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War in Ukraine

I had to hide from Russian soldiers in a couch

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Anastasia Bugera, 21 graduated in Law from the National Aerospace University "Kharkiv Aviation Institute" named after M. E. Zhukovsky this year. Along with thousands of other Ukrainian students, she passed her graduating exams online because the city of Kharkiv, where the educational facility is located, has been under constant Russian attacks since the 24th of February. 

Speaking with Katapult Ukraine, Anastasia told about the events that took place in her hometownof Izyum, located in the Kharkiv region, after it was captured by Russians. The girl witnessed how the small town was completely destroyed as well as the house of her relatives where she was hiding during the Russian occupation.

Her situation was hardened by the fact, that her boyfriend was in Azovstal where he was later taken prisoner along with other Mariupol defenders. Now Anastasia, who believes that her boyfriend is tortured in the Russian prison, is applying to international organizations trying “to save his life”. We publish the story of Anastasia Bugera as she had told it us.

Beginning of the war 

“It all started on February 24 at around 4 in the morning. I woke up to the sound of explosions, went to the Internet and saw the address of the president of Russia that they had launched a special military operation.

“My parents and I immediately began to collect things of the first necessity like documents and hide everything in the basement. My boyfriend, who was a military man, called me that day from Mariupol. I was so scared for his life that I could not help crying while talking to him. 

“Next several days, along with other volunteers, I collected food and other aid for the Ukrainian army,” Anastasia said. 

On the eve of the 28th of February, the city of Izyum came under shelling, according to the young woman, who remembered the day because it was her birthday. 

“I spent the night to my birthday trying to warm up my body in the ice-cold basement. I lay under a cover, I was dressed in sweaters and a winter jacket, and it did not help much. That night, Russians shelled the town for the first time and it was not the military facilities they hit. They destroyed a house with civilians inside. A supermarket.”

Will I wake up tomorrow?

Starting from that night, the Russian troops subjected the town to everyday shelling, said Anastasia. 

“Since February 28th, the shelling has not stopped. On the third of March, they bombed the tower, which provided communal utilities. Starting from that day, we lived without central heat, water, electricity, mobile connection and the Internet. We knew nothing about what was going on in Ukraine. 

“For several weeks, Russians bombed the city from military planes. They could drop at least 10 bombs in less than an hour. 

“We were going to the wells to get some water. It was our daily routine. People helped each other by sharing bread and humanitarian aid. One such gathering, where people were sharing food, was bombed by Russians. A lot of civilians were killed,” Anastasia said.

From their basement, the young woman and her relatives could hear the explosions and shooting coming from the other part of the town. 

“We heard battles ongoing in the other part of our town. We heard Russians launching shells and the sound of explosions in another part of the city, where hundreds of Ukrainians were fighting. One of the shelling killed our neighbours. Before going to bed, I asked myself: ‘Will I wake up tomorrow? Will I live tomorrow?’”

Occupation

On the first of April, Izyum was captured by Russians who started looting houses and searching for locals who were militarily engaged, Anastasia said.

“One day, Russian soldiers broke into our house. My parents had managed to hide me in a couch. They were scared to death for me after the atrocities in Bucha and Irpin. My height is 175 cm, and I could barely fit into the niche for the bedclothes. I was lying in the dark in terror, suffocating from the lack of oxygen while the Russians were searching the place. They left 15 minutes later. My relatives pulled me out of my hiding place. I was barely alive.

“For people with health issues, the situation worsened even faster. Hospitals quickly ran out of medicines. Pharmacies and shops closed.

“Several weeks before I managed to leave the town, I witnessed helicopters constantly flying above our heads. We were falling to the ground because we did not know if they were going to bomb us. We were scared. They were circling around and then headed to eastern Ukraine to attack the Ukrainian army from the air, as we were being told,” Anastasia said.  

Destruction in Izyum after the Russian occupation, photo by Nina Lyashonok
Destruction in Izyum after the Russian occupation, photo by Nina Lyashonok

Unknown fate 

She heard nothing about her boyfriend for weeks before she managed to find a mobile connection. 

“I only knew that my boyfriend was under constant attacks in Mariupol. When I found a mobile connection I spent three days uploading a video message from him. In the video, he told that the city was surrounded by Russian soldiers and that he was in Azovstal. He and his comrades starved and did not have water but continued to fight. Every day Azovstal was subjected to vicious bombing.  

“Later I learned that my boyfriend was taken prisoner. It meant that he was to be tortured and even killed. Even in Izyum, we heard about locals who were taken by Russians and beaten almost to death. Some of those people did not return home. I have heard nothing about my boyfriend for several months. I do not know whether he has food or is he alive.”  

Photo from private archive Anastasia Bugera

Hear us, World! 

Anastasia lived in the Russian occupation for four months. Only recently she managed to leave the town. 

“It was four months of constant fear, shelling and hell. The Ukrainian Red Cross helped me to leave the town. When I found myself in safety, I could not stop crying and could not say a word. On the Internet, I found a video showing my boyfriend in a Russian prison. He had marks of beating on him. He was awfully skinny.

“Since the April of 24th, I have had no information about my boyfriend. Russians banned them from calling home. His phone has been dead for three months but I am calling him and writing him messages every day. Hundreds of relatives of other Mariupol defenders do the same.      

“We do not know if our beloved ones are alive. We are shouting: “Hear us, World! Help us to see our men alive!

“I have not seen my boyfriend since the beginning of the war. I need to see him. I need to take him by his hand and tell him: “I love you.”

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