent the night at his friend's house. They spent the night there safely, go outside in the morning and see just a pile of broken equipment. Rubbish, in general. And what do they do? They climbed into those armored personnel carriers and tanks, found 4,500 cartridges for 7.62 and gave them to our military. Found trophy binoculars, backpacks, it's all such stuff that you can take. And they found a lot of Belarusian cigarettes, they brought me many of those cigarettes. And it was, if you can say so, a little "happiness". That's how I got cigarettes. Thank God, the friend immediately returned safely. Everything went well for him. Why I say so, because he walked around the occupied city alone, just moving on foot, it was very dangerous.