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“They Burned Everything They Couldn’t Carry”: Russians Have Been Pillaging a Village Near Chernihiv for a Month

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Looting, constant shooting, and columns of Russian vehicles. This is how Oleksandr recalls the month of the occupation of Shestovytsia village. He was one of those who didn’t manage to leave the village near Chernihiv in the first days of the full-scale Russian offensive.

There were fewer than five hundred residents here before the war. The regional center is less than 20 kilometers away. 

It has always been convenient to live here. Even if the roads are not very smooth, if you are ready to work, there is always an option, if you go to Chernihiv, you will get there, and back – Route 95, and there is a bridge over the Desna and Kyiv is not so far away. Not bad. It seemed so before the war. The same “convenience” played a cruel joke with us when on [February] 28th Russian vehicles entered the village”, recalled Oleksandr.

According to the villagers, the local Territorial Defense soldiers understood that they would not be able to defend the village on their own. They had neither enough manpower nor firepower. So they decided to withdraw to Chernihiv. 

Maybe it saved them. And maybe it saved us,” Oleksandr said. “At night, we could only see vehicles roaring through the village. They were coming from the direction of Mykhailo-Kotsiubynske. This town is not far from here. There was no resistance, no shooting from our side, which is probably why they did not open fire on us. As a matter of fact, they shot from their rifles above the houses in order to frighten people. The worst started later”. 

Though the Russian military did not heavily shell the village, they looted everything in sight. At first, they looted a few local shops, broke into people’s houses, demanding food, equipment, and clothing. 

It should be noted that looting is a violation of the Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which was ratified by Ukraine in 1991.

It looked savage, although, after a month of occupation, we got used to it,” said the village head Serhiy Medvediev. “They took everything: phones, kettles, microwaves, clothes, blankets. Food, cigarettes, alcohol too. First and foremost, this. They were angry the most if they could not find something to drink. Considering that they settled in houses on the perimeter of the village, and stationed their vehicles there, they should have understood that we simply didn’t have anywhere to take any supplies from.” 

In mid-March, when the Russians had already “settled in” and began to recognize locals, the residents of Shestovytsia managed to get humanitarian aid – some food and medicine – from neighboring villages several times. Men were let out only to get water and even then only at dawn. 

Oleksandr recalled: “As soon as it starts to get dark, we would go to the house, closer to the cellar, just in case. That’s how we lived. Then, our military began to attack the positions of the Russians. On the one hand, it was scary – they were putting their vehicles right between the houses, and on the other hand, whenever you went out the next day, you would see new broken tanks or  Smerchs. However, they also realized that the Armed Forces of Ukraine hit accurately and withdrew heavy weapons closer to the forest in a few days. It was just on March 8, a holiday. Our guys have made us a present, so to speak.” 

According to the man, Russians displayed a variety of attitudes toward the locals. More precisely, the soldiers themselves were different, some crueler, others less. Fortunately, it did not come to torture, as in the neighboring villages, but they could easily get hit with a rifle on the head. The Russians also sometimes shot up cars or houses for sport. 

My namesake, also a Sasha, has not been found still. We were not very well acquainted, but still, fellow villagers. One day there was a rumor among the Russians that someone from the locals was spotting for Ukrainian artillery. Our guys were hitting them very well. And that’s it, Sasha disappeared, as if he never existed. I do not know whether he was killed or taken away”, the man recalled.

The farm of the local enterprise Lan was significantly affected by the “presence” of Russians. The invaders occupied it and set up their headquarters there. The owner’s son Serhiy Luhyna, commenting on the period of occupation, said that after the withdrawal of Russian troops, no territory was left unmined and unlooted.

After the de-occupation, sappers will be collecting tons of dangerous finds, anticipating years of work. 

Meanwhile, Serhiy told: “In fact, all the vehicles stood disassembled. In a barbaric way, they pulled out parts with “meat” on them. It seemed that they did not know what they were taking and did that as if just to steal something. They burned everything they couldn’t carry. The fact that the premises remained relatively intact seems to me a lucky accident. We were even able to sow our land. Although it is still perilous, there are still plenty of surprises such as mines lurking in the fields.” 

Unlike the farm premises, Kolektyvna Str. was blown to smithereens on both sides. The invaders’ vehicles were hiding almost under the roofs of the houses, so the Armed Forces had no choice but to shell those. Fortunately, the locals understood what was going on, so they moved to their friends and relatives if a Russian tank or infantry fighting vehicle entered their yard. 

At first we thought that we would be left alone. The house is actually on the edge of the street. Rashists on their vehicles did not come to us, but when they began to retreat under the onslaught of fire from Ukrainian soldiers, they drove indiscriminately through the houses. They also hit our house, in fact, knocked down one of the walls. And then they shot through the second one. Ultimately, only the ground remained there”, Oksana shared her memories. She added: “That house was nothing. We were not dragged to the “basement” as our neighbors were. My husband’s ribs were broken, though, he was hit with a rifle butt when he was carrying water home in the evening and didn’t have a cigarette for a Russian patrol. Still, this month under occupation showed us that we can persevere. We can and we will definitely persevere. Because this is our land and our country. And that’s clearly the only one we have.

The village head Serhiy Medvediev emphasized that they have begun to restore the partially destroyed houses. Residents who survived the occupation and those who have only recently returned to their homes are helping the restoration effort. However, the houses of which only the walls remained will have to wait until the end of the war.

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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