A mother and her one-year-old baby have been kidnapped by Russian troops and held in a crowded basement for three weeks after trying to flee the war in Ukraine.
Viktoria Kovalenko hid in a parked car after her husband Petro and daughter Veronika, 12, were killed by Russian shelling as the family tried to escape fighting in Chernihiv in March.
But the next day, Viktoria and her little daughter Varvara were kidnapped by Russian troops and marched to a school in Yahidne.
They were held in an overcrowded basement with 300 other civilians for more than three weeks.
Viktoria told the BBC: “It was dark, it was dusty, there was no air or windows – it was for storage, not for people.
“It was unbearable at times. We’ve had people in their 80s who were in very poor health and suffocated from lack of oxygen.
“In our room we wrote the names and dates of the deceased with a piece of charcoal so that we could place them on their graves.
“Twelve people died in the basement.
“I didn’t think of anything, I was shocked, I tried to block all emotions. I only talked to humans, but my whole being was focused on surviving.”
Most of the time people were not allowed to go to use a toilet and were forced to use buckets instead.
“The lack of exercise made people sick, they sat on the chairs, they slept on the chairs,” said Viktoria.
“We could see their veins and they started bleeding, so we put bandages on.”
When the people in the basement died one by one, the neighbors were allowed to bury the bodies in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery.
Viktoria asked the Russian troops to bring her the bodies of her husband and daughter.
“They kept refusing… but eventually I forwarded my request to the commander of this Russian unit,” she said.
The bodies of Petro and Veronika were taken to the school and buried in the forest.
“I was there when my loved ones were buried,” she said.
“There were about five Russian soldiers who dug two graves for my daughter and my husband.”
Finally released from the basement after the Russians retreated after heavy fighting, she fled with her baby to the safety of Lviv before heading to safety in Poland.
Viktoria is now stuck in Poland waiting almost 50 days for a UK visa.
She said: “I’m in Poland right now and it’s going to be difficult for me.
“I need to be out there, not remembering it, or going over the events in my memories and just not thinking about it.”
Viktoria reportedly has a sponsor in the UK – but she’s left in limbo while awaiting her visa.
A government spokesman told the BBC: “Taken together, our unlimited Ukraine family program for routes in Ukraine is among the fastest and largest visa programs in UK history.
“124,400 visas have now been issued, showing that the work we have been doing to speed up the process is working and improving every day.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/5571563/kidnapped-russian-troops-basement-three-weeks/ My baby and I were kidnapped by Russian troops and held in a basement for three weeks – 12 people died before my eyes