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a year on survivors recount Yagidne horror

#year #survivors #recount #Yagidne #horror

They spent nearly a month crammed in the basement of a local school, forced out of their homes by invading Russian troops and held in conditions described as “worse than prison”.  

Soon after the invasion in February last year, the Russians forced 367 people — nearly the entire population of the village of Yagidne north of Kyiv — into a basement with no windows measuring less than 200 square metres.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday said Ukraine would never forgive Russians for setting up a “concentration camp” in Yagidne a year ago.

The villagers, including elderly people and around fifty children were kept in the basement for 27 days.

The youngest prisoner was six weeks old; the oldest 93.

Eleven of the villagers died during the ordeal.

One of the survivors, Ivan Polgui, said the Russians did not explain anything when they arrived.

“They brought us to the basement and said they would take us somewhere else later,” Polgui, 63, told AFP. 

“We could only go to the toilet. It was worse than in prison,” he added. 

The basement had only a few chairs and planks that served as makeshift tables. There were no beds or mattresses, leaving people to sleep on the floor or sitting up.

– ‘Animals’ –

Polgui and others spoke to AFP as Zelensky and German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck travelled to the village located a two-hour drive north of the capital to mark the one-year anniversary of the liberation of the settlement from Russian troops.

“They came into houses with machine guns and forced everyone to the basement,” said Valeriy Polgui, the 38-year-old son of Ivan Polgui. 

“They gave us five minutes to gather everything we needed.”

Fellow survivor, 60-year-old Valentina, said there was “wild fear” when the Russians came. 

“They knocked on our door and broke it down. This fear did not leave me the whole time we were here and for a month afterwards,” said Valentina, who declined to give her family name.

Speaking in Yagidne, Zelensky said he hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin would spend the rest of his life in a dark basement with a bucket for a toilet. 

Addressing Ukrainians in the evening, the president called the Russian troops “animals,” saying they set up a command post in the Yagidne school and used the civilians in the basement as a “human shield”.

Valery Polgui said some people died from lack of oxygen in the small cellar.

“At first it was cold here, but then there were more people and there was not enough oxygen,” he said. 

He added that elderly people “lost consciousness from the lack of oxygen, lost their mind and died”. 

They were not allowed to immediately bury their dead.

“If a person died in the morning, we could ask to take them outside in the afternoon. To put them in the boiler room,” Ivan Polgui said. 

And if somebody died in the evening, “the corpses would lie there and children would walk around them”. 

Their names with the date of death were inscribed on a wall and door of the basement by the others.

– ‘Afraid to come out’ –

Valentina said it was difficult to breathe in the basement. 

“People were walking, kicking up dust,” she said, adding that condensation was dripping down from the warmth of their breath. 

She said that people were getting ill, “many people had fever” and there were cases of chickenpox.

“There was no place to cook or eat. We organised a kitchen on the street,” Valentina said.

After about a month, Russian forces withdrew from the suburbs of Kyiv. 

Yagidne, which is located in the northern region of Chernigiv, was liberated on March 30, 2022. 

Valery Polgui said they were still in the basement when Ukrainian forces arrived. 

“All the people were afraid to come out because they did not know who was there,” he said. 

He said he would remember their liberation for the rest of his life.

“We were incredibly happy to see them,” he added. 

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#year #survivors #recount #Yagidne #horror

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