BORODIANKA, Ukraine — The primary signal of bother was when a squad of Chechen troopers burst by the gate.
They jumped from their Jeeps, fight boots hitting the pavement onerous, and ordered the five hundred sufferers and employees of Borodianka’s particular care dwelling into the courtyard, at gunpoint.
“We thought we had been going to be executed,” Maryna Hanitska, the house’s director, mentioned in an interview this week.
The troopers pulled out a digicam, Ms. Hanitska mentioned, after which barked at her to make everybody smile. A lot of the sufferers had been crying.
“We command you to say to the digicam, ‘Thanks, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,’’’ the troopers demanded of Ms. Hanitska.
With a number of weapons in her face, she mentioned, she shortly ran by her choices. She would by no means thank Russia’s president, whom she had known as “a liar” and “a killer.”
However she didn’t need the troopers to harm anybody. So she managed to utter, “Thanks for not killing us.”
After which she fainted.
Thus started a nightmarish ordeal at a Ukrainian psychological well being facility in Borodianka, a small city with a couple of residence blocks that lies at a strategic intersection about 50 miles northwest of the capital, Kyiv.
In additional than a dozen interviews performed previously two days in Borodianka and different cities within the devastated areas round Kyiv, villagers described the Russian troopers as brutal, sadistic, ill-disciplined and juvenile. Their accounts couldn’t be independently verified, however had been according to different studies and visible proof about Russian conduct within the area.
The siege on the psychological well being facility dragged on for weeks, throughout which the constructing misplaced warmth, water and electrical energy, and greater than a dozen sufferers misplaced their lives. What unfolded there represents the depths of despair and on the similar time superb pluck beneath a quick however harrowing Russian occupation.
All through the areas of Ukraine lately liberated from a monthlong Russian occupation, a lengthy string of disturbing tales is rising of terror and demise that Russian troopers inflicted on unarmed Ukrainian civilians beneath their management.
On daily basis, Ukrainian investigators step right into a dank cellar or muddy discipline or somebody’s yard and uncover our bodies of villagers who had been shot within the head or bear indicators of torture. Extra accounts are surfacing of civilians being held as human shields and a few dying from lack of meals, water or warmth. On Friday, Ukrainian officers mentioned the Russian forces had killed at the very least 900 civilians as they withdrew from the Kyiv area.
A lot of this distress was meted out in small cities close to Kyiv, the place the Russians occupied a big swath within the early days of the struggle however had been pushed out two weeks in the past by much less outfitted however way more decided Ukrainian forces.
Directors at Borodianka’s psychological well being dwelling mentioned that Russian troopers robbed their pharmacy of rubbing alcohol to drink. Villagers in different places mentioned they stole bedsheets and sneakers, and defaced lots of the properties they took over with infantile graffiti. Staff on the psychological well being dwelling additionally mentioned that on their means out, Russian troopers scrawled profane messages on the partitions — in human excrement.
“I threw up after I noticed that,” Ms. Hanitska mentioned. “I don’t perceive how they had been raised, by whom, and who might do that.”
Lypivka, a blip of a village dwarfed by immense wheat fields, was occupied by Russian troopers till March 31. Right here, villagers mentioned the Russians double crossed them.
Some village ladies had begged Russian commanders for permission to evacuate, and the Russians appeared to agree. So on March 12, a bunch of older males, ladies and kids piled into 14 vehicles and slowly started to drive to what they thought can be security.
“All of us had white flags and we had permission,” mentioned Valriy Tymchuk, a shopkeeper, who drove a minibus within the convoy.
However then Russian armored personnel carriers swiveled their turrets towards them, villagers mentioned. A shell ripped into the primary automotive. After which one other. After which one other.
The convoy was a fireball.
Mr. Tymchuk mentioned he noticed a household of 4, together with a younger little one, trapped of their automotive and engulfed in flames. Most of the singed vehicles are nonetheless on the street. The charred bones of that little one are nonetheless within the again seat, Mr. Tymchuk mentioned. What seemed to be items of bone had been scattered among the many blackened steel and heaps of ash.
Subsequent to the vehicles lay two useless canines, their fur singed.
Mr. Tymchuk barely escaped after his minibus was hit and shrapnel sliced into his face.
He shook his head when requested why he thought the Russians did this.
“They’re zombies,” he mentioned.
These villages had been on the entrance line, a part of Russia’s failed try and encircle and seize Kyiv. The identical was true of Bucha, one other village north of Kyiv and the location of the worst atrocities but found. All these locations are quiet now, permitting forensic investigators to do their work. And the extra they appear, the extra they discover.
In Makariv, one other small city close to Kyiv, authorities mentioned they lately found greater than 20 corpses, in numerous yards and houses, many bearing marks of torture. Within the Brovary space, farther east, law enforcement officials simply discovered six our bodies in a cellar, all males who apparently had been executed.
“We have now seen our bodies with knife wounds and marks of beatings, and a few with their arms tied with tape,” mentioned Oleksandr Omelyanenko, a police official within the Kyiv area.
“The locations hardest hit,” he added, “had been occupied the longest.”
That was the story for Borodianka and the Borodianka Psychoneurological Nursing Residence.
Ms. Hanitska, 43 and a former college headmaster, mentioned she watched from the home windows of the three-story constructing because the Russian vans poured in. She counted 500.
Then, anxious about snipers, the Russians started shelling residence blocks lining the roads, and dozens of residents died beneath a cascade of rubble, based on emergency service officers.
The shock waves rattled the special-needs dwelling, constructed within the Nineteen Seventies to supply for adults with neurological and psychological problems. Ms. Hanitska mentioned a few of her sufferers turned aggressive, and three even escaped and have but to be discovered. Others had been terrified and curled up beneath their beds and of their closets.
“It was greater than 10 instances scary,” mentioned Ihor Nikolaenko, a affected person.
On March 5, it bought worse.
That’s when the Chechens confirmed up. Chechen troops are particularly dreaded, believed to be extra ruthless than different Russians, a consequence of years of their very own failed separatist struggle towards Russia’s central authorities.
Ms. Hanitska and different employees members mentioned they might inform the troops had been Chechen by their light-colored beards and the language they spoke amongst themselves. The Ukrainian authorities posted messages on social media during which they referred to the Chechens and warned them to not harm the sufferers.
“These are largely sick folks with developmental disabilities,” Oleksandr Pavliuk, a senior Ukrainian army official, mentioned in a press release. “However these are our folks and we can’t and can by no means go away them.”
By this level, for some folks inside, it was too late. Ms. Hanitska mentioned that her first affected person died from publicity to the chilly in late February. By early March, a half of dozen extra handed away. In whole, she misplaced 13.
It was 20 levels Fahrenheit contained in the constructing, even colder outdoors. There was no warmth, no electrical energy, no operating water and little meals. Borodianka was beneath siege, in any case.
“We began consuming water from the pond,” Ms. Hanitska mentioned. “All of us bought sick.”
The Chechen contingent mysteriously withdrew the identical day it arrived, after making the propaganda video, however different Russians took their place. They didn’t enable anybody to depart the compound, even to seek for meals, they usually ringed the constructing with artillery, mortars and heavy weapons, understanding the Ukrainians can be reluctant to hit it.
“We turned human shields,” mentioned Taisia Tyschkevych, the house’s accountant.
The Russians took everybody’s cellphone. Or nearly everybody’s.
Ms. Hanitska mentioned she hid hers and used it to speak secretly. She would peek out the window of the nurse’s workplace and spot Russian autos, she mentioned, after which textual content the small print to Ukrainian forces. “They had been hitting the Russians,” she mentioned. “If we hadn’t accomplished this, the preventing can be occurring in Kyiv.”
Many Ukrainian civilians have helped like this, Ukrainian officers mentioned.
Whereas she was spying on the Russians, Ms. Hanitska additionally cooked meals on a hearth outdoors, hustled sufferers into the basement when the artillery turned deafening, arrange sleeping areas within the corridors for dozens extra individuals who fled the bombed buildings on the town and flocked to her facility for shelter, and greater than anything, helped calm everybody’s nerves.
On March 13, Ms. Hanitska peered out the identical window and for the primary time in weeks noticed one thing that lifted her coronary heart: a convoy of yellow buses. She burst out the gate.
“I used to be both going to get shot,” she mentioned. “Or save folks.”
Humanitarian staff had organized a rescue and the Russians lastly allowed the sufferers to depart. They had been bused to different services in much less contested areas.
Ms. Hanitska is hard however humble with a dry humorousness.
When requested how lengthy she had been working on the dwelling, she laughed.
“Two months,” she mentioned. “I assume you can say I’m fortunate.”