The military invasion of Ukraine, which Putin positions as a «special operation,» is increasingly turning into a deliberate killing of civilians. We are no longer just talking about accidentally hitting civilian targets, but also shelling residential buildings, shooting a civilian with pensioners inside from a tank, targeting journalists, shooting on civilian evacuees, shooting on peaceful protesters against the occupation, dropping a bomb on a maternity home, and other examples. The Insider spoke with residents of Ukrainian cities and found they do not consider the Russians to be «liberators,» and see the «special operation» as a real nightmare, which they will never forget.
«Putin kills innocents and tells you he's liberating them.»
You know, there is nothing in this world harder than the things you are asking me about. I could not speak, but now I want people to know the truth about this war. My sister was not guilty of anything when the shrapnel from the shell hit her in the head. My family was not guilty of anything and did not deserve to go through such grief.
My sister was on her way back from the pharmacy when they started bombing everyone and everything. A shell hit the apartment building she was passing by, and a shrapnel killed her. We were warned we had to go out only in case of emergency, but my mother's heart began to fail, and we were out of medicines. I still can't forgive myself for letting her go. Nothing foretold such an outcome. People still went out despite the bans, they needed something to eat and <cries> to buy medicine. You can't imagine how many people have been maimed, how many of my acquaintances were left without a home. They don't bring food to us. Many people bake their own bread and then deliver it to the injured. If it wasn't for such volunteers, I don't know how we would have survived.
It's scary and painful, and your eyes are blinded by rage at the fact that you can't change anything. You ask me, why would Putin do this? I'd like to ask him, too, what did my sister do? Why did he suddenly think he could attack a free state and dispose of other people's lives? He is a murderer. He kills innocents, and he tells you that he is freeing them, freeing us. Except for one small caveat: we lived without him, and now we don't have that life. Hundreds of destroyed lives - that's what his «peacekeeping operation» has led to. My mother hasn't spoken in days. My children can't eat, and my brother is somewhere on the front line defending our country. I could never imagine such a thing even in my worst dreams. I don't know how to go on living, what to believe in and what to hope for.
«We sleep in basements, the house next door is destroyed.»
Our life has recently turned into plain survival. The morning begins with my dad running to the market and taking a place in a line for bread. After an hour and a half or two hours, he calls and says it's time to join him – they only sell one loaf of bread per customer, and you are very lucky if there is enough bread, since everything is brought in small quantities. There were days when we were unable to buy bread. In general, there is almost nothing in the stores, and if something does show up, it is never enough for everyone.
Shelling takes place every day and every hour. A high-rise building near us was destroyed, and most of the houses nearby are windowless. Yesterday my family was very lucky: our house was just 100 meters or two blocks away from where a shell landed. We are living a spasmatic life, and sleep when everything calms down, but unfortunately it happens very rarely.
There are tanks roaming around in the neighborhood, military men are walking around instead of the usual people we're used to seeing on the streets, fire trucks and military vehicles fill the streets instead of cars. The nights are especially frightening: when everything calms down, we sleep at home; when we hear explosions, we go to the garage. But we only managed to sleep at home a couple of times during those days, and only because the shelling was at the other end of Kharkiv.
Several nights we slept in an underground garage, where it was only seven degrees Celsius - we were very cold. Other nights were spent in the basement with our neighbors. The whole house was shaking because of exploding shells launched nearby. It was very scary, but unfortunately, it is in times like that when you realize that nothing depends on you. You just get a feeling of confusion and fear - for yourself and your loved ones. You don't know what you're going to lose next time - your home or someone you care about.
Why don't we leave? Because there is no gas or gasoline in Kharkiv and the Kharkiv region, 90% of the bridges have been blown up, and there are missiles sticking out of the ground.
«Who can we be freed from? We are a free country.»
Victoria, Bila Tserkva
The city is completely blockaded and there is fierce fighting around it. It's very difficult to move in or out. Many residents are staying here because they just didn't manage to leave the city in the first few days. It's unbearably painful and scary to watch everything that was your home just a short time ago being destroyed.
But what's even scarier is that shells are hitting residential courtyards and children's institutions. The Russian army is destroying everything it sees. Many children have already died, and those who are left alive just won't come out of their basements. No child deserves to spend their childhood in a wet, dirty basement just because some old <...> decided to attack a free country.
Just recently we got to Babi Yar, where a monument to Holocaust victims is located. And it makes you think: what kind of liberation from neo-Nazis are we talking about when the «liberators» are destroying the monument to the victims of Nazism? No one I know wants us to be liberated, no one understands who we can be liberated from. We have a free country. We do what we want, we discuss who we want. We don't put people in jail for their posts on social media.
The war has really brought the Ukrainian people together. We have people literally lying down in front of the tanks and removing mines with their bare hands. It's true. In Melitopol people simply went out and pushed a tank out during an attack.
It is very scary to talk about the war. It's very scary to think about having to go down to the basement every night because a shell might fly into your house. It's very scary to think that your mother, who left a few minutes ago, might just not come back. I'm very scared. I'm afraid for my friends in Kharkiv and Chernihiv, because fierce fighting has been going on there since day one, both on the outskirts of the city and in the city proper. Kharkiv is almost completely destroyed, but Putin keeps saying that only military infrastructure is being bombed. Tell me, is the university a military facility? Or a movie theater? Are the two strikes on the city administration building part of the destruction of military infrastructure?
«My city has been wiped off the face of the earth.»
Our city has been practically wiped off the face of the earth, and I still can't believe it. Can you imagine what it's like to see how everything you've been used to since childhood is destroyed? To wake up in the morning to the sound of exploding shells? To be afraid to go near your windows because recently a blast wave blew out all the windows? I can find no words to describe my feelings or the state my children are in.
We were in our apartment when our house was blown apart by an explosion. First the siren went off, I involuntarily screamed in fear, and then the whole house shook, there was an abrupt rumble, a bang, and then lots of shrapnel flew, my hands were cut, my husband's leg was slashed. It's fortunate that the children were at their grandmother's, I can't imagine what would have happened to them if they had been here. We're still in shock. But we were amazingly lucky. When we went outside, we saw that many people had been hurt much more seriously: one woman's face had been split open, another had shrapnel lodged in her shoulder.
The whole house shook, there was a loud bang and lots of shrapnel flew, my hands were cut, my husband's leg was slashed.
The ambulance came, the doctors helped as best they could. Our neighbor from downstairs was just sitting on the ground, completely devastated. When I called out to her, she looked at me and cried. My husband tried to talk to her after he had his leg bandaged up, but she didn't say anything back – she just sat there crying. And a lot of people were crying. The horror is impossible to describe in words. And I don't understand how they can call it a «peacekeeping operation». A lot of people suffered. My children, when they saw our house, asked: «Mom, who did this? Can't we live here anymore?» And I didn't know what to tell them, for the first time it wasn't me choosing where I was going to live, it was Putin.
For the first time it wasn't me choosing where I was going to live, it was Putin.
Yes, it was he, and I don't understand why we have to suffer from the actions of a man I wouldn't even call a man. What is he freeing us from? We lived perfectly well and didn't expect any «liberators», we didn't know how the cries of wounded people sounded. I can't explain your president's motives. Why did he suddenly decide to cripple our lives? Is there any explanation for this?
We've now moved into my mother's apartment, we all live together, at night we go to the basement of the house. During the day we try not to approach the windows, though we cover them with blankets just in case. In the evening we keep the lights off to prevent the military and infiltrators from seeing us, we just sit around a lighted candle. I still jump at every rustle and cannot go outside, cannot eat, cannot sleep. It's as if life is divided into «before» and «after.»
You know how everything changes when you look at people who have lost their homes, or worse, someone close to them? When you yourself are left with a bombed-out apartment, which is now cold and empty? Because of Putin, we no longer have a home, a home that was always safe and bright. I wanted to board up the windows with plywood and stay, but my husband insisted that we leave, because it's very cold outside at night, and plywood alone won't help. But it's still hard to get used to the idea that someone just came and threw you out of your normal life into some hell that has no end in sight. It's a huge disaster, an absolute nightmare, and there's no excuse or forgiveness for whoever set it up.
«They kept sending infiltrators long before they invented a formal pretext for war.»
On the second day of the war the fighting was taking place right by the subway station, which was a seven-minute walk from our house, so we heard not just explosions but also automatic rifle fire. After that, an armored personnel carrier drove around the neighborhood for a long time, entering the courtyards. It was quite scary to watch. It turned out that it got «lost» and couldn't find its way back - military vehicles tend to avoid the main streets to reduce the chance of being ambushed <...>.
At night we sit without lights - only a table lamp is on, and the windows are covered with blankets to provide maximum camouflage from infiltrators. There are a lot of them in the city, they monitor the overall situation and leave certain marks - signs in the shape of a cross or a circle. They draw these marks with special paint, which glows in the dark, so it becomes very dangerous after nightfall – marked buildings are attacked by Russian troops.
The infiltrators were sent to the city at the beginning of the year, but since there are always many newcomers in Kiev, it did not become public knowledge. Recently the authorities have been trying to catch them. And when they are caught, it often turns out they have been living here since January - it's obvious that everything that's happening now was prepared in advance.
You go out into the street - it's so quiet, and suddenly a siren goes off in your ear. At that moment everything inside you stops, and for a second you don't understand where you are and who you are, and you immediately want to wake up. You look at the others and feel that they feel not just fear, but rage at their own powerlessness. Russians tell us we should be denazified, but no one knows what that means. Because of this, there is pain, anger and rage.
No one will ever be the same after this. Half of the nation is psychologically crippled. People who went through the war are special. We lived in Tashkent when the Afghan war was going on, and we saw the boys who came back from there. Even when they returned without serious injuries, the war still left its traces on them - it was incredibly difficult for such people to adapt and go back to leading a normal life. This is why all those who are now sitting in bomb shelters will never be calm inside. The fear of war and death will haunt them for days to come.
«You constantly pray: please don't let it land here, don't let hit us.»
On the 24th, my parents and I woke up to a phone call from my aunt, who said we were being bombed. We couldn't believe her. The day before we were still walking along the French Boulevard, laughing - nothing foretold such disaster, but after that call all hell broke loose.
We quickly started packing our bag, putting in first things that came to mind, first things that needed to be taken along. After everything was packed, we decided to stay home after all. It seemed to us we were far away, the sounds of shells were coming from somewhere outside. I live in Saltovka, microdistrict 605. And soon they started bombing Severnaya, which is nearby. We were gripped by fear.
Then we started watching the news endlessly, sleeping in fits and starts because of the bombings, as you don't know your turn will come. It can't be fully explained. You live like in a fog. You keep your tracksuit on in case you have to run to the basement. You're afraid of any loud sound, you even flinch at the sound of a door slamming. My aunt's house was completely destroyed, for the first two days she was afraid of any loud sound.
Mom was hysterical, going crazy with fear for all of us, my dad and I braced ourselves not to upset her even more. When there is no light, no communication, you sit in complete silence, you hear every arriving fighter jet, every explosion, you get scared. You constantly pray, «Please don't let it land here, don't let it hit us».
After the regular blackouts we couldn't take it anymore, we decided to grab our basic necessities, get in the car and leave, because rockets started hitting civilian houses more and more often and there were more victims. Many of the people I know were left without a home, without everything they knew and loved. It's very scary because you don't understand what's going to happen next.
«The house shook violently, and then there was the sound of broken glass.»
My family directly witnessed military action and aggression by Russian troops. On March 1, around 10:30 p.m., there was an air strike on residential houses, including mine. Almost all the windows were broken by the shock wave. People were shocked too. They had been boarding up the windows all night to avoid having to sleep under the open sky in the freezing cold. There were injured people with cuts on their arms and other parts of their bodies. It was hell.
When it started, we were at home, we heard a siren go off, and we ran to the back of the apartment to hide somewhere. Then the house shook violently and there was the sound of broken glass. Soon the ambulances arrived. We had to move in with our grandparents; we are currently in the basement of their house. Horror gives way to hope, and vice versa.
«Even pro-Russia people now hate Putin.»
On the morning of February 24th, we woke up to the sound of explosions. All the talk about sparing civilian areas is untrue. Shells hit residential buildings; people die. A few days ago, a high-rise building in Lomonosov Street was hit. We drove by and saw that part of the house was demolished and there were pieces of concrete and broken glass lying everywhere.
The situation is absolutely horrible in the suburbs of Kyiv – Bucha, Irpen, where our friends live. Many people have fled, afraid of the artillery and the constant shelling. Residential areas have been devastated by bombs. Not so long ago the TV tower in central Kyiv was hit, I saw it with my own eyes. You could see the fire from several kilometers away. At the railway station you can constantly hear the explosions too. The air-raid alarms sounded seven or eight times a day, day and night.
The first few days we kept going to a bomb shelter at night, but it was very cold there and the children were freezing all the time, so we decided to hide in the middle of our apartment. When the alarm goes off, we just back away from the windows and lie down, and hope that «nothing will happen to us». There are checkpoints all over the city – we are told not to go out unless necessary. We only go out to the store – it's open shorter hours, not much food is brought in, and there are always long lines outside. You have to stand in line for nearly 2-3 hours to buy something.
The unknown is very frightening. I wish they would stop bombing at least the civilian population. I wish Putin would tone down his imperial ambitions and realize that everyone who is dying now is absolutely innocent. Moreover, he bombs the cities where most of the population is Russian-speaking. Like Kharkiv or Mariupol. They adore Russian culture and history, but get a bullet in the head in return, figuratively speaking. Everyone I know from there doesn't want Russia, Ukraine is their home.
We don't need to be saved from anybody, except Russia itself, which pretends to be the savior. We are fine where we live. Even if we have our own problems, we can solve them in our own country. Any loyalty to Russia is now out of the question. For us, Putin is the harbinger of evil and misfortune. Even the most pro-Russia people now hate Russia.