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The Russians broke down the doors of every apartment in our building
Natalia Schwartz, merchandiser
An entryway after Russian shelling

Photo: Natalia Shwartz
My neighbor called at 4:40 am on February 24th and said: “Natasha, they are bombing us.” My husband and I got up - it was scary, but not the first time for us. We had been through this before. We are originally from Donetsk and had been living in Bucha since 2017.

On March 2, a shell struck the side of our building

My husband took the car to the mechanic the night of the 23rd, and the repairs were supposed to take a week. The mechanic called the next day at 6 am: “Pick it up; we’re at war.”

By 7 am, we could see neighbors leaving the apartment building with their kids and suitcases, and immediately there were huge lines at the gas stations. It was a nightmare; everyone was trying to escape… The Rich Town apartment complex, where we rented our apartment, was right on the border with Hostomel, and the airport there was one of the first bombing targets. It was about 5 kilometers from us.

Fire in residential neighborhoods of Bucha after Russian shelling

Photo: Natalia Shwartz
We started hearing explosions after 9 am. There was heavy bombing the first 2-3 days. At the same time, they were also bombing Hostomel, and then planes came followed by helicopters. Those who did not manage to leave immediately almost stopped trying: it was very dangerous, and cars were being shot at. Everyone would go to the basements. We tried that too, but it was so cold there – impossibly cold. So we stayed home and hid from the bombing in the bathroom. We had electricity, water, and gas until March 1st.

On March 2 a shell hit the side of our building and cut the gas pipe along with it. By then the Russians already controlled part of the town. The men responded quickly, dragging out portable grills into the yard and even bringing a stove from the summer kitchen of an abandoned house. E very morning, we would all go down with kettles, pots and pans to boil some water, pour hot water over porridge , and make pasta or tea. And then the water was cut off. We were doing okay in terms of food, the neighbors left us their keys and told us to help ourselves to their supplies. We still had potatoes and canned food. The real issue was medicine . The pharmacy in our community closed back in February, and there was only one spot that worked until March 1st, and it always had huge lines.

And then the Russians arrived , and it was impossible to ever go outside because the shooting never stopped. We couldn’t even light a candle, as they said that it would draw fire. Once the sun set, you were stuck inside till morning.

20 Russian soldiers showed up on March 8th

We saw them just once: on March 8th, 20 Russian soldiers showed up. They were dressed all in black and in full gear, with weapons, and carrying grenade launchers in their hands . They came into our community, looked around, and wanted to take over the third and fourth floor to open return fire. We were located in this sweet spot between Hostomel, Irpin, and Bucha. And they were trying to take Kyiv, so all three directions had strategic importance.

There was an Epicenter shopping center across the street, and we saw a lot of shot up cars with dead bodies there. Some were lying next to the cars – entire families
Anyway, there was heavy fighting and they came with a map, telling us “we want to set up here.” One of our neighbors had such quick thinking, and told them “come on, look at this building: it’s made from brick and covered with siding. If someone shoots back at you, the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards.” They poked around for a while and left.
Nobody in our building died. My colleague (we worked in the same department) lived in Irpin, just 1.5 km away. Their apartment was on the 7th floor. She evacuated with their child, and her husband joined the territorial defense forces, so their 72-year old grandpa was left alone. And one of the rooms suffered a direct hit. A fire started, and he tried to save himself by starting to tie some sheets together, but got confused and fell out of the window to his death.

We tried to leave through the green corridor on March 9th. We walked to the city council building through the entire town carrying our suitcases, and there were tanks and APCs everywhere. The entire town showed up at 11 am, just as we were told. They said that once everyone is seated, we could take private cars to follow the buses. But this was not an option for us: after our house was hit, the back window of our car fell out. We also did not have any gas. So we stood there for two hours. It was very cold and we thought about going back, but some guys saw us walking back with our suitcases and offered us a place in their car.

We were waiting for the permission to send the buses until 1 pm, but it never came, and we decided to take our chances, so a huge procession of private cars, probably 500+, set off. We left at approximately 4:30 pm and rolled into Kyiv at 2:30 am. Before the war, that trip took less than half an hour.

The company where I worked burned to the ground

There was an Epicenter shopping center across the street, and we saw a lot of shot up cars with dead bodies there. Some were lying next to the cars – entire families. And sometimes the dead were sitting inside. These were the people who tried to leave by themselves; they were just shot.

We came to Bilhorodka, and the Ukrainian police were there along with volunteers. We could stop there to drink some tea and have a snack. In Kyiv we spent the night at a hotel, and in the morning the same guys gave us a ride to Khmelnitsky. It took us two days to get there through multiple checkpoints and with no gas. From Khmelnitsky, we went to Lviv and then to Dublyany, where we stayed till May 5th.

Destroyed civilian car with the body of the driver inside, Bucha, April 2, 2022
Photo: National Police of Ukraine, Wikipedia
The Russians only took some little things from our apartment: my husband’s shoes, his watch, a GPS navigator, a flashlight, and a drill. But those bastards shot two TVs, in the kitchen and in the living room. They made a huge mess, turned everything upside down and left the bathroom covered in shit
The company where I worked in Bucha was bombed and burned to the ground: our warehouses, fleet, everything. Only ruins remained. In May we came back to Bucha for a few days and vacated our apartment. My job gave me my final check; in other words, they laid me off.

We talked to a neighbor who did not leave. When there was heavy fighting in Irpin, the Russians fired back and then came back and used our community as a rest stop. And then they came up with this. We had a gym at our apartment complex , so they took a barbell from there and went from one section of the building to another, breaking down all doors. Sometimes it worked right away and if not, they punched a hole in the wall next to the door and took out the lock. So they got into all the apartments. We had two 7-floor apartment buildings and four 8-floor ones in the community. They took everything they wanted . They turned everything upside down and robbed all the apartments.

On March 22nd the Russians moved into our complex and started living here. The neighbors described it as seven days of hell. They went to the top floor and fired from there. All the basements were full of weapons. The poor people could not even peek outside, and the Russians fired from the windows.
But at least they didn’t touch the residents, only took everyone’s phones and destroyed them, even though there was no reception anyway.

They shot two TVs in our apartment: in the kitchen and the living room

On March 31st, they packed up and left within two hours, and lots of their stuff just remained where it was. The neighbors started coming outside. They were afraid of mines. Then they started going into the apartments and taking short videos.

They filmed our apartment as well, and the lobby with the doors kicked in. The Russians only took some little things from our apartment: my husband’s shoes, his watch, a GPS navigator, a flashlight, and a drill. But those bastards shot two TVs, in the kitchen and in the living room. They made a huge mess, turned everything upside down and left the bathroom covered in shit. They stole laptops and tablets from other neighbors, and even took some children’s furniture. They just brought a big truck and loaded everything they wanted into it.

The guys who helped us evacuate also kept in touch with their neighbors. They said that there was a tank driving among the houses with a truck following it. They literally drove into every yard, kicked down the door and carried everything out.

So, we decided to leave: first we went to Truskavets to the Jewish Agency's resort, then to Budapest, and then to Israel. Right now we are living with relatives in Petakh-Tikva and are looking for an apartment.

Natalia with her husband in Budapest
The testimony was chronicled on May 25, 2022

Translation: Dr. Mariya Gyendina