“The Invaders Saw Us As Targets, Not People”: A Month Under Occupation in Chernihiv Region


In 2017, the country learned about Pryputni. A small village in the Pryluky District of the Chernihiv Region became the setting and one of the characters of Arkadii Nepytaliuk’s tragicomedy The Strayed. Five years later, the village made headlines again. The comedy part was missing this time.

“In the morning of the 24th, I was woken up by an unusual ringing in my ears. It was as if something was buzzing and booming far away. A few minutes later, my neighbor, old Mykola, came to the house and said: “Svieta, looks like it’s a war”. The next day, Russian tanks were moving in columns past the houses”, Svitlana described. 

While this isn’t the first time the woman talked about the occupation, she admitted that each time, it hurt to remember that period, given that the war hasn’t ended and the invaders haven’t been driven out of her country. 

From February 25 to March 30, while the invaders’ vehicles were near the village, the shelling rarely stopped. Columns of armored vehicles drove through the village almost every day. They were moving towards Dorohynka and further to Nizhyn, or the other way, to Ichnia. They often returned already burnt, with angry soldiers, so it was best to stay hidden. They could burn the house, and even kill.

“Apparently, we were saved by the fact that they located their headquarters a little further from our village. They made dugouts in the forest, cut up trees with their tanks, and burned them. They were not particularly afraid of artillery, our military couldn’t reach them back then. 

But when they started driving through the village, everyone hid in their houses and basements. Shooting at people with a machine gun or assault rifle was something like entertainment for them. It was as if we were targets in a shooting range. It’s not that they hated us, it’s just that the invaders saw us not as people, but targets to empty a clip at,” Svitlana recalled.

In this manner, a local resident Mykola Kubrak was killed by the invaders. The village head Anatoliy Senko said that Mykola just didn’t hide in time when a Russian column arrived: “He was riding a bicycle. He was about 300 meters away from the column that was just turning the corner. We heard two shots and he fell. There was a person, and now he’s gone”.

The Russians didn’t stay in the village long but still managed to do plenty of damage. They would strafe a house with a machine gun, shoot and steal some chickens, or just drive through the yard, destroying a house for fun. The “People Live Here” inscriptions on fences made them laugh more than they did stop them.

“Many thought that we would avoid active hostilities. The village is far away from the main routes or roads. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as expected. Already in mid-March, several villagers successfully evacuated. However, it is difficult to say how adventurous the decision was because there was no point in going towards Chernihiv – it was surrounded, and Kyiv was no better. Taking a risk and fleeing somewhere towards the Poltava Region meant crossing the highway, which was being used by the enemy to move vehicles from Sumy [Region] to Kyiv. In short, evacuating was more likely a way for people to reunite with relatives living in neighboring villages.” 

A month of continuous shelling and frequent movements of military vehicles plagued the village. A humanitarian aid delivery was finally made to the village at the end of March when it appeared that the Russians were retreating from their positions. It was distributed at a local store. 

“As I remember now, it was March 30. We had just started to distribute food to people, and then we heard a rumble and shots fired. Everyone scattered, there were about several hundred villagers, and we saw them coming. An APC drove into the store, they jumped out and began grabbing everything they could see. And then they wandered through the houses, taking mostly food. Valuables only if they saw them lying in the open. Everywhere we heard shouts, shots, it seemed that the Russians decided to stay in this place, so everyone tried to either hide somewhere deeper or vice versa, to run away while the column was still there. Half a day passed, and the Russians started their vehicles, loaded the loot, and left. That was the last time we saw them here. Hopefully, we won’t see them again until the war is over”, Senko concluded.

Now, the village head said, the village is gradually recovering. However, people couldn’t live in destroyed houses, so they left and didn’t return. Those who remained in Pryputni continue believing in a Ukrainian victory and rejoice in the fact that their village was liberated.

Pavlo Lisnychenko

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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