In early May, my friends and I decided to take a trip to the village Bohdanivka with to see how it was doing now, after nearly a month of occupation by Russian forces. Located 37 km from Kyiv, it bore the main brunt of the battle for the Ukrainian capital from the first weeks of the invasion.
My closest friends bought a small house there about four months before the war had begun, as a place of rest from the noisy capital. The journey from Kyiv to the green and picturesque village takes only 15 minutes. It is a breath of fresh air for families busy finding a perfect playground or a place for a walk with children. Picnics next to a beautiful lake, lying on the grass in the sun, watching bright stars in the night sky, and planting flowers make Bohdanivka a paradise for raising kids and having a small household.
Even though they were constantly in touch with neighbors via messengers who told their dwelling had survived the most devastating moments of battles, they did not know what to expect from their return. Unexploded shells in the middle of their garden, or maybe dead bodies? According to the State Emergency Service, mine clearance in Ukraine could take 5-10 years. Ukrainian rescuers have been continuing their search for mines and ammunition in Kyiv Oblast, including the territory of Bohdanivka two months since the liberation from Russian troops.
On March 8, Russian tanks entered the village of Bohdanivka, hiding from the advances of the Ukrainian Army
Road of death
Our journey started in a public taxi, right after an air threat alarm went off and a message from one of the residents of Bohdanivka. They saw a missile flying over houses, with the sound resembling the noise of an aircraft engine. Thanks to the Ukrainian air defense, that missile did not destroy buildings or kill anyone.
I myself was spared the horrors of living under Russian occupation. However, I stayed in Kyiv when Russia tried to storm the capital in the first days of its invasion of Ukraine, heard terrifying sounds of missiles striking highrises, and nearly died of fear when fighter jets flew over my house.
While the public taxi was driving to the village, I noticed a destroyed military unit building damaged by Russia’s missiles. 1 person died, and 6 were injured as the result of the attack, the Mayor of Brovary Ihor Sapozhko reported on February 28.
The complex with no roof and broken windows, black from fire, reminded me of the night when I ran to the next shelter after hearing the apocalyptical sound of a missile strike and looking at the blood-red sky. There was, of course, no chance of falling asleep in the cold basement of the house next to 50 other scared people.
Now, I witnessed the shocking results of that sound.
After we passed Brovary, we entered the road of death. Burned cars and tanks scattered across the highway. As the taxi started to get close to Bohdanivka, more and more burned, crashed, and ruined vehicles and houses could be seen.
A destroyed Russian tank on the middle of the road to Bohdanivka. Credit: General Staff of Armed Forces
Cars of people who tried to leave occupied villages were empty and abandoned. For a few moments, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hoped these were just decorations for a movie until I felt tears falling. I looked around and found other people in the taxi were also crying.
School of survival
When Russian forces invaded Bohdanivka, they shelled the school and made it their military base. In heavy battles, it was partly ruined and now needs a renovation.
Russian soldiers destroyed the school fence, three support buildings, and even trees as they fought off Ukrainian advances from their base. Now residents of Bohdanivka are left to clear up the destruction, as they remove rubble and garbage left by the invaders.
Local residents of Bohdanivka clear up damage from Russian occupation. Photos: Dmitry Bobko
Hiding daughters in basements from threat of rape
Residents of the village recall one of the worst examples of war crimes committed by Russian troops. A soldier of the 239th regiment of the 90th Guards Tank Vitebsk-Novgorod Division, Mikhail Romanov, broke into a house in Bohdanivka together with other invaders, killed an unarmed civilian man, and raped his wife, threatening to shoot her in front of the eyes of her child. Earlier, the National Police reported that Ukrainian defenders killed a dangerous Russian soldier. However, on May 30, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova informed that he was still alive and was accused of war crimes. Romanov is married and has two children.
News on the sexual abuse of Russian soldiers immediately traveled around the village. Two girls 10 and 9 years old, were held in the cellar of the house for a month. Their mother was hiding them from the threat of being raped. Invaders entered their home by breaking the windows with stones and searched the house but did not find the children.
From the first days of the occupation, Russian soldiers started to rob shops, killed their staff, and got regularly drunk. They started hunting down members of the potential Ukrainian resistance — soldiers, members of Territorial Defense, or residents who demonstrated a strong pro-Ukrainian position. On April 27, the Brovary District Prosecutor’s Office issued a suspicion notice to the Russian captain and major, accusing them of the ill-treatment of a Ukrainian captive. Invaders beat him and held him in the basement of his knees without food and water.
Russian troops immediately seized the Ukrainian priest of the village for a so-called conversation and check after tanks stormed the entrance of the local church. They beat, mocked him, stripped him and forced him to go through Bohdanivka to their ridicule, residents say. Ukraine has already identified invaders who participated in committing the crime. They were declared suspects for violating the laws and customs of war.
The most popular place in Bohdanivka was the central food shop, located near the streets with small stores and the village council. Next to the shop is the biggest playground — many residents used to grab a coffee and take a walk here. Now it has too many bullet shells on its walls to count. “It feels so strange to know how it looked before and now discover it was shelled. Russians destroy the best memories, not just lives,” says Tonya, who has been living in the village for a year.
Among the most common amusement activities of Russian soldiers in the village were creating homemade shooting ranges and stealing from the houses.
A husband and wife in Bohdanivka collected giant packs of casings in their house after liberation. It took nearly an entire day to remove bullets left by Russians on the floor.
As for the stealing, the troops living in houses of Bohdanivka residents grabbed whatever they considered valuable — laptops, TVs, computers, stereo systems, USBs, knives and guns, keys, metal detectors, and even musical instruments such as guitars and even accordions. Residents said they looted a mobile phone from a 6-year-old boy by breaking into his house and demanding devices from his family. Social media groups of the village show that even now, residents are trying to find their belongings in the ex-occupied areas. While monitoring pictures of lost things in posts, it is easy to discover that Russian forces focused on stealing bicycles, bikes, quad bikes, and house utilities.
Despite the threat of death, some residents found the courage for defying the occupiers. “Russians broke into the house, demanded to use our bathroom and to be given vodka. My 80-year-old father said we have none, standing up to their threats. Eventually, they left, but if they had found the shower on the second floor, they could have killed him. They were capable of that,” a local resident Bohdan said.
One of the saddest parts of the trip was passing Brovary water park. In peaceful times, families visited the park, spending time together with children. Today, it is in ruins: Russian forces were like true dementors from Harry Potter, trying to suck all the joy out of Ukrainians. Surely, that plan will never work, because we know what we are fighting for – the future of our land.
No missiles in the house
Finally, we arrived at my friends’ house. Luckily it was clean and untouched. We did not find missiles or bullets. We spent a happy time together, saying hello to the new spring. As spring comes to the Ukrainian people, no matter what, the victory also will come despite everything.
- The Ukrainian Aleppo, or unprecedented terror in Borodianka – Dispatch from Ukraine
- Russia turned Bucha into one big torture chamber. Dispatch from Ukraine
- Russian occupiers in Makariv shelled the civilian shelter “in an instant” – Dispatch from Ukraine
- Russian attack on Ovruch: greenhouses bombed, death, devastation, and ruins all around.
- Russian war crimes in Katiuzhanka: torture chamber, toilets in classrooms, and stolen lingerie