Experience

Wash Me, if You Can: Ukrainians’ Homes Once Occupied by Russians

The Russian soldiers who occupied the Kyiv Region were stationed in the locals’ houses. The owners of such houses in Bucha, Hostomel, and Babyntsi told Bird in Flight about how the invaders lived, looted, and committed irrational deeds.

Few houses have remained intact In Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and nearby villages — most have broken windows and were looted. In some cases, the buildings were completely destroyed by shelling and fires. However, some flats bear signs of the Russians living in them — inscriptions, clothes, shells, dirt, and mess. The Ukrainians in whose houses the Russians lived told Bird in Flight in what shape they found their homes and under which conditions they would return there.

Tetiana Yakhnenko Age 37

Owns a flat in the Continent residential complex in Bucha.

— The Russians set up an HQ in our flat, as they left many photocopiers, TVs, and wires when they went.

They settled in on the 11th of March, cutting through the door, and left on the 30th. It’s hard to say how many of them lived there because our neighbours said that the Russians made about four rotations overall.

They cooked in our kitchen, slept in our rooms and our closet (probably because it has no windows), and left behind lots of alcohol bottles, dirt, and clogged toilets. They stole almost all my husband’s clothes, my winter clothes, perfumes, dishes, cutlery, sheets, blankets, and pillows. They also took my daughter’s competitive ballroom dancing trophies for some reason — they are plastic, albeit with a shiny metallic finish. My kids’ things were ruined, and the entire flat was shredded by shell fragments and bullets — the Russians riddled our fridge with bullets and broke all TVs. They stubbed out cigarettes against the furniture, broke our nursery’s door frame, and brought the chest of drawers into the corridor, positioning it like a reception desk. It looks like they were cooking on it, too. They also took the doors from our rolling-door wardrobes to cover broken windows.

They left a lot of inscriptions in our house. In the communal entrance, they scribbled “Who let you live this well,” but neighbours quickly got rid of it. They also wrote “from Russia with love” on the fridge in the flat above ours. “Secret HQ” was written on our bathroom door and “Ration Supply Point” on the kitchen door. On the door to one of the rooms, they left a long message and put a Monobank sticker reading “Come to the dark side” — I don’t even know where they got it.

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Keep the door closed!

No trespassing!!!

Bitch...
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RSP (Rations Supply Point)
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We wish we could return to our flat, but we currently can’t, because everything is destroyed there. And we can’t renovate it either — we have nowhere to live in the meantime. Also, it’s still unsafe there. I don’t plan on consecrating the flat or whatever. It’s sad, though, that we find ourselves in this kind of situation for the second time already because we fled from Donetsk in 2014 and had lived in Bucha only for two and a half years before the war began.


Oleksandr Zahrebin Age 61

Owns a house in Babyntsi, Kyiv Region.

— I built my house myself for my daughter and her family.

The Russians entered our village at the beginning of the war, and we fled as soon as we could — on the 10th of March. We took only the essentials to be able to take more people, leaving in whatever clothes we wore at the time. I left the keys to my house with my neighbours because I didn’t want the soldiers to break the doors. For some reason, though, they broke the veranda doors.

From the looks of it, they moved into our house on the 13th or 15th of March and spent a few weeks there. Our neighbours said about a hundred soldiers hanged out in our area. Also, the Russians set up an HQ in our house. It’s hard to tell if they in fact did — they took all our electronics and left none of theirs.

I’ve already been it with the deminers, but it was a short visit, so I didn’t have a closer look at everything for lack of time. Frankly, I was ready for the worst. I feared the Russians would shit all over the place, because I heard they did, and take the gas boiler, too. It was a relief to find out the house didn’t burn down. I was even happy to see that everything was relatively in order — the boiler was there, and they even used the toilet properly.

The yard suffered the most — they put five of their tanks there. We have a rather big yard, and the house is situated 50–60 metres into the grounds. The tanks destroyed the gate, lawn, paths, and young trees — now I need to restore all that, and I don’t really know how I’ll do it because it’s a lot of money and a lot to do.

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The house was in disarray, the floor was dirty, and the food scraps were all over the place. I can’t imagine why they would walk on beds and mattresses, but there were muddy boot prints on those. They made an improvised bed in the basement, rummaged through our things, and left everything they didn’t need in the walk-in closet — even the pumpkins were there. They also took care while smoking — the jars with water and cigarette butts were everywhere. Our neighbour asked them not to burn the house because it’s made of wood. Since the walls are wooden, the Russians put a lot of nails in them to hang their things and stretch the clothesline to dry their laundry.

I am yet to clean everything up there. Still, I see already that a lot was stolen: a generator, a TV, computers, a wheelbarrow, bikes, tools — even the soviet-era ones — as well as a vacuum cleaner, power saw, and chainsaw. They stole my watch, too. Not that it was too expensive — about $500 — but it was a gift.

Also, they carved their letter V on our kitchen cabinet — as a reminder for me, no less. They also left behind a military jacket, a stolen coffee grinder, large pots, onions, potatoes, and ramrods, with which they cleaned their firearms.

We will definitely return there. We’ll have to renovate, especially in the yard, and clean up everything, because they didn’t take off their boots indoors, and we have white wooden floors. I take it calmly, but my wife may find it hard to accept. Ironically, she has Russian citizenship, so you may as well say they “liberated” her — and took all her belongings to her ancestral homeland.


Liudmyla Rusyn Age 42

Owns a flat in the Rich Town residential complex in Bucha.

— Russian soldiers broke into the flats of our entire family: mine, my brother’s and my mother’s. It’s been the second time the Russian troops “liberated” us — my relatives had to flee Donbas in 2014 and join me in Kyiv, so we all lived together there.

The first Russians came to our house in early March. Our neighbours who stayed in the town all that time said those were more or less civilized — they just took valuable things from flats and didn’t reach my place.

Later, two or three soldiers broke in, having cut through the door. From the looks of it, they went on a drinking spree there and planned to take a lot with them. However, something must have gone wrong — the suitcases that we kept on our wardrobe’s upper shelf laid open and empty on the sofa.

They did take some valuables, though: a HomePod, an iPad, speakers, watches — older and newer — bijoux and jewellery, my Channel perfumes, men’s clothes, and women’s underwear. The neighbours said it was typical — they took even the old ladies’ underwear, not only the likes of Victoria’s Secret. Meanwhile, they didn’t take robot vacuums — neither mine nor my friends’. We weren’t at home at that time, evacuating children and planning to return later — that’s why we left all our valuables at home. It’s funny that the Russians even took our old Bible — it was found elsewhere on our residential building’s grounds later. Fortunately, they didn’t notice the safe — our documents are still there.

Many things feel irrational: why cut down the light in the kitchen and then stick a knife in it or bend and break the forks? Also, they relieved themselves everywhere: in the toilet bowl, around it, and in the corners on the landing — and then used my perfumes as an air freshener. They smoked a lot, too, so the odour in the flat was very peculiar. The toilet thing happened all over Bucha and Hostomel — it’s just disgusting.

There were lots of alcohol and empty bottles in our flat. They even made sure to spoil whatever they couldn’t drink. Also, we found their clothes stinking of petrol: men’s drawers, t-shirts, and military jackets — without any insignia, though.

Our residential complex had large glass lobbies in common entrances — the Russians just parked their tanks and IFVs there, effectively ruining the interior.

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My mother lives at Prorizna Street in Hostomel — it’s closer to Bucha. A couple of them stayed at her place for five to seven days, judging by the filth. There weren’t many things there, because mum hadn’t been living there lately. Still, there were many children’s clothes, which her grandchildren overgrew. The Russians lived in all corner flats but slept on the landing (likely sticking to the “rule of two walls”) — there were lots of mattresses and furniture cushions. A sofa and beds were broken, too. The flats were used rather as observation posts because there was a lot of weird stuff on the balconies: an overturned table and lots of other things, like children’s clothes, food, and whatever else they found in this and other flats were piled up in a heap.

The invaders removed the fridge from its niche and put there a rocking chair taken elsewhere. Also, they took the laundry dryer that was mounted on top of the washing machine, which they somehow decided to leave behind.

The common entrance to my mum’s block of flats was barricaded with bicycles and strollers — it looked like they gathered each one they could find in the building.

I will return to my flat — it doesn’t even require renovations. I will just thoroughly clean it — and am not that disgusted by what I saw there, and my presence alone will be enough to “purify” the place — I’m a Christian, after all. We plan to return at the first opportunity, but the gas supply needs to be restored there first. It’s not the things that I’m worried about but the emotional state of those dear to me. It’s been a trauma for them, and healing will take time. My mother doesn’t even want to return to Ukraine any time soon.

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Svitlana Kozhukh Age 28

Owns a beauty salon in the Continent residential complex in Bucha.

— The Russians were in my salon from about the 27th of March to the 1st of April. From the looks of it, they didn’t eat or sleep there because the premises had no kitchen or sleeping accommodations.

There were footprints from their boots, though, and their excrements were everywhere — not only in the toilet but also in the shower and corridor. Judging from the blood streaks, they brought their dead to the first floor of the building. Based on how much filth I saw, there were many soldiers in the salon, or they entered it frequently.

They also left some writings: “We are sorry! The circumstances made us do it!!!” and “F*ck you for living this well” — the latter was written on one of the mirrors. It’s hard to tell what exactly they stole and what was taken elsewhere because my sofa was found on top of a car and other furniture was near the windows. They did steal a speaker and cosmetics — that’s for sure. They also broke everything they could. There is no intact furniture at all. They shot at the make-up station mirror, too.

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We are sorry! The circumstances made us do it!!!
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I wish I could return there and see everything with my own eyes, but I don’t think I would reopen the salon, if only for a short time. I don’t think I would even use the toilet after what they did there.

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