‘You are a Nazi’: Inside the village where torture and destruction by Russian soldiers leaves families broken


Boghdanivka is a small farming village on the road north from Kyiv to Chernihiv, just east of the Dnipro river.

For many weeks in March and April, it was occupied by Russian soldiers as they tried to advance on the capital Kyiv, before retreating, defeated.

They left behind memories of rampant depravity, torture and families desperately looking for news of missing loved ones.

This is the story of Boghdanivka, but it could be of countless villages in Ukraine where lives have changed during 100 days of war.

“He loaded his machine gun and said, ‘Now we’re going to kill you’.”

Alexsandr, not his real name, has hidden the clothes he was wearing the night the Russians came for him – he is keeping them safe as evidence of war crimes.

He shows us the blood-stained tracksuit bottoms, where a nail was hammered into his knee. And the fabric used to tie his hands behind his back. He still has the scars on his face from where a cigarette was stubbed out.

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“He (a soldier) hit me in the head with the handle of a knife. He kicked me in the back. Then he put my hands on the table and hit them three times with the butt of a machine gun. The arm was already badly bent. I understood that it was a fracture. ‘You are a Nazi. Where do you hide the Nazis?’ he shouted at me.

“He kept saying ‘you are an animal’ and ‘I’ll cut out something from you’. He took out a knife, pressed it to my stomach and said, ‘I’ll cut off your penis so you don’t breed’. There were about five people. They beat me from all sides.

“I was hit so hard that something cracked in my head and I fell to the floor and his foot slipped on the blood. They said, ‘Get up, or we’ll cut the tendons in your legs’.

“He kept his foot on my leg to break it. I got up and sat down on a chair. I didn’t understand anything anymore. I was lost. I didn’t speak well, I had a broken nose. Then he asked, ‘Do you smoke?’ I say no.

“And he put out the cigarette butt on my cheek. Then he said, ‘Take this animal away, he covered everything here with blood’.

“They took me and led me down the stairs to the cellar. They put me on a plastic chair. They said, ‘Wait, we’ll come and kill you’.

“Then he goes down and says, ‘I’m a maniac, I’m going to cut you’.

“He went down and started beating me with his fists, the handle of a knife. Then he took my ear and cut it a little. Then in the morning he loaded his machine gun and said, ‘Now we’re going to kill you’.”

Russian soldiers smeared their own excrement on the walls

The village school is round the corner. What’s left of it.

When Russian troops occupied the village the school was used as their main base. It is now a burned shell, utterly trashed. There are mattresses on the floors where the Russian soldiers slept and half-empty bottles of alcohol.

Read more:
100 days of war in Ukraine: The devastating consequences of Putin’s invasion

In the maths classroom there is a calendar marking the day they arrived and the day they left – and next to it a message written in English.

As a final insult they smeared their own excrement on the walls and then firebombed the place as they retreated.

“We knew they were here, that they lived here, but I didn’t think that adults, who might have children too, could do that,” the head teacher told us.

“We thought that they would live here, build and leave here. But what they did was awful. It was hard for me, it was hard for the children. The children cried when they saw that the kindergarten had burned down.”

The Russian soldiers went house-to-house, marking front gates if people lived there.

Like everyone, Yulia Vasylenko got a knock on the door – she is married to the village policeman, Viacheslav.

He was taken away that day and hasn’t been seen since.

“Five soldiers came,” she says.

“Two in the house and three waited on the street. They told my husband to put his hands behind his back and then they took him. We haven’t seen him since and we don’t know anything about him. I hope he’s in prison – we need him alive, we miss him.”

She thinks he might have been betrayed by a traitor.

“He was taken away and beaten for sure,” she says.

“He was betrayed. 100% handed over by someone. They knew exactly who he was and where we lived.”

These are the stories of just one Ukrainian village.

Men, women, and children whose lives and futures have been irrevocably changed and damaged.

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