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Shelling, Torture, and Suffering of Civilians: How Izium Lived Under Russian Occupation

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The town of Izium in the Kharkiv Region has been under Russian occupation for five months. Russians seized it on April 1 and kept people under constant chaotic shelling and without communication. The Ukrainian flag flew once again over the city on September 10. 21-year-old Anastasiya Buhera, who lived with her parents under occupation and witnessed Russian crimes, shared her story with journalists. 

The young woman managed to leave Izium before the Ukrainian military liberated the city, but she has yet to find peace. Her loved one was taken prisoner in Mariupol. There hasn’t been any information about him for several months. 

Start of the invasion and shelling of civilians

Anastasiya came to her parents in Izium for the New Year holidays and stayed there due to a Coronavirus outbreak and was no longer able to leave the city:

“I celebrated my birthday, February 28, in a cold basement, I was dressed in several pairs of pants and sweaters, a warm jacket, covered with blankets. On the night of February 27-28, the Russian military shelled the city for the first time. And they fired not at military targets, but at a house with civilians and a supermarket. And since then, that is, since February 28, the constant shelling has not stopped.” 

The next day, the heating in Izium was cut off: Anastasiya’s family heated the house with a small fireplace but had to sleep in three pairs of socks and with a jacket at the ready to be able to shelter in case of shelling.
“For several weeks the Russian military was constantly making airstrikes. When we were in the basement during an explosion, the doors were tightly closed, but they would still open. Over the course of less than an hour, we could hear at least 10 bombs explode”. 

On March 3, the city lost all power and water, and people had to use wells to draw the latter. The Russian military shelled civilians when they were standing in line for food and medicine, which were not available in the city, and stole cars.

Life under occupation

When the Russian army captured part of the city, the shelling did not stop. The invaders shot at Ukrainian soldiers, but the shells deviated and killed civilians:

“One family was moving from the house to the basement during the shelling, but unfortunately they did not make it in time and the whole family was killed, only a 4-year-old boy survived. He was left without his mother, sister, and grandparents. I lived every day in terrible informational fear. Before going to bed, I asked myself: “Will I wake up tomorrow? Will I have tomorrow?”.

After the Russian army completely entered the city, the shelling did not stop. The problem with access to food and medicines, which had to be ordered from friends who came from Russia, did not disappear. Food was also brought from there, at a much steeper price. There were cash shortages in the city, it was impossible to withdraw it from ATMs, and there no other type of payment was available. Later on, money could be withdrawn with a commission of 35%.

When people asked to solve the issue with electricity, they were told “to address their Zelenskyy”, since it was alleged that it was him who had bombed every transformer in the city. 

Russian invaders issued rations and humanitarian kits for working in the hospital and for collaborating. Anastasiya said that those who collaborated with the Russians were given better humanitarian aid.

“There was a case, about two weeks before I left, they were handing out bread. I had to come with my passport. They said that I had to sign with the same signature as in the passport. I said that I didn’t eat bread much, took my passport, and left. I was removed from the list for humanitarian aid and I did not receive it anymore”, the young woman said.

Anastasiya recalled that the invaders were very at ease in the city, they looted and lived only in houses with well-renovated interiors:

“We had a school where every classroom had all the necessary equipment: laptops, printers. There is nothing left from the school. There was a kitchen in the school, which hadn’t been opened. There was new furniture. As we were later told, there were only 10% of the desks left.”

The constant shelling of civilian houses did not stop: shells were hitting all over the city. One of them landed in the yard of Anastasiya’s grandmother. The woman miraculously survived, only because she managed to leave the house in time. 

Anastasiya was injured:

“About three months ago, dud shells were also being fired and one of them fell across from us. It lay there for a month before Russian combat engineers arrived, they said they would blow it up, “do not worry, we are just warning you”. My parents asked if we should take shelter. They said we didn’t. We were sitting and heard a very loud explosion. It was the submunitions: they were hitting the roof of the house, and the windows were broken. There were fragments scattered all over the yard. And when I was cleaning the glass that was shattered, I accidentally lodged a sizeable piece in my leg”.

Local residents were tortured and electrocuted:

“In our city, men were taken away, beaten, interrogated with electrocution, some returned barely alive, some didn’t return.”

Anastasiya’s mother, who worked as a teacher, was forced to leave Izium because the invaders pressured her to go to work. Anastasiya did not want to leave the city at first, because she was worried about her parents.

Then, when the Russian army approached Izium, there was no such opportunity because of the shelling. The first time she was going to leave, everything went wrong: on that day the Russian army shelled the evacuation convoy. 

The second attempt to leave after five months of occupation was successful.

Boyfriend in Russian captivity

One day during the occupation, Anastasiya received a video from her boyfriend from Azovstal, which took three days to load due to poor connection:

“In that video, he said that Mariupol was completely surrounded and that he was at Azovstal, that they wanted to eat, drink, but they did not have any. They had no strength, they were fainting from hunger, but they continued to defend each of us, continued to fight.” 

Since April 24, Anastasiya has not heard from him. The International Committee of the Red Cross cannot get to the prisoners to provide any clue about his current condition:

“I saw him in a video posted by Russians from captivity. He is beaten, thin, injured. Russians do not follow any rules, any agreements, any values. I call him and write messages all the time. But I never get an answer. I have a mobile phone, I have a good signal, Internet connection, but I cannot communicate with my loved one in the XXI century because of the arrival of some tribe of cannibals.”

Anastasiya now dreams of finally seeing her boyfriend and telling him how much she loves him. 

Until then, she can only dream, hugging the doll he gave her.

Diana Zubar

This article was created by Bihus.Info as part of the project “EU Urgent Support for Civil Society” implemented by ISAR Ednannia with the financial support of the European Union. The content of the article is the sole responsibility of Bihus.Info and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union.

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