This is the story of Olga Simonova from Dymer, 50 kilometers north of Kyiv, which was occupied by the Russian army as a base for their assaults to the south. It was a time of great fear and uncertainty, as Simonova is still assessing the damage and searching for those who have disappeared.
KYIV — Olga remembers that the first military equipment started arriving in Dymer, her small hometown north of Kyiv, on Feb. 25. The next day, the lights went out. And then the "heat" started.
From their friends in Katyuzhanka, which is 10 kilometers away, the residents of Dymer found out that there were Russian guards stationed there. "We understood that something was wrong," says Olga. "They [the Russian army] believed that this was their land; they behaved like masters."
"During the first week, we were not very popular with them. They mocked us and went to the Lyutizky bridgehead. They had some kind of interest in that bridgehead. I do not know how to explain it, but the Russians followed the paths of the Germans in World War II and the Lyutizsky bridgehead was their main target. It is located 15 kilometers away from us. But because there was no electricity and the pumps on the dam stopped working, the Irpin river returned to its previous levels.
Olga explains that the occupying troops had to change their plans with the river filled back up. "The Russians tried to force their way across, but they were already met there by our troops," she recalled. "They came back very angry."
For the first few days, locals were able to evacuate from Dymer via a small bridge to Ivankiv, about 35 kilometers away — not by car, but by foot. All the bridges had been destroyed.
Within a week, the Russians began to entrench in Dymer. "I finally found out what a trench looks like," Olga says. "The Russians liked it here; there were a few stores. There were also a lot of factories where it was convenient to have equipment. They occupied the plant of a business that moved to us from Donetsk eight years ago. At the plant, the Russians developed their ammunition warehouse, and they started to actively take local people into the basement. They detained and killed them there."
Some captives were saved by a local man. "I don't know who that man was, but he knew from somewhere that the captives were being held there. Thanks to him, they were able to get out," Olga says.
The whole time the occupation lasted, Olga helped her mother working in the hospital.
"I always had a sense of guilt when I talked to them. They said: 'Olga, you don't know what it's like to be shot. Now, when we went into the bomb shelters and dragged the dogs in, I remembered those conversations and thought that now I knew what it was like to be shot at."
At the beginning of combat operations, the doctor began to receive injured people. "And along with the patients, a disaster. Our hospital had no surgical departments, so there were no adequate medications," says Olga. "I was looking everywhere to find the necessary medications. People were willing to help, but how can they get to us? All bridges are destroyed; one of the only crossings was closed for two months."
Olga received a phone call from friends who said that the Ministry of Health was collecting a list of medicines to somehow deliver them to the occupied territories. "Our mobile phones were jammed; you could only get them at the very roof of the hospital, where the pigeons were. And I ran there, trying to send information and photos of the victims to the Ministry of Health," says Olga.
Member of the Red Cross in a bombarded street, Ukraine
"The complete lack of information takes away hope. Without communication, we did not know what was happening in other places, and the Russians told us that they had already taken over half of Ukraine and would soon take over the river," Olga says. "But we still did not believe it, because we have our Ukrainian army, our angels and defenders. Our biggest dream was to see our troops."
They were as angry as dogs
Olga recounts another time the Russian troops came back very angry from one of their forays into Hostomel, a town 30 kilometers south, closer to Kyiv:
"They got bombed there, and they were as angry as dogs. And in three days they gathered again for Kyiv. Interestingly, they did not even know what was happening at other checkpoints — they had no connection with each other, and they had to destroy their phones because commanders said so."
Photo of a Ukrainian bombed out bridge
Three days before Russia announced that it would withdraw its troops from the region, their troops started going inside all the buildings and dragging belongings out of them.
"It's a shame I didn't take pictures of that military vehicle — it had everything in the world on it: chairs, carpets, chandeliers. Everything was piled up, tied up and THEM sitting on top," says Olga. They also stole the off-road vehicles and "proudly" transported the locals' property. During these 35 days, 30 young men and girls were taken into captivity.
"Now the Ukrainian military is inspecting all the infrastructure. A mass grave was found in Katyuzhanka; there are about 40 people there [editor's note: this information has not yet been officially confirmed]. An exhumation is underway. We still do not know who they are, whether they are from Dymer. A volunteer from the Red Cross was also taken into captivity. There is no news about him. It is scary. Where do we go to look for the victims? So far no one knows."
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