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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Andy Stenning & Chris Hughes

Inside suffocating cellar hell as caretaker held captive by Russians with 200 others

An elderly Ukrainian caretaker wept yesterday as he revealed the “sheer hell” of being locked with 200 others in a suffocating basement by Russian soldiers.

Twelve died in the school cellar - then even more were shot dead or were wounded as the survivors tried to bury them outside.

In the village young men were rounded up and executed by angry and hate-fuelled Russian soldiers, according to other villagers, whilst old men told us they were beaten by troops young enough to be their grandsons.

The Mirror spoke to these shocked villagers as a mass grave full of dozens of bodies of civilians was uncovered outside Kyiv, 93 miles away, in Buzova and war raged in the east.

For now the region north of Kyiv to Belarus is free of Russian soldiers who retreated over the border a few days ago or were redeployed to the east.

Janitor Ivan Tolgoy School in tears recalling being held in the School cellar with more than over 200 other villagers (Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

In the village of Yahidne, Chernihiv Oblast, Ivan Polguy, 61, said: “Most of us have survived the hell these Russian soldiers put us through.

“But many people I knew well died - 12 died in that basement, from lack of air or nervousness from the invasion.

“Then even more were shot.”

Ivan, his wife Katarina and other relatives were locked in the basement, packed with men, women and children for three weeks as Russians went on an orgy if violence and death outside.

Now weeping Ivan continued: “The first three who died, their relatives were allowed out to bury them in the local cemetery. But after that when someone died we were not allowed.

“As soon as the Russian saw someone come out they started shooting, killing more people and wounding others.

“The bodies were brought into the basement and the wounded were treated by nurses who were also in the basement with us.

“It was so awful, no air and people simply died in there. It was impossible to sleep as we only had room to sit.”

Ukrainian forces firing rockets towards Russian positions in Donbas (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

He added: “ I was with all of my family in the basement, even the grandchildren.”

Miming holding a toddler in his arms, he said: “There were women in there and girls and very young children. “It was truly terrifying for them, I am sure. “It was a nightmare for everyone in there.”

The village, 12 miles from devastated Chernihiv, of a population of 300 has lost two thirds of its people, many of whom have either fled, were killed or have disappeared.

Even when the Ukrainian Army came to their rescue an almighty battle unfolded, meaning they could not come up for air.

Ivan, standing next to his old bicycle, adds: “When the Ukrainian troops came the battle and explosions was absolute hell out there so even then we could not go out.

“These so-called soldiers were worse than Nazis in my opinion, it was truly terrifying for all of us.

“What was also shocking was the lack of humanity in these soldiers. They were just full of hatred and bitterness.”

Weeping Ivan described the ordeal as 'so awful, no air and people simply died in there' (Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

The school where the basement and where Ivan is supposed to work is now a difficult place for him.

Asked if he has been back to the basement after being freed a few days ago, he shakes his head and says: “It’s going to take a long time for us all to rebuild our lives.”

The approach to the village from Kyiv to the south, is a hellscape of blown or shot up civilian cars smashed into trees, one van even plunged nose first into a bomb hole, a twisted and burnt -out Russian tank nearby.

A forest reveals evidence of ferocious battles, trees sliced in half, possibly by cannon fire after Ukrainian troops ambushed the Russians.

Yesterday those few left of the village were trying to piece back their lives, houses burned out, levelled, trashed, bombed and bullet-riddled.

The village of Yahidne near Chernihiv devastated by attacks from Russian troops (Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

Another elderly man Volodymyr Ren’, 65,said he was battered by a 20 year-old soldier just because the troops had heard he had sheltered young men as they hunted them down.

Showing us his badly swollen lower legs Volodymyr told us: “One of them pointed a gun at me whilst the other was beating me up. It was very bad.

“He kept hitting me on the legs with an iron bar and I was screaming at him, begging him to stop, telling him that I am an old man and asking: ‘How could he do that?

“As I begged him not to hit me anymore I was telling him: ‘I could be you father or your grandfather. You could be my grandson.

“But he just looked right through me and my words had no effect on him.

“There was nothing in his eyes, no reaction, just hatred and it was like he had no empathy.

“The soldier who beat me was wearing a balaclava but I could see clearly into his eyes.”

And one elderly couple told how one exhausted Russian soldier insisted on sleeping on their bed as he claimed he had not slept in two weeks.

Mykhail Vovk, 65, whose house was rocketed as Russians stormed the village on March 3, was surveying the damage with his wife Valentina, also 65.

Valentina told us: “We told the soldiers we are disabled and they put a red sign on the door to say leave us alone - but then the troops said they could not be 100 per cent sure it would work.

“We survived but young men were killed in the fields, given shots in the head. They were in a vehicle and their hands were tied.”

Other neighbours joined us in the street, nodding in agreement.

The wreckage of a damaged building in Borodyanka, Bucha Raion of Kyiv Oblast (Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock)

I asked through our translator if the soldiers’ bodies were mutilated and they all nodded, indicating the faces of the young men were mutilated.

Valentina muttered: “It was so they cannot be recognised.”

In another bizarre and creepy saga during the Russian occupation Mykhail said a Russian soldier insisted in joining them, to sleep on their bed.

He said: “One Russian soldier said he was exhausted and insisted on sleeping in our bed.

‘Our’s is a very tiny place and we had nowhere else to sleep.

“So we all three of us slept on the bed and he was snoring so loudly.

“I woke my wife and whispered: “Go and get me a hammer and I will kill this man - he is snoring so loudly.

“She was begging me not to do it, saying:’Where will we hide the body?

“In the end we didn’t kill him but I wanted to so badly.

“It was fortunate because then other Russians came looking for him and when they saw him they started slapping him, shouting: “Hey wake up, bastard, wake up.”

“They didn’t care about any of us.”

People return to their destroyed homes after Ukrainian army regained control of Borodyanka (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Yesterday it was revealed Russia is trying to expand its depleted army with retired old soldiers, having suffered almost 20,000 deaths.

President Zelensky said warned the world Russia’s use of violence was a “catastrophe that will inevitably hit everyone.”

And the latest mass grave, discovered west of Kyiv, in Buzova was found in a ditch near a petrol station.

So far, according to Iryena Venediktova Ukraine ’s Prosecutor General, Kyiv authorities have discovered as many as 500 war crime suspects, along with 5,600 alleged war crimes.

Speaking about the Kramatorsk train station missile attack on Saturday she said: “Absolutely it’s a war crime.

“It was a Russian missile that killed more than 50 people.”

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