By Vincent Lyn
The U.N. Human Rights Council created a three-member Commission of Inquiry in May, 2022 to investigate alleged violations and abuses of human rights in war-torn Ukraine. During its visit, the commission gave priority to four specific regions: Bucha, Irpin, Kharkiv, and Sumy, the sites of some of the worst atrocities committed in late February and March.
However, on my further confirmation, the information I’ve received, and the visited sites of destruction, I can verifiably claim that serious violations of international human rights law, war crimes and no doubt crimes against humanity, have been committed in the areas. I have received information about the arbitrary killing of civilians, destruction and looting of property, and attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools.
I have all received personal testimony from internally displaced people about the killing and destruction and looting of civilian property, the mistreatment and disappearances of civilians and about rapes and other forms of sexual abuse.
I would like to share with you one such story. My Team member Janis Martins Skuja were visiting Bucha what has been called one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns in all of Ukraine. We were driven by an escort of Ukrainian Special Forces and also official Katerina Ukrainceva a member of the Bucha City Council. Katerina asked us if we would like to speak with a woman by the name of Mrs. Irina Abramova who’s husband Ole had been brutally killed by Russian troops and because of the massacre in Bucha she had received a lot of international attention. Katerina called her and within 30 minutes a return call came back and we headed to Irina’s home. We pulled up alongside her home and I felt strongly that we would not video or record the interview. But after much debating between us we asked Katerina if she thought it would be appropriate and Irina unhesitatingly agreed. Irina came out to greet us and she walked us through the gate door of what used to be her home, now just a pile of rubble and twisted metal laying strewn throughout what used to be the foundation of her house.
Janis videod while we walked through the rubble of what was her living room and heard her replay the traumatic and heart-rending story. As she told it her face changed, it became taut and twisted like the metal that lay around our feet. Her agonizing face started twisting in pain and her suffering impacted us. It was impossible not to get emotional and we both cried as we listened intently.
Irina Abramova struggles at night with “bloody thoughts” of suicide and revenge.
During the day, she visits a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, carrying cherry cough drops, cookies, toffee, chocolate, and a cigarette to the grave of her husband, Ole Abramov, whom she says died March 5. Was shot dead by Russian soldiers. In the early days of the invasion of his country.
On March 5th four Russian soldiers forced Irina into the yard, her husband was ordered to remove his jacket, a sweater and shirt so that the soldiers could inspect the military tattoo, which Ole did not have because he had never served.
“Guys, what are you doing?” Ole asked the Russians who lead him behind the gate and into the street. Moments later, when the Russian officer returned, Abramova’s father asked him, “Where is Ole?” “Ole will not come,” said the commander.
The soldiers then threw incendiary grenades in the house and Irina’s father quickly grabbed a bucket of water to try and put out the flames. The soldiers then pointed their gun at Irina and told her father if they didn’t get out of the house they would kill his daughter. The flames were now spreading throughout the house and so they ran out, Irina quickly grabbing her cat. Once outside dazed and confused she looked to the left. Nothing. She looked to the right and saw her husband on the ground, “I see a lot of blood. I saw part of his head was blown off.”
They had met 20 years earlier and she called her husband “Sunshine”, now dead.
She held his hand and called out his name. She had grabbed her cat and clinging to her dead husband and clutching her cat begged the soldiers to kill her. “Shoot me! Come on! Come on! Shoot me and my cat!”
Instead the soldiers walked across the street to another house and ordered an old retired couple outside and then systematically shot them both in the head. They walked back to the edge of the road sat on the side of the road, drinking water from plastic bottles looking back at Irina. They didn’t say anything, they showed no emotion. They were like an audience in a sick and twisted play.
Irina said the commander then walked up to her and pointed the gun at her chest but never pulled the trigger. She pleaded and begged the soldiers to kill her. No doubt in the days after she wanted to lay her husband to rest and bury him but the Russian soldiers would not let her. Instead they left the decomposing body on the spot where they murdered him for one whole month before Irina was allowed to bury her husband.
She regrets it but said that suicide was not an option. “It’s a big deal to take your own life,” she said, “and then I won’t be able to meet my husband in heaven.”
I had a lengthy meeting with Anatoly Fedoruk the Mayor of Bucha and he told me of systematic stories of torture, rape and executions that account for some of the evidence of war crimes that have emerged from Bucha since the Russians retreated from this area in early April, ending the month-long occupation. It is part of Ukraine’s ongoing and terrifying chapters of this now more than four month long war.
Russia of course has denied targeting civilians in its war with Ukraine and insisted that the atrocities described in Bucha were fake. How sickly preposterous.
The Mayor Fedoruk told me of the approximately 50,000 inhabitants of pre-war Bucha, only 3,000 stayed of which 519 died, including children, and the rest fled.
But Irina could not go. Her savings, which she had kept in cash at home, got burnt along with all her documents and other papers which can verify her identity are gone. She wants to travel but without them, she cannot travel even if she wants to.
“I used to say I had the best family in the world. A husband. Three cats and a dog,” “It’s hard to process.” The pain on her face showed a woman scarred by a senseless and barbaric act perpetrated by cowards. It hit me to the core as it did Janis. I sit here writing this and again tears roll down my face.
Irina gingerly walks through her home as it once stood but now is a pile of rubble and we carefully and respectfully follow and listen to her. “I look at it but I keep seeing my old house,” she said. “It’s as if I’ve taken a wrong turn in a parallel reality and another reality where my home and my husband still exist. And here in this reality I am alone.
Irina’s dreams, once sweet and touching memories have now become constant nightmares consisting of a nightly routine of the horror that plays out day after day rolling over in her mind.
She asks only for one thing to be issued a new passport so she can apply for government aid and have the ability to travel. Right now Irina is in the state of limbo being a citizen of nowhere with no where to turn for help except a few friends and neighbors. To this date she is still going through a slow and bureaucratic system of agonizing waiting.
God Bless Irina and all the men, women and children of Bucha
CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Editor-in-Chief at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts