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The Russians took over our place and literally crapped in every room, wherever they could squat
Sara, Entrepreneur
Destroyed Hostomel
We had a sixth sense about the war coming, so we planned to leave back in January. We settled in lodgings close to Lviv, and thought to repatriate to Israel from there. The war didn’t start in January, so we came back with all our things, even though we were still constantly in dread of something terrible.

Grads were positioned 200 yards from our house

On Feb. 16 there was troubling news again, and I kept my younger daughter home from school. We went to Hostomel where my older daughter and son in law have their house. But the war didn’t start that day either, and we came back to Kyiv again. And then on the 24th we were awakened by explosions…

Everything was packed and loaded into our two cars, so that at 5am we were already on our way to Hostomel. We thought that Kyiv would be bombed, and the suburbs would be spared. Also, the house there has a good bomb shelter that my husband built himself.

Early in the morning we were at the kids’ place and had spent 7,000 UAH on food, before the panic started. Our older daughter has a year old baby on formula, so we snapped up all baby food that we could find. We didn’t even check for kashrut even though we are observant.

Our water is brought up by electric pumps, but on the 27th a plane crashed into a the power line, and the substantiation exploded, which immediately took out our power, reception, water, and heat. There was fighting by that time. We live close to the glass manufacturing plant, where Russians set up cannons and Grads, 200 yards from our house. One of them fired on Kyiv where my brother lives in the Vinogradar neighborhood. The rounds from Hostomel reached his part of town: a mall was hit, all windows were blasted out.

Destroyed Hostomel
We could not leave Hostomel: the bridge was blown up. When the water ran out, we used spades to collect snow from the deck, and then melted it in the bathrooms. We heated up the water for the baby in the fireplace and had to get up periodically through the night to do it.

We had to go to the toilet outside: there was no flushing inside. There was really bad shelling, something fell in the area and burned, but what can you do? Then we found out that it was the supermarkets where we shopped on that first day that were burning down.

We had four cars, and at 10 am I would turn on the radio in the garage to understand what world we were in. We lived under constant shelling. Mostly we stayed in the basement, and when the shelling quieted down a bit, we came outside to cook food on the fire. We had wood and boiled rain water in aluminum pots.

We had stocked up on food, but after the power went out, all fridges turned off. We had a huge freezer full of kosher meat, and it all went bad.

The Russian tank started to turn its turret towards us

On March 2nd we woke up from a terrible shelling; I ran to the garage, listened to the radio, and suggested that we should leave immediately. Friends invited us to join them at Anatevka (a refugee village close to Kyiv that was built with funding from the Jewish community – ed.). But the road there goes through the Zhitomyr highway, and Russian tanks were already stationed there. And we still had to get to the highway through Bucha, on the border with which our neighborhood is located.

When Russians came into the city, they didn’t let anyone out of the apartments for 3-4 days, and there was no water, no gas, no power.
Anyway, we decided to leave in two SUVs. In Bucha a Russian tank started to turn its turret towards us. My husband said that as it was revolving, we would turn onto the side street. And our two cars darted on a side street. We were really lucky getting through the railroad crossing: the Russians haven’t reached it yet, but on the Zhitomyr highway there was a Ukrainian army checkpoint. They said: there were enemy tanks ahead, and the only option was to cross the highway against the traffic at crazy speed. We have never broken the rules quite so flagrantly before.

So we made it through, and soon everything there got blown up. In Anatevka we were asked to pick up a pregnant Jewish woman from the maternity center at Worzel, but next day the town was captured, and the city was surrounded. That was on March 3rd. The young woman was under occupation for a month, and her American relatives ransomed her for $6000. She gave birth safely in Prague, but she has horror stories to tell.

Other friends ended up under occupation in Bucha. At first they wrote that the Russians were going door to door taking everyone’s phones, and then there was no connection with them. They said, tanks just kept firing wherever they could reach, usually they would aim for the windows from first to third floor. They hid in the bathroom.

When Russians came into the city, they didn’t let anyone out of the apartments for 3-4 days, and there was no water, no gas, no power. Then they allowed people to come out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to cook food over fires. People disassembled beautiful wooden fences and took off the wire mesh: the fence turned into firewood, and the mesh worked as a grill, like on a barbecue.

Destroyed Hostomel Airport
Our friends lived in the center, by the stadium. It was a big apartment building, and they lived on the 7th floor. A rocket hit the 11th floor; people were killed. They had a car, but no gasoline. And so on March 8th, their neighbors gave them a bit of gasoline, and they managed to leave with other cars through an evacuation corridor. Approximately 200 cars left, but some Russians shot at them. Then the shot cars were pulled off, and the evacuation continued. Now these people are in Western Ukraine.

How the washing machine was pulled out I still don’t understand

As for us, Anatevka ended up under really bad shelling three days later, and everyone evacuated from there: first to Moldova, then to Romania, and then to Israel.

But we got out in time, because Russians came into Hostomel basically the day after we left. They took over our place and literally crapped in every room, wherever they could squat they would shit, even where they ate. Are they people or animals? And of course they stole a lot: the TV, washing machine, coffee machine, computers, kid toys, all of my son-in-law’s stuff, from t-shirts to jackets to shoes. How they got the washing machine out, I don’t understand: it was huge. They tried to pull out a big double-door fridge from the neighbor’s house and couldn’t get it through the door, so they just broke it.

And of course they took all the small items for themselves, jewelry etc. But they left us a lot of their food, whole boxes of Russian military rations. And they left their clothes: they changed into the clothes of our son-in-law and the neighbor, and left their own clothes (the investigating authorities picked them up).

They destroyed two cars. They were looking for gasoline, but they didn’t just open the tank, but cut out the back seats, tore out the doors, made a hole in the tank and put a pipe in, so now there is just a pile of metal left.

Photo courtesy of State Emergency Service of Ukraine
There was a car close to our house with people who were trying to escape: they were all shot, the husband, the wife, and two children.
And finally to top it all off, they mined the house! But my son-in-law works at the Department of Emergency Services and was able to get into the house immediately after liberation (he sent me photos and videos of what he saw). He came in after the demining experts were done of course. And even before that an electrician had tried to restore power and died: there was a trip-wire on the pole.

There was a car close to our house with people who were trying to escape: they were all shot, the husband, the wife, and two children. The demining team found them. My son-in-law sends me just a few photos at a time: I feel sick looking at them.

We found out much later that Russians shot a family of our neighbors. Another neighbor wrote that he returned home and found his wife shot, and her body had already partially decomposed.

There is a reverse situation too. A friend lives in the village of Moschun; it’s past Hostomel. Russians took over their place too. They drank all the alcohol (same as in our house), and apparently that’s how the Ukrainian army found them and killed them. And when the owners returned they saw the corpses of Russians all over the house, in their own urine and shit.

We are now in Haifa, watching the events in Ukraine and here in Israel; we are always checking the news. We only hope is that this will soon end.

The testimony was chronicled on May 5, 2022

Translation: Dr. Mariya Gyendina