In One Ukrainian Village, a Basement Became Hell

'Time' speaks to Yahidne residents who say Russians forced 367 people into the space
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2023 11:22 AM CST
In One Ukrainian Village, a Basement Became Hell
Writing covers a wall and a door in the basement of a school in Yahidne, near Chernihiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Locals said more than 300 villagers were forced into the basement. Then, during weeks of stress and deprivation, some began to die.   (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)

As the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine draws ever closer, Time revisits an alleged atrocity from the war's earliest days—one that some survivors liken to having been in a concentration camp, writes Svitlana Oslavska. It occurred in the small village of Yahidne, which sits in Ukraine's north, "directly in the path of the advancing army." From early March 2022 until Russian troops left at that month's end, residents say some 367 people were forced into a school basement with no toilets or ventilation. "The oldest went crazy and died," writes Oslavska. "The Russians did not allow the dead to be buried immediately, and when they finally did, they fired on the funeral."

Food was scarce. Water had to be pumped by hand from the school well and boiled. Survivors say the Russians at one point brought them pasta that had gotten doused with diesel fuel during transport; "the people washed the pasta in water three times, boiled it, and ate it anyway," writes Oslavska. They calculated there was about 5 square feet per person and slept sitting up. "But the real horror was the lack of oxygen. ... Some of the oldest couldn’t handle it. They didn’t recognize their children. Screamed. Had conversations with dead relatives. Revealed family secrets. Then they died, sitting in a chair." When the Russians finally left, the villagers broke down the door and vowed never to return to the basement—but most sought shelter there that very night after seeing what had been done to their homes. (Read the full story for many more details.)

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