Andriy Andruchkiv took full measure of the devastating effect of the abuses perpetrated by Russian forces by visiting a recently liberated village near the town of Chernihiv, about 60 kilometers north of Kyiv.
“We tried to speak with the local population to offer them help, but they were unable to answer us, they were in a state of shock. People looked at me as if I were fog, a kind of ghost,” says the 36-year-old soldier, who has visited several towns in the region since the withdrawal of Russian troops to gather strategic information on their modus operandi and their technological capabilities.
In another village near the capital, he was struck by signs written in Russian that had been put up by residents to alert invaders to the presence of children or disabled people. “Several are still visible in front of buildings that have been destroyed,” he said in an interview with The Press from Kyiv.
It is pure violence. The Russians did it because they could, there is no other reason to destroy small houses on a residential street.
Andriy Andruchkiv, Ukrainian soldier in Chernihiv
Mr. Andruchkiv also said he was disturbed by the stories of abuses against civilians gathered during his travels.
“I heard the same story in several villages. The Russian soldiers went from house to house to find the men of fighting age and bring them. Families were told they would be interrogated, but then found their bodies abandoned in the woods,” the soldier said.
“For the Russians, killing the men is a guarantee of security. The fact of raping women and children, however, seems incomprehensible to me, it is downright Luciferian,” notes the Ukrainian, who joined a military unit in Kyiv in early March, barely a week after enlisting near from his parents’ village in the west of the country.
“They needed people who know the region well,” says the soldier, a graduate in philosophy and theology who lived for several years in the suburbs of the capital, in Irpin, a city hard hit by the war. He ran a non-governmental organization before deciding to take up arms.
The organization in question, specializing in the study of public policies, was working on reforms in health and education, but had nothing to do with the military sector, notes Mr. Andruchkiv, who had taken care, before the outbreak of the conflict, to pay for specialized training for employees in an attempt to prepare them for the horrors of war.
When I was notified on February 24 that the Russians had launched the invasion, I sent an email to my employees informing them that everything we had seen in preparation for a war must now apply.
His organization continues to operate, but has reallocated resources to assist war-affected Ukrainians. In particular, a site has been set up to connect families in need with people likely to welcome them.
Andriy Andruchkiv devoted himself in parallel to his new military role by offering his support and his knowledge of the terrain to teams of artillerymen who crossed swords from a distance with the Russian army.
“I found myself one night near a village which was completely in the dark. Someone over there threw a flare to highlight our position and the warheads started raining down,” the soldier relates.
Russian forces, he said, had poorly planned their operation against the capital and had no choice but to retreat after encountering resistance from Ukrainian forces.
However, this is not the time for rejoicing, warns Mr. Andruchkiv, since the offensive announced by Moscow to conquer the entire Donbass region, in the east of the country, does not bode well.
The missile strike on Kramatorsk train station, which left dozens dead on Friday, showed “that the Russians have no limits” and that more killings will follow if nothing is done to turn the tide .
Call for international help
The Ukrainians, the soldier said, echoing President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated pleas, need more support from Western countries to overcome the Russian onslaught.
“If it is possible to help us by providing more weapons and advanced technologies, it would be extremely useful. We have a lot of good soldiers, but it’s not a war of soldiers, it’s a war of artillery and planes,” Andruchkiv stresses.
The revelation of multiple abuses against civilians in the Kyiv region has sparked outrage abroad that will prove hypocritical if not translated into a tougher approach to Moscow, he said.
“We had already warned the world a month ago of what Russia would do. If nothing changes, they will do the same thing again,” warns the soldier.