War in Ukraine | Two weeks in hell in Boutcha

Alexander Pavlenko spent two weeks in the basement of his house with his 79-year-old mother, his wife, their two children and their Labrador.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Agnes Gruda

Agnes Gruda
The Press

Around Boutcha, war was raging. “The artillery fire did not stop. At night the sky was red; during the day, it was blackened by the smoke of the bombardments”, says the entrepreneur in new technologies contacted in Lviv, where he ended up finding refuge around mid-March after 15 days of hell.

To escape the danger, the family of Alexander Pavlenko holed up in the basement, without electricity and without means of communication. His generator quickly ran out of fuel. The food was rotting in the refrigerator. And it was only on the roof of his house that Alexander sometimes managed to catch bits of news, to find out what was going on.


Alexander Pavlenko and his son, in their house in Boutcha

On the first day of the offensive launched on February 24 by Vladimir Putin, the Russian army attacked Hostomel airport, near Kyiv.

The airport is located just a few kilometers from Boutcha, a pretty suburban town where Alexander Pavlenko had settled with his family.

Renowned for its park, its river, its majestic pines and its spas, the town of Boutcha attracts middle-class families who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital. Once synonymous with calm and greenery, the city has now become a symbol of barbarism.

When the Ukrainian army liberated it, after more than a month of Russian occupation, it discovered streets littered with corpses.

In Yablonskaya Street alone, one of the main arteries of the city, “more than 50 bodies of men, women, children and elderly people were lying on the sidewalks, in the middle of the street”, testifies Taras Chapravski, door -word of the town hall, in interview with The Press.

Some bodies bore signs of abuse, said the man who fled the city on March 12, 17 days after the start of the Russian invasion. “The corpses had their eyes gouged out, you can clearly see that they were tortured. »

The municipal administration of Boutcha estimates the number of victims at at least 340.


The town of Boutcha

A report on possible war crimes in Ukraine, released Sunday by Human Rights Watch, documents a case where Russian soldiers surrounded five men in Boutcha, asking them to kneel down and pull up their t-shirts, before shoot one of them.

HRW investigators dispatched to Boutcha since the town’s liberation confirm that there are a “large number” of bodies across the town, said the organization’s spokesman, Hugh Williamson.

“My colleague there told me that in Boutcha, death is everywhere. »

prisoners of horror

On February 23, a day before the Russian assault on Ukraine, Alexander Pavlenko decided to take his car to the garage for repairs. The tension was mounting. Better to be prepared for any eventuality.

He was never able to get his car back. The next morning, his wife, Anastasia, woke him up at 5 a.m. announcing, “The war has begun. »


Alexander Pavlenko’s wife and their two children

Within days, the Russian army took Hostomel and its airport, then the nearby towns of Irpin and Vorzel.

“All exits from Boutcha were closed because the bridges were destroyed,” says Alexander Pavlenko.

The Russian army was rushing towards Kyiv. And Boutcha was on his way.

Boutcha quickly turned into a ghost town. Businesses have closed, including the mechanical workshop where Alexander Pavlenko left his car.

The Russian army could not conquer the capital as quickly as it had imagined. At the beginning of March, there was a change of strategy, relates Taras Chapravski. “The army regrouped its forces and that is where it fully occupied Boutcha. »

horror weeks

It was from there that the horror began.

According to Taras Chapravski, the city was divided into five sectors, each subject to an army division. “The worst were the Chechens. Those who are called the “kadyrovtsy”, named after Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic.

“When we passed Russian soldiers in the street, they told us that they had come to save us from the Nazis and the Americans,” says Taras Chapravski.

And they did not hesitate to shoot at civilians, without warning, said the Boutcha spokesman.

One of her friends, Margarita Tchikmariova, wanted to flee Boutcha from the first days of the occupation, with her husband and their two daughters.

“Russian soldiers fired at them, the car went up in flames, they all died. »

Alexander Pavlenko tells the story of a neighbor who went on a bicycle to look for food with his son. “They got shot, my neighbor was killed instantly, his son was injured, he pretended to be dead, he survived. »

A slightly more distant neighbour, Vasil Kladko, a renowned physicist, was coldly shot by soldiers who came to his house. “It looked like they had lists of people to shoot. »

Taras Chapravski confirms that the Russian soldiers “went from house to house, tearing down doors, confiscating SIM cards from phones to prevent the townspeople from revealing their location to the Ukrainian army”.

The Russian occupier has installed his household in public buildings, schools. Tanks took up position on private land and fired into the middle of civilian areas. “The house of one of my neighbors was destroyed, my sister’s apartment was hit by artillery fire,” says Alexander Pavlenko.

According to Taras Chapravski, these weeks of occupation were particularly bloody in the very first days, then towards the end. “The soldiers must have felt that they were going to have to withdraw. »

The most difficult during these two long weeks during which Alexander Pavlenko had to learn to “optimize” his food reserves and to cook on his wood-burning fireplace?

“Calm down my children,” replies the father of two boys aged 4 and 7 without hesitation.


Children of Alexander Pavlenko

Two weeks after the start of the war, Alexander Pavlenko went out into the street and saw columns of people moving towards the center of Boutcha. They had heard of an impending evacuation.

“I ran home, I took a backpack, my wife, my children, my mother, my dog ​​and we walked with the others. »

Along the way, he met a neighbor, also on the run. “We all boarded his car. »

Butcha is a 10-minute drive from Kyiv. But it took them nine hours to get to the center of the capital. There were roadblocks. At times, the whole column was stopped for no apparent reason.

Along the way, he saw crushed cars, some with the inscription “children” on the bodywork.

He also saw corpses strewing the streets at the exit of Boutcha.

Boutcha’s case is not unique. Other cities liberated from Russian occupation, such as Sumy and Chernihiv, have experienced their share of abuses.

Like other Ukrainians, in the weeks before the outbreak of war, Alexander Pavlenko and his wife sensed that Russia was preparing to attack their country. That the threat of war was real.

“But no one here had imagined what happened. »

Russian army shoots cyclist in Boutcha

Alexander Pavlenko’s neighbor is not the only cyclist to have been killed by the Russian army in Boutcha. the New York Times released a video on Tuesday showing a civilian walking beside his bicycle at the intersection of a street occupied by Russian soldiers. As soon as the cyclist turns the corner, a Russian armored vehicle fires several bullets in the direction of the cyclist. A second armored vehicle also fires shots. A plume of smoke rises from the scene. The video was filmed by the Ukrainian military in early March as Russian forces held the town. A second video, taken a few weeks later, after Russia withdrew from the city, confirms the death of the cyclist.

— Alice Girard-Bosse, The Press

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