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“We Still Don’t Know Exactly How Many of Our People Were Killed”: Russians Airstriked Villages in the Chernihiv Region and Opened Fire from Tanks

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From the first days of the full-scale invasion by Russian troops, the Chernihiv Region experienced the horrors of war. Villages that were unlucky to be situated near the border or on either side of the main roads leading to the regional center were the first to fall under shelling and airstrikes. Later, under occupation.

Dibrovne, Chernysh, Berezanka, Novoselivka, and many other settlements along the line of the invaders’ offensive have been indiscriminately bombed by Russian aircraft since February. The houses of local residents were fired at by tanks passing through the villages.

This what Aliona Kiriyenko, a resident of the Chernysh village, saw upon returning home

At the time of the Russian invasion, Aliona was abroad and did not see the February 26 air raid. However, she was there to see the aftermath. A shell hit the house that used to be her family’s home. It was smashed to pieces: “Neighbours said they tried to save the remains of the house but in vain. A direct hit. Now it’s in ruins.”

Half of the houses in the village of Novoselivka, a suburb of Chernihiv, now look like Aliona’s. First, the village was bombed by aircraft, and then tanks drove down the main street. Fighting their way into Chernihiv, the Russians were chaotically firing at houses with everything they had. As a consequence, no more than 20% of the houses in the village were left standing.

Volodymyr, a local resident who was able to flee to Chernihiv in the first weeks of the war, says that the invaders’ planes dropped bombs on the residential areas almost daily. The man wanted to remain anonymous, saying that the war made all Ukrainian equal and united. No matter what your last name is, where you work or how much you earn, you are one of us if you support Ukraine.

“Although we are located ten kilometers away from the city [Chernihiv], we have been considered part of the regional center for quite a long time. They must have shelled the area because they thought we might have some kind of defense line or something. In any case, ordinary people suffered. Houses were destroyed and the wounded had to be evacuated every day. Some were hit by shrapnel, some by debris. The dead were left under the rubble… What could we do? Civilians versus airplanes,” Volodymyr states.

Lisova Street suffered the most, says another local resident, Yuriy. The once nice green street of two dozen houses was turned into a mixture of bricks, earth, and trees by aircraft bombs: “Buildings were simply blown apart by direct hits. The shockwave blew the roofs off even on a neighboring street.”

Yuriy sent his family away from the border at the beginning of the war, while he stayed behind, and, as he admits, lived through the most terrible weeks of his life. “It seemed impossible to get used to the whistling of shells, explosions, the pounding of tanks, machine guns. All this is not frightening and makes you look for hiding places, gathering those around you who you know and who at least somehow ties you to reality. But we’ve really gotten used to it during this time, and now that the Russians were finally driven out, there’s silence pressing on our ears. But we’ll rebuild, there is no other option.”

The invading troops planned to enter Chernihiv by passing through Novoselivka. However, after destroying the civilian infrastructure, and wiping out entire streets, not a single military facility was found, they entrenched themselves and attacked the regional center of Chernihiv time and again.

“We still don’t really know how many of our people died. Some did not live there all the time and left at once, others blew up on mines, and some were shot by Russians while they were staying with us. At first, they used to shoot at everything in sight. If you went out in the street, you would hear shots in your direction, if you banged something in the yard, you would hear shots again, so it was better to be as inconspicuous and quiet as possible,” Yuriy recalls his experiences in early March.

After the liberation, villagers return home. People are gradually dismantling the rubble, looking for their things, and assessing whether it is feasible to rebuild what was destroyed. As of the end of May, there is still a problem with communication in the villages. However, the most important thing for people is that they no longer have to hide from air raids.

Pavlo Lisnychenko

This article was produced by Bihus.Info as part of the program “Supporting Ukraine’s Regional Media in Times of War” with the financial support of the European Union and the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of Norway. The content is the sole responsibility of Bihus.Info and does not reflect the views of the European Union, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

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