‘Thank you for not killing us’: How a mental health facility survived Russian siege

BORODIANKA, Ukraine — The 1st sign of difficulty was when a squad of Chechen soldiers burst by means of the gate.

They jumped from their Jeeps, combat boots hitting the pavement difficult, and purchased the 500 individuals and personnel of Borodianka’s distinctive-wants property into the courtyard, at gunpoint.

“We believed we ended up likely to be executed,” Maryna Hanitska, the home’s director, stated in an job interview this 7 days, days just after Russian forces withdrew from Borodianka.

She informed how the soldiers pulled out a digital camera. They barked at Hanitska to make anyone smile. Most of the individuals had been crying.

“We command you to say to the digital camera, ‘Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,’’’ the troopers demanded of Hanitska.

With a number of guns in her facial area, she claimed, she speedily ran by way of her selections. She would never ever thank Russia’s president, whom she experienced termed “a liar” and “a killer.”

But she did not want the soldiers to hurt everyone. So she managed to utter: “Thank you for not killing us.”

And then she fainted.

Consequently began a nightmarish ordeal at a Ukrainian psychological overall health facility in Borodianka, a little town with a couple of condominium blocks that lies at a strategic intersection about 50 miles northwest of the capital, Kyiv.

In far more than a dozen interviews executed in the previous two days in Borodianka and other towns in the devastated locations close to Kyiv, villagers explained the Russian soldiers as brutal, sadistic, sick-disciplined and juvenile. The villagers’ accounts could not be independently confirmed, but they have been steady with other studies and visual proof about Russian actions in the area.

The siege at the mental well being facility dragged on for weeks, for the duration of which the constructing shed heat, h2o and electrical energy, and far more than a dozen clients lost their lives. What unfolded there signifies the depths of despair and at the same time remarkable pluck under a quick but harrowing Russian occupation.

All through the regions of Ukraine not long ago liberated from a monthlong Russian profession, a long string of disturbing tales is rising of terror and loss of life that Russian soldiers inflicted on unarmed Ukrainian civilians beneath their management.

Each day, Ukrainian investigators action into a dank cellar or muddy field or someone’s backyard and explore bodies of villagers who were shot in the head or bear signs of torture. Far more accounts are surfacing of civilians becoming held as human shields and some dying from lack of food items, drinking water or warmth. On Friday, Ukrainian officers said Russian forces experienced killed at the very least 900 civilians as they withdrew from the Kyiv location.

Much of this distress was meted out in modest cities close to Kyiv, wherever the Russians occupied a large swath in the early days of the war but had been driven out two weeks in the past by a lot less-outfitted but a great deal far more decided Ukrainian forces.

Directors at Borodianka’s mental well being property explained Russian soldiers robbed their pharmacy of rubbing alcohol to drink. Villagers in other spots mentioned they stole bedsheets and sneakers and they defaced many of the households they took around with childish graffiti. Workers at the mental wellbeing household also said that on their way out, Russian soldiers scrawled profane messages on the partitions — in human excrement.

“I threw up when I saw that,” Hanitska said. “I do not comprehend how they were raised, by whom, and who could do this.”

Lypivka, a blip of a village dwarfed by immense wheat fields, was occupied by Russian troopers right up until March 31. In this article, villagers stated the Russians double-crossed them.

Some village women experienced begged Russian commanders for permission to evacuate, and the Russians appeared to concur. So on March 12, a team of older adult men, gals and young children piled into 14 autos and slowly and gradually began to travel to what they thought would be safety.

“All of us had white flags and we had authorization,” mentioned Valriy Tymchuk, a shopkeeper, who drove a minibus in the convoy.

But then Russian armored staff carriers swiveled their turrets towards them, villagers said. A shell ripped into the first automobile. And then yet another. And then one more.

The convoy turned into a fireball.

Tymchuk reported he noticed a loved ones of 4, together with a youthful baby, trapped in their auto and engulfed in flames. Many of the singed cars are continue to on the street. The charred bones of that kid are nonetheless in again seat, Tymchuk explained. What appeared to be parts of bone had been scattered amid the blackened metallic and heaps of ash.

Subsequent to the cars lay two useless puppies, their fur singed.

Tymchuk hardly escaped after his minibus was hit and shrapnel sliced into his facial area.

He shook his head when requested why he believed the Russians did this.

“They are zombies,” he explained.

These villages were on the entrance line, element of Russia’s unsuccessful attempt to encircle and seize Kyiv. The very same was true of Bucha, another village north of Kyiv and the internet site of the worst atrocities nevertheless identified. All these destinations are tranquil now, letting forensic investigators to do their function. And the a lot more they glimpse, the far more they find.

In Makariv, yet another smaller town in close proximity to Kyiv, authorities explained they just lately found more than 20 corpses, in unique yards and homes, numerous bearing marks of torture. In the Brovary spot, farther east, police officers just discovered six bodies in a cellar, all adult males who seemingly experienced been executed.

“We have witnessed bodies with knife wounds and marks of beatings, and some with their palms tied with tape,” mentioned Oleksandr Omelyanenko, a police official in the Kyiv region.

“The destinations hardest hit,” he additional, “were occupied the longest.”

That was the story for Borodianka and the Borodianka Psychoneurological Nursing House.

Hanitska, a 43-calendar year-aged former school headmaster, claimed she viewed from the windows of the 3-story exclusive-requirements setting up as the Russian vehicles poured in. She counted 500.

Then, concerned about snipers, the Russians began shelling condominium blocs lining the streets, and dozens of residents died less than a cascade of rubble, according to crisis company officials.

The shock waves rattled the distinctive-desires home, built in the 1970s to present for grownups with neurological and psychological disorders. Hanitska mentioned some of her clients turned aggressive, and three even escaped and have nonetheless to be located. Other individuals ended up terrified and curled up beneath their beds and in their closets.

“It was much more than 10 periods scary,” mentioned Ihor Nikolaenko, a affected individual.

On March 5, it obtained worse.

That’s when the Chechens showed up. Chechen troops are particularly dreaded, considered to be much more ruthless than other Russians, a consequence of a long time of their possess unsuccessful separatist war from Russia’s central governing administration.

Hanitska and other staff members members explained they could notify the troops ended up Chechen by their mild-coloured beards and the language they spoke amongst themselves. Ukrainian authorities posted messages on social media in which they referred to the Chechens and warned them not to hurt the clients.

“These are typically unwell people with developmental disabilities,” Oleksandr Pavliuk, a senior Ukrainian navy official, reported in a statement. “But these are our people today and we are unable to and will never ever depart them.”

By this point, for some folks inside, it was as well late. Hanitska explained her to start with affected person died from publicity to the chilly in late February. By early March, a fifty percent-dozen extra handed absent. In full, she lost 13.

It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit inside of the setting up, even colder exterior. There was no warmth, no electrical energy, no jogging h2o and little food items. Borodianka was under siege, after all.

“We commenced consuming water from the pond,” Hanitska explained. “We all bought sick.”

The Chechen contingent mysteriously withdrew the exact same working day it arrived, but other Russians took their area. They did not let any person to leave the making, even to go outdoors to look for for foodstuff, and they ringed the making with artillery, mortars and weighty guns, knowing the Ukrainians would be unwilling to strike it.

“We became human shields,” explained Taisia Tyschkevych, the home’s accountant.

The Russians took everyone’s cell phone. Or practically everyone’s.

Hanitska stated she hid hers and employed it to converse secretly. She would peek out the window of the nurse’s business and place Russian motor vehicles, she reported, and then textual content the specifics to Ukrainian forces. “They had been hitting the Russians,” she mentioned. “If we hadn’t carried out this, the fighting would be going on in Kyiv.”

Quite a few Ukrainian civilians have served like this, Ukrainian officers said.

Even though spying on the Russians, Hanitska also cooked foods on a fire exterior, hustled sufferers into the basement when the artillery grew to become deafening, established up sleeping spaces in the corridors for dozens far more folks who fled the bombed buildings in town, and flocked to her facility for shelter, and — more than anything at all else — assisted calm everyone’s nerves.

On March 13, Hanitska peered out the exact window and for the initial time in weeks noticed one thing that lifted her heart: a convoy of yellow buses. She burst out the gate.

“I was possibly likely to get shot,” she reported. “Or preserve persons.”

Humanitarian workers had structured a rescue and the Russians ultimately permitted the clients to depart. They have been bused to other facilities in a lot less-contested parts.

Hanitska is difficult but humble with a dry feeling of humor.

Asked how extensive she experienced been doing work at the home, she laughed.

“Two months,” she claimed. “I guess you could say I’m fortunate.”