Ukrainians From Bucha & Irpin Recall Russia's Occupation

July 26, 2022 16:29 GMT

A Ukrainian photographer is documenting harrowing stories from residents of the areas around Kyiv occupied by Russian forces at the opening of the 2022 Russian invasion.

Rustem, Bucha

Rustem's house is on Vokzalnaya Street, where a column of Russian equipment was destroyed. When that battle was under way, Rustem was hiding in the basement with his son, wife, and other relatives. An infantry fighting vehicle exploded near their property. As a result of the intense fire, the garage -- with their car inside -- was destroyed. Smoke poured into the house, and when they went out into the street they saw neighboring houses had caught fire, as well.

After surviving this, the locals of Bucha thought that everything was over and the Russians had retreated. But on March 4, Russian soldiers returned and set up in a neighboring house. The inhabitants managed to flee to Rustem's place.

They hid from the Russians all night. Then, on March 5, soldiers knocked on the door. The residents shouted: "We’re old people and children. We’re unarmed.” The Russians drove everyone out of the house, lined them up, checked documents, and then they smashed their phones.

One phone miraculously remained intact, and Rustem's wife stuffed it into her bag. They were given five minutes to pack. The owner of the house wanted to take a cat named Snowball. Rustem tried to put the cat inside a bag, but she jumped out and ran away.

The soldiers moved everyone to the basement of a multistory building on a nearby street. There was a whole crowd of Russian soldiers there and armored vehicles in every yard. The neighbors on Sadovaya Street had a command vehicle on their property.

After spending several nights in the basement, Rustem asked the Russians to let people go. The soldiers released 10, including a woman with a 3-year-old child, but one family was kept in the basement for another four days.

Rustem and the rest of the group who were released walked to Irpin, where they stayed overnight.

Irpin was bombed all night. The group waited for the morning, then continued. They were picked up by volunteers and taken to the famous broken bridge near Irpin, and from there they were transported to Kyiv.

Graffiti left by Russian soldiers.

After spending a month in Poltava, in eastern Ukraine, with his brother, Rustem returned to Bucha following the Russian retreat.

At the entrance to his house, the cat, Snowball, was waiting for him.

Inside, there were empty bottles of wine, abandoned soldiers' boots, and graffiti in his son's room that read: "It was orders” -- followed by a misspelled English-language “Sorri."

Iryna, Bucha

After the Russians captured Bucha, Iryna was afraid to go outside. She sat in the house with her sick mother and waited to die. She lived on Yablonska Street, which later become infamous as Bucha’s street of death.

Four days into the occupation, a neighbor came to draw water from the well and told Iryna that the Russians let people go outside “if there's a white bandage on your sleeve.” Iryna started to go into her yard to to cook food over an open fire and to collect water. Russian soldiers settled in two neighboring buildings. They didn’t want to live in Iryna’s modest house, but they put an armored vehicle in her yard and camouflaged it with rags.

Russian soldiers often came to the well to fill square plastic containers with water. Iryna talked with them and told them she was frightened. They said th