The mass murders of civilians in Kyiv suburbs are gradually being uncovered and documented for further investigation and prosecution. One episode of the tragedy was the shooting of a convoy of twelve cars that was halted by Russian soldiers while trying to leave Irpin. The Insider spoke with survivors.
«On March 6 at 8 o'clock (in the morning) my family and I, there were eight of us, were evacuating from Irpin through Stoyanka (a cottage community on the outskirts of Irpin, on the road to Kyiv), and we were shot at by Russian soldiers,» says Lyudmila Kunitskaya, 29, a math teacher at a technical school. «We had a total of twelve cars, together with my neighbors. My family was in three cars. The first five cars were completely shot up. We didn't know we would be driving through a Russian checkpoint.»
Lyudmila's large family lived in Irpin in the Versailles Park housing complex. By February 27, the Russian military had already entrenched in one part of Irpin and from there shelled the houses in the other part, where Lyudmila's family lived. Ukrainian units had already left Irpin by that time, to avoid street fighting in the city and to reinforce Kyiv's defense.
«It was very scary in Irpin. We were constantly shelled,» Lyudmila says. «Until March 6, we spent almost all our time in the underground parking garage. Then it became so unbearable that some of our neighbors and I decided to leave. We thought it would be safer.»
A convoy of cars was driving slowly toward Kyiv, and Lyudmila was in the fourth car with her husband Alexei Ogloblya, her mother, and her husband's relatives Olena Dovzhenko, 20, and Vyacheslav Gudimov, 22. The third car, a Honda, was driven a neighbor, Julia Polyanichko, 34, another neighbor Dmytro Mironenko, 35, was riding shotgun. Ludmila's husband's brother Artem Ogloblya, 28, and his wife Tatiana, 32, were in the back seats. The second car (a BMW) was driven by Serhiy Polyanichko. Next to him was Lyudmila's mother-in-law Olga Chaika, 58, and behind her Serhiy's daughter and her friend, both 10 years old. Ludmila could not remember their names. The first car, an Audi, was driven by a neighbor, Alexander Zarya, 30, another neighbor Artem Podkopaev, 32, rode next to the driver, and Artem's wife Kristina with their 18-month-old baby were in the back.
In the cottage community of Stoyanka, where there had been no Russians the day before, the convoy saw a Russian checkpoint.
«(Russian soldiers) started shooting at us without warning, throwing a grenade under the front car,» Lyudmila said. «Artem's (her husband's brother's) mother was killed instantly. The bullet hit her in the heart. In the third car, Artem himself was hit in the arm, another bullet hit him above the eye. The soldiers also fired a grenade at the second car, but the BMW veered sideways, and the grenade exploded in front of the third car, killing the driver, Julia (Polyanichko), on the spot.
I was in the front passenger seat in the fourth car next to my husband, my mother was sitting behind me. The bullet hit her in the neck. Mom was dead in just a few seconds. There was a fountain of blood coming out of her neck. The bullet severed an artery. Still I tried to give her my scarf to cover it, but it was too late-she was bleeding to death. She was dying, and I just looked at her and couldn't do anything. And the Russians then started shouting, «Get out of the car, get down on the ground! Give us your phones!».
In the first car, Alexander and Artem died on the spot. In the second car, Lyudmila's mother-in-law died on the spot. In the third car, Julia died at the wheel. She was cut with shrapnel from the explosion. Dzmitry Mironenko, who was sitting next to her, was hit in the head, chest, stomach and hand. Lyudmila's husband Alexei broke a rib on the steering wheel during a sudden stop. Behind Alexei in Lyudmila's car, Vyacheslav Gudimov was seriously injured. In the fifth car was a family of neighbors: a husband, a wife and two small children. The father was wounded in the arm, the son in the leg and the wife in the back. The other seven cars managed to turn around and drove back.»
«I was very scared. I understood that mother was passing,» continues Lyudmila. «I was also very frightened for us, for those who were still alive. There was only one thought in my head: what will happen next, what will they do to us?» Artem Ogloblya covered his wife Tatiana with his body during the shooting and was severely injured. «He was lying on the ground, bleeding all over his face and screaming in pain,» Lyudmila says. «One of the soldiers said he was pissing them off with his screaming and ordered him to shut up or he would shoot him. Then that soldier fired an assault rifle into the ground at Artem's feet.
Serhyi Polyanichko did not believe his wife Julia was dead. The soldiers allowed him to examine her corpse, whereupon Serhyi became hysterical. Serhyi and his family came to Irpin from the Luhansk region in 2014, when the war started there. He began shouting at the soldiers: «Stop saving us. We already ran away from home once. So, you came here to save us!» The soldiers pointed their rifles at him.
I could barely get him to calm down. His daughter was crying and begging for her mother. We comforted the children as best we could. The soldiers only bandaged Vyacheslav's thigh. He was bleeding. Then they threw us the first-aid kit, saying, «Help the others yourself.» The first-aid kit was almost empty. «I asked the soldiers why they were shooting at us,» says Tatiana Beskorovaeva, Artem Ogloblya's wife, a hairdresser from Irpin. «One of them told me they had orders to shoot at anything that moves and poses a danger. But we had been driving very slowly. There were «CHILDREN» signs glued to the cars.»
Five civilians, three women and two men, were killed and six were wounded in this unprovoked shooting. The Russian soldiers took the captive women, men and children to a small two-story cottage, with a tank and an APC stationed nearby. They kept them there for an hour and a half, then gave them three half-destroyed cars and told them to get out quickly. The dead bodies were dumped on the roadside and the soldiers didn't let the refugees take them away. The two men, Mironenko and Gudimov, who were seriously wounded and could not move, stayed behind. Afterwards the soldiers handed them over to other locals who took them to a hospital. Both survived.
All of Lyudmila's surviving family now lives in her uncle's small house in the dacha community of Ruzhin near Zhytomyr. In early April, Lyudmila accidentally saw on Facebook my video showing the bodies of her mother and mother-in-law. She realized that she could go back to Irpin and try to find them. In Irpin she was told that all the dead bodies were being taken to the morgue in Boyarka.
She and her husband went to Boyarka. For several hours they were opening about fifty black bags with dead bodies, trying to find their relatives. To no avail. The morgue worker advised them to come back the next day, when they would unload a «new batch of bodies» from a refrigerated truck that was parked in the backyard. Eventually they found the bodies of Lyudmila's mother and mother-in-law in another morgue in Kyiv. Lyudmila no longer had the strength to identify them. Artem did it, with his head bandaged and his arm in a cast. Artem, choking back tears, began telling how he identified his mother, whose body had been lying in the street for more than a month, but he sobbed and stopped. «We were lucky, you could say,» Lyudmila continued. «In the video, not far from the bodies, there was a man's corpse that had been half eaten by dogs. I was terrified the same thing might happen with the bodies of my mother and mother-in-law. But God had mercy...».
Lyudmila is very hopeful that the killers in uniform will eventually be found and brought to trial, at which she is willing to testify. «Most of the Russian soldiers were wearing masks, except two young soldiers. I would definitely recognize them if I saw them,» she added.