BUCHA, Ukraine — One lady was badly crushed and shot via the attention. One other, held captive by Russian troopers, was present in a cellar, shot within the head. An 81-year-old grandmother was found hanging in her backyard, maybe killed, maybe pushed to suicide.
They had been three victims amongst a whole lot in the course of the Russian occupation of Bucha within the spring. Bucha, a suburb of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, rapidly turned the primary focus of atrocities by Russian soldiers earlier than they withdrew from the realm.
The crimes gained worldwide consideration. However these ladies had been unknown, their deaths unseen and unexplained.
My New York Occasions colleagues and I reported at the time on the Russian brutality and got here throughout these circumstances. So we went again to Bucha, the place of so many deaths, to find out about these three ladies — to search out out about their lives and who they had been.
We discovered that every lady, in her personal method, was a fighter, struggling to outlive weeks of starvation, chilly, bombardment and capturing, but tragically susceptible to the ruthless violence of an occupying military.
Most of the circumstances of their final days stay unclear, however for his or her households and Ukrainian officers, there isn’t any doubt that they had been victims of Russia’s aggression in opposition to their nation.
An opportunity journey turns tragic.
Oksana Sulyma, 34, was in Bucha solely by probability.
A former public servant, she lived in Kyiv together with her 5-year-old daughter, however had visited Bucha to stick with mates solely 48 hours earlier than the conflict started in February. Inside days, Russian troops had stormed the wooded suburb and roads and transport hyperlinks had been reduce. Oksana was caught, mentioned Oleksiy, a childhood pal, who requested that solely his first title be used for privateness.
She had grown up and lived a lot of her grownup life in Bucha. Her grandmother lived in an condo close to the middle of city. Oksana had moved to Kyiv solely after divorcing her husband a number of years in the past; she needed to be nearer to her dad and mom, who helped take care of her daughter.
Her mom, Larysa Sulyma, agreed to supply a couple of particulars of Oksana’s life for her to be remembered by.
“She was a really vivid baby,” her mom mentioned. She discovered French throughout an change go to to France, accomplished a level in sociology on the Nationwide Aviation College in Kyiv, and later labored on the Ministry of Infrastructure.
“She was very vivacious,” her mom added. She shared pictures of her daughter on a seaside in Crimea, the place she used to trip yearly earlier than Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014. “She beloved life, she beloved to journey.”
In early March, Russian troops arrange bases and firing positions in Bucha and commenced to impose larger management on the streets. They searched homes, confiscated cellphones and commenced detaining individuals and killing.
Oksana was final seen by mates on March 10 at Shevchenko Sq., her mom mentioned. The sq., marked by a statue of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, is a well-liked assembly place.
Her mom posted a message on Fb on March 15 expressing concern. Oksana had skilled psychological well being points, and anxiousness on the onset of the conflict could have exacerbated her situation, her mom wrote.
“Her habits could have manifestations of anger, aggression or incompetence,” her submit mentioned. “If anybody is aware of her whereabouts, please name.”
An outing to search out pet food.
Anna Noha, 36, had lived most of her life in Bucha and had no intention of leaving.
She had family and friends within the city, and even when her former companion and half sister fled the occupation in early March, she selected to remain. Anna frolicked with mates within the basement of her two-story constructing, generally venturing into the streets, visiting her father and rescuing cats.
“She was very unbiased, very energetic,” mentioned her stepmother, Tetyana Kopachova, 51. “On the similar time, she was very variety, very useful. She chopped wooden all winter for me.”
Anna’s father and stepmother had been canine breeders and stored 11 Central Asian sheepdogs in cages on their property within the middle of city. Anna would come round to assist.
She had all the time been a tearaway, her stepmother mentioned. She married younger, divorced, had a teenage daughter. She had served time in jail for dealing medication, however had since provided that up, her stepmother mentioned.
Anna was additionally a survivor. Her former companion was abusive and he or she came visiting to their home for a few nights with a pal, nursing bruises, Ms. Kopachova mentioned.
Her dad and mom pressed her to remain, however she left once more on March 13, promising to search out pet food as a result of they had been operating out. She by no means got here again.
A strict grandmother, decided to remain.
Lyudmyla Shchehlova, 81, additionally didn’t wish to depart Bucha. A retired epidemiologist, she had lived for nearly 40 years in a cottage styled like a wooden cabin, nestled amid pine bushes.
The home had belonged to her husband, additionally a doctor, and collectively that they had raised a daughter, Olena, and later their grandson, Yevhen.
His grandfather was the smooth one, Yevhen, 22, recalled in an interview. His grandmother was strict, “It was like good cop, dangerous cop,” he mentioned laughing. “She taught me so much,” he added.
Ms. Shchehlova was Russian by origin, and her bookshelves had been stuffed with Russian classics. Since her husband died a couple of years in the past, she had lived alone, surrounded by her books and household pictures, with Ralph, a German shepherd, and a cat for firm.
Her daughter, Olena, lived in a neighboring suburb, Irpin, and needed her mom to hitch her there when the conflict began, however the roads had been blocked by the combating. Inside days, the electrical energy and telephones went down. She tried to name her mom on March 7, her birthday, however couldn’t attain her.
When the bombardment worsened sharply of their neighborhood, Olena and Yevhen fled on foot throughout a destroyed bridge towards Kyiv.
The final time Yevhen spoke to his grandmother, she was weeping however was completely happy that they had been out of hazard. “She mentioned the whole lot was superb,” he mentioned.
Held captive in a potato cellar.
By mid-March, the environment in Bucha was rising uglier. New Russian models had taken over management and reprisals in opposition to civilians grew.
For a number of days round March 18, a variety of killing occurred in Bucha.
Russian troops had occupied Faculty No. 3 on Vokzalna Avenue, they usually had been firing mortars from empty land behind it. Troopers smashed their armored autos via backyard fences and camped in individuals’s houses.
Sooner or later, Oksana Sulyma was apprehended and brought to a home on Vokzalna Avenue. The home backed as much as Faculty No. 3, which she had attended as a woman. Oksana was discovered there in April, imprisoned in a potato cellar, shot within the head. She was sporting solely a fur coat.
The police discovered bullet casings by the entice door of the cellar and decided she was killed on March 17, per week after going lacking. Her passport and ID card had been later discovered by the Ukrainian police close to the railway tracks.
Russian troopers had been dwelling in the home, sleeping on mattresses in the lounge and heating water for laundry. In a bed room upstairs, ladies’s garments and underwear had been strewn about and the police discovered a used condom. An official aware of the case mentioned there was proof that Oksana had been raped.
Looking for shelter, and bringing an deserted cat.
Across the similar time, Anna Noha moved to an condo a couple of blocks away, simply west of Vokzalna Avenue. Her home windows had been blown out by the shelling and it was freezing, so a pal, Vladyslav, took her and a former classmate, Yuriy, to stick with his mom, Lyudmyla.
Anna introduced espresso and tea together with her and requested Lyudmyla if she may additionally deliver an deserted cat, a wonderful longhaired Siamese, that she had discovered.
“She appeared very variety,” mentioned Lyudmyla, who requested that solely her first title be used. “That’s why I gave her shelter.”
On the night of March 18, the three mates cleaned the condo and took out the trash, Lyudmyla mentioned. They mentioned they might have a smoke whereas they had been outdoors. They by no means got here again.
Lyudmyla later discovered from neighbors that Russian troops had detained them by the trash bins and marched them with baggage over their heads into the basement of a close-by 10-story constructing. Neighbors mentioned Anna had shouted out “Glory to Ukraine.”
Every week later, Lyudmyla was gathering firewood with a pal when she discovered their our bodies. First she noticed Anna and Yuriy, mendacity within the backyard of an unoccupied home. Later she discovered her son, Vladyslav, inside a shed. They’d been crushed and every was shot via a watch. Anna was so badly bludgeoned that her face was unrecognizable, Lyudmyla mentioned.
“She was cheerful, robust,” Lyudmyla mentioned of Anna. “Possibly she suffered for her outspokenness.”
Was it suicide? Family and friends say no.
By March 19, solely two residents, Ms. Shchehlova, the 81-year-old retired epidemiologist, and Mariya, 84, a former manufacturing unit employee, remained on their slender lane.
Troopers occupied a home on the finish of the lane, Mariya mentioned. “There have been 15 of them in that gang they usually made such bother right here,” she mentioned. Somebody stole bottles of alcohol from her fridge whereas she dozed in an armchair, she mentioned.
A builder, Bogdan Barkar, 37, was out scouring for meals in the future and got here throughout Ms. Shchehlova within the alley behind her home. “She had tears in her eyes,” he mentioned. He sensed she was being threatened by somebody. “Simply come by in two days and see if I’m alive or not,” she advised him.
Some days later, Mariya mentioned she heard Ms. Shchehlova arguing with somebody and noticed an odd man in her yard. However weak from starvation and fearful, Mariya didn’t intervene.
It was solely days later when the Russians withdrew from Bucha that Mariya’s son got here again and found Ms. Shchehlova hanging from a tree, a ladder propped in opposition to the trunk.
The police recorded it as a suicide, however few who knew Ms. Shchehlova believed she may have performed it herself. She was spiritual and knew it to be a sin, mentioned her neighbor Valentyn Melnyk.
Her grandson Yevhen reduce the ropes down from the tree and mentioned he doubted that she would have been in a position to tie them on the excessive branches. However he was resigned to his doubts.
“I’m a realist,” he mentioned. “How is it potential to search out out what occurred if all of the neighbors left, and he or she was alone at that second?”
The grief and loss stays overwhelming. His mom, a refugee in Sweden, wept at lacking her mom’s funeral.
Anna Noha’s father, Volodymyr Kopachov, died on July 7, quickly after burying his daughter. He lies beside her in Bucha Metropolis Cemetery within the part reserved for victims of the conflict.
Oksana Sulyma’s dad and mom made separate visits to the cellar the place she died. Weeping, her mom distributed sweets to the neighbors.