YAHIDNE, Ukraine (AP) — Russian soldiers have forced more than 300 villagers into the basement of a school. Then, during weeks of stress and deprivation, some began to die.
Residents of Yahidne, a village 140 kilometers from kyiv, told The Associated Press that they were ordered to go to the basement at gunpoint after the Russians took over the control of the area around the city of Chernihiv in the north in early March.
In one room, those who survived wrote the names of the 18 who did not survive.
“An old man died near me, then his wife died afterwards,” Valentyna Saroyan, a weary survivor, recalled on Tuesday as she toured the dark basement. “Then a man died who was lying there, then a woman sitting next to me. She was a heavy woman and it was very difficult for her.
Village by village, town by town, Ukrainians in areas where the Russians have retreated continue to unearth new horrors. Others are to be feared.
Residents of Yahidne, which is on the outskirts of Chernihiv, said they were forced to stay in the basement day and night except for the rare times when they were allowed to cook outside or use the toilet .
The health of the captives suffered.
“Here’s a chair, and that’s how we sat for a month,” Saroyan said, remembering his aching legs.
As people died one by one in the basement, neighbors were occasionally allowed to lay the bodies in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery.
Each time, they passed through a door marked in dripping red paint with the plaintive words “Attention. Children.” The flash of a flashlight shows luminous drawings on the walls.
The Russians could be cruel, say the surviving villages.
Svitlana Baguta said a Russian soldier who was “either drunk or stoned” made her drink from a canteen at gunpoint.
“He pointed the gun to his throat, put the bottle on and said, ‘Drink,'” Baguta said.
Julia Surypak said soldiers allowed some people a short ride to their homes if they sang the Russian state anthem. “But they didn’t allow us to walk much,” she said.
Russian forces left the village in early April, as part of a regional withdrawal from northern Ukraine that the Russian military ordered in anticipation of a major offensive in the east.
A message scrawled on a wall at Yahidne’s school marked April 1 as “the last day” of their attendance.
The soldiers left behind unexploded artillery shells, destroyed Russian vehicles and rubble.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine