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“What Russia’s doing to us isn’t war, it’s extermination”: how I escaped my Russian-occupied village

Damaged home in a village in Kyiv Oblast. Photo: FB/Kaminska Yaroslava

In her Facebook post, Yaroslava Kaminska, a former employee of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), described her life under the Russian occupation in a village in Kyiv Oblast, and her escape to freedom.


The most important journey of my life.
The worst journey of my life.

My family and I (me, my husband, his parents, and Grandma) have stayed in the village where we live, Nemishayeve, Kyiv Oblast, since the beginning of the war. We didn’t believe until the end that the orcs (the Russian soldiers, – Ed.) would come. Naive idiots we were.
Yaroslava Kaminska, Facebook profile photo.

On February 28, the Russian tanks entered Nemishayeve.

Since then we have been under occupation.

Since that time:

  • It is impossible to go outside, without checking that there is no military column of enemy equipment there, that there is no shooting there.
  • …without checking if there are any suspicious people walking down the streets.
  • …without checking that no strange cars are driving around
  • When you’re out, stand behind the house so that no one can see and hear you. Stay where the bullets won’t reach.
  • We can distinguish the sounds of howitzers, machine guns, small arms (snipers), Kalashnikovs, BM-21 Grad (multiple rocket launcher, – Ed.), tanks, BMPs (light armored battle vehicles, – Ed.), aircraft, helicopters. By the way, no day was quiet.
  • You can’t even go to a nearby street. We used to run behind the fences, behind the yards, to hide behind the walls. In our own village. On our own land. In our home!
  • Yesterday the orcs shot a man in the village who was walking a dog.
  • Our community’s head fled after the first attack. His words when the orcs hit someone’s house were, “Good that it wasn’t my house.”
  • The orcs shot dead our Territorial Defence unit, we haven’t heard for a week whether our guys are alive.
  • The orcs killed my friend who was a volunteer and supplied medicines.
  • A man in a wheelchair was killed by one of the shells in his own house. People buried him quickly, I don’t even know whether at the cemetery, because there are the orcs there.
  • The shops were looted by our own people.
  • People were taking everything, TVs, computer monitors, beer, cognac, pulling full trolleys home.
  • Drug addicts and alcoholics became more active.
  • Children are born, and it’s good when at home – one woman gave birth prematurely and refused her child, the neighbors took her baby.
  • People tried to walk through the checkpoint, a family of the mother, father, six-year-old son, 56-year-old grandmother. Near their home, tanks were sitting with their barrels pointing towards their house. They decided to try to get out. When approaching the checkpoint, two more locals joined them who also wanted to cross the checkpoint but freaked out and started running. The orcs started firing. Mom, Dad, and their son hid. Grandma was captured by the orcs, interrogated asking “Where is the fourth man?” She tried to convince them that it was a 6-year-old boy, they hit her in the back with a rifle butt. The family got home on foot, and in the evening the orcs brought their grandmother on the BTR (an armored personal carrier, – Ed.), alive, they took only food from her, they even apologized for hitting her with a rifle butt.
  • The locals were dialing every minute the Red Cross phone number, but those were saying that an application could be submitted by the local government that fled, haha.
  • Armored personnel carriers and tanks were driving down our street.
  • On the first day, the orcs placed a sniper on one of the main streets, who scared people, shooting them in their arms or legs so that they would not get out.
  • The orcs walked from home to home, flashing with their flashlight into the windows.
  • They were shooting at the basements of high-rise buildings for no reason, just in case, until a brave man asked them to stop, because children were hiding in one of the basements.

“Close the sky!” or how Russia bombed out my town of Borodyanka

  • One day, when the convoy passed our street once again, the last tank turned its turret and fired at the houses. The round hit the house adjacent to our neighbors’ home. The neighbor’s grandmother miraculously survived there. I was outside at that time, failed to reach my home, I was almost deaf and I was trembling for the next two hours.
  • The animals in the house are shaking too, constantly hiding from the sounds.
  • We stopped talking loudly and tried to close the door quietly, quietly put the cup on the table, move quietly. I am afraid of sounds and will be afraid for a long time.
  • I’m afraid of the light because THEY can see me.
  • Today Misha, 16, and his mother Lina asked us to take them in our car. They were walking near our car carrying white ribbons while heading towards the bomb shelter and realized that we were trying to leave. They had time to take only one backpack and a bag, and only a moment to hug Dad and Grandpa, who were left behind due to their poor health. They both cried all the way to their freedom.
  • Lina and Misha lived in a bomb shelter for a week. They slept on wooden pallets, dressed and booted, covering with wet blankets
  • Misha was helping to prepare food while the bullets were flying around.
  • Everyone shared the food, but according to their own “rules” – I don’t even know how to talk about relations between us Ukrainians at this time – about hungry people who don’t share food, about the struggle to charge the phone from the generator, when you can’t call your relatives for 5 days.

Since 28 February we were living:

  • without water;
  • without electricity;
  • without heating.

We were lucky to have the household gas was until the last day, until yesterday. But when the last tongue of fire disappeared, we broke down.

We shouted at each other, we brought war to our home.

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The decision to leave was so hard to make – I can’t even describe how difficult it was. We knew we could die. We decided to die on the road to freedom, not in the basements.

I texted my brother and friend, told them about our plan, and that if it doesn’t work out, then I love them.

We took nothing but our cat, one change of clothes, and the guitar.

We didn’t shower for a week.

But it stopped bothering me long ago. It doesn’t matter. Only life is important. Of your family and yours.

We managed to leave today (on 8 March 2022, – Ed.), I can’t write in detail how exactly. I am afraid of the people who will try to leave in the coming days.

I don’t know what is going to happen to our village in the coming days, weeks, months. Whether people will survive, whether there will be enough food, or whether they will die of disease, I don’t know to what the war will bring them.

I don’t have any photos left of this period, I’m sorry. We deleted all the photos, videos, chats, and social media apps, because the orcs were checking our gadgets out at the checkpoint. The soldier asked me, “Don’t you want to go to Russia?” Honestly, I was scared to answer, I thought it was a provocation, but I said NO.

Today, my brother managed to leave another occupied village in Kyiv Oblast, Dymer, where I was born and raised. They have been under occupation since the third day of the war. They have lived in their cellar with their children. He dared and went on foot to a nearby village with his wife and children, my darling nephews, 5 and 3 year-olds, whom they carried in a wheelbarrow. There they crossed the bridge and escaped.

My mother stayed in Dymer.

And with her, a piece of my heart stayed there.

I know what Russia is doing to us. This is not war, this is extermination, this is genocide.

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