Ukrainian villagers who are being held in the basement have painted their stories on the walls


For nearly a month, the calendar sketched in black chalk on the back of a door was the only way for dozens of people trapped in the damp, filthy room to track their time as the jail’s inmates Russian invaders.

With no phones or access to the outside world, they knew the only way to stay sane in such atrocious conditions was to count each day as it passed. So they did. Under the words “March 2022” they marked the letters representing the days of the week. The counts started on March 4th.

Rounded up and locked in the basement of the village school, the 37 people were among the nearly 400 residents of Yahidne who had to live down here for weeks, breathing and going to the toilet.

Inside, the air was still, there was no light, and the temperature was often freezing. Twelve people died.

Much of the Kyiv region is now a crime scene as authorities investigate evidence of Russian atrocities, including mass killings of civilians and rapes.

But it’s the walls of the rooms beneath Yahidnianska Secondary School that tell the haunting story of the terror the residents of Yahidne had to endure.

It started with the calendar. But soon the 380 hostages being held in four small rooms decided to record who had died underground due to poor ventilation and lack of access to medicines. Their names were written to the right of the calendar. On the left were the names of those who stayed in their homes and were killed.

But there were also signs of life – playful paintings of the 60 children who were also being held hostage. A large cat with a long mustache was painted on one wall, opposite
The children had sketched what had once been their village, complete with a shop, a soccer field, and tall, bushy trees.

In the room opposite, the peeling concrete walls were covered with red love hearts, palm trees, butterflies and a sun beneath the words “No War!!!”. in children’s handwriting.

This room was about twice the size of the other, but had housed almost four times as many prisoners – 136 people lived here.

Kateryna Balanovych, 60, shivered as she recalled the treatment they were subjected to and how their lives changed in a flash when the Russians invaded.

“Russian soldiers told us we would be transported to Russia and live in a Russian world under Putin,” she said. “They told us our village would become a military base and we would all be transported to Siberia.

“I thought I was going to say, ‘Shoot me. I’m not going anywhere This is my homeland, I live here, my grandchildren are all here. I will not leave my country. I’m not going anywhere’.”

She added that the villagers “prayed to God to stay alive” every day.

The behavior of the Russian soldiers was “disgusting,” she added. She explained that when the Russians ran out of food, they would come down to the basement and order a few villagers — at gunpoint — to go upstairs and collect food for them.

On these perilous journeys they would learn who had been killed. Some had been shot, others killed by shelling. Either way, they would document it on the wall.

The food they gathered was taken by the Russians in exchange for their unwanted military rations, which the soldiers apparently didn’t like.

When people died, whether in the shelter or above ground, the gravedigger at the local crematorium had only 20 minutes to bury as many people as possible.

To meet his deadline, Yurii Balanovych (39) had to put them in mass graves. Only after the liberation of the city can he begin the ceremonial burial of the deceased. Many are still half-covered in pits in the crematorium, which is believed to be lined with mines.

Ms. Balanovych has a hard time remembering that month underground, but she will never forget the ringing silence they woke up to on March 31st. It was a mark left by the soldiers. Her parting gift was to lock the villagers in the basement by placing a concrete slab against the door.

When the prisoners finally managed to escape, they could see that the tanks and military vehicles were gone. Someone found a phone discarded by the Russians and managed to make a call informing the Ukrainian army of their whereabouts.

“When the soldiers came, we hugged them, we were all very happy to see them,” Ms. Balanovych said.

But the Russians had left a trail of destruction in their wake. “They robbed everything,” she said as she scrolled down a list of looted items ranging from gold and microwave ovens to pillowcases and lingerie.

The soldiers laid mines, destroyed houses and even slaughtered cattle.

Returning home, Mrs. Balanovych found out that they had shot their prized cow. Even weeks later, just saying it brings tears to her eyes.

The village is still not safe. Unexploded rockets remain wedged in the ground, discarded grenades can be seen, and there are some roads impassable due to mines that have been laid and yet to be cleared.

However, some villagers have now returned on a trial basis and are working to clean up the school basement.

At the moment it is a horrifying reminder of the life of a civilian population forced to live in unimaginable conditions during the war.

A 101 Dalmatians duvet cover is still strewn on the floor as a child jumped out of a makeshift bed when told it was finally walking.

Coloring books remain stacked in a pile on a ledge. A checkerboard left in the middle of the game stands on a table.

They are just some of the items that paint a picture of what happened underground in this little-known village Ukraine. And of course the calendar.

“Our troops have come here,” Ms. Balanovych read aloud as she shone her flashlight over the March 31 entry. “Thank God,” she said. “Thank you God.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Ukrainian villagers who are being held in the basement have painted their stories on the walls

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