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Ukraine/ Russia war: Read these Emotional stories from Ukraine


It's slowly getting dark as we approach the western limits of Kyiv. The red brake lights of the cars heading for the centre of town illuminate the road as they approach the last bridge across the river Irpin and turn right down a dusty access road to a temporary bridge. The main bridge of the M06 highway above us was blown up by Ukrainian forces in the opening days of the war. This is the western access to Kyiv, the easiest entry to the city centre and the focus of the Russians attempted blitzkrieg attack on the capital in February. The traffic slows as it passes the destroyed remains of a huge distribution complex – enormous warehouses reduced to a charred and still smouldering vast pile of melted metal and corrugated iron that whines and heaves in the evening breeze. 'I hid in there', I thought to myself, before it was bombed obviously. An unlikely hideout that saved my life and the lives of my team as we escaped from our vehicle when it was destroyed by Russian soldiers firing volleys of bullets into our slowly disintegrating car. The traffic inched on past the industrial park, we passed a high and steep embankment looking up to the motorway. The embankment I dived down after being shot in the back, the embankment that gave five of us vital cover that allowed us to escape. I'd wondered what it would be like to encounter this scene after months of recovery in the UK. I was concerned I'd get some kind of awful flashback. I didn't. I felt nothing really. Well, I was interested, but it wasn't particularly moving. It was upsetting more than anything, because of what we have learnt about the events on this road. Events of which we were just the first to endure. They've rebuilt the bridge now – the motorway traffic to the west of Kyiv looks normal. But when the history of this war is written a chapter will be saved for the M06 and the E40 highway. A killing ground for Russian soldiers that Ukraine will never forget. What has become clear is that the Russian forces found their main entry to Kyiv blocked by the dropping of the bridge on this stretch of the M06. They were in the process of taking the towns of Bucha and Irpin, both just a few kilometres off the highway, in a maelstrom of airborne rocket attacks, artillery, tanks, and infantry. The Ukrainian resistance melted away in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful enemy, but regrouped and continued to attack, adopting asymmetric rules of engagement and waiting for western-supplied artillery to become free. The Russians were really close to Kyiv, and perhaps in their minds, near to completing their mission. But with the M06 impassable, and the Ukrainian guerrilla tactics taking their toll, it seems that units within the Russian army began to kill and terrorise the civilian population. Officers from Central Police Station Number 4 of the Bucha Police Department, Kyiv Region, armed with pistols and a few AK-47's, were forced to hide or evacuate from the immediate area as Russian tanks and soldiers took over their position that overlooks the M06 and the E40. They say from the end of February, through the first week of March, civilians attempting to head to western Ukraine assumed they could evacuate along the main road. But the Russians had by now deployed along that road unable to move forward. Tanks and armoured vehicles were often hidden amongst the trees that line the motorway and civilians couldn’t see them before it was too late. Over these days they waged a campaign of indiscriminate destruction of buildings and infrastructure, and they murdered civilians for no apparent reason. 35-year-old detective Vitalii Rublenko was one of the first officers to return to his base after the Russians withdrew. Like all his comrades, he is in shock about what happened. He's never seen anything like it before. "When we left, we saw bodies and these cars on this road. We were under fire and moving to another place, a safer place. But when we came back to do our jobs, we were terrified. Everything was smashed, the road was destroyed, there were a lot of bodies." Rublenko believes the Russians had orders to kill civilians if they were a threat, but also believes the soldiers basically lost control. "They were given the order to get as close as possible to Kyiv, but when they didn’t manage to do this, they shot at civilians," he told me. "They shot at everything and everybody they saw along the road; at civilians without weapons, in civilian clothes, at any objects they saw. They did whatever they wanted." Ukrainian prosecutors are now questioning captured Russian soldiers about their involvement in the western Kyiv region, namely the towns of Bucha and Irpin, and the M06 and E40 highways. United Nations war crimes investigators are also gathering evidence about the many incidents that took place. A crime number has been issued for the attack on our car. Investigators believe that the attack on us, as we attempted to return to Kyiv’s city centre on 28 February, was pretty much the start of the Russian campaign of violence. The police believe an advance unit of Russian soldiers had crossed the broken bridge over the River Irpin and had taken up positions in a wooded area while they tried to work out how they could build a crossing point for their trucks and tanks. It meant that while we were driving on the M06, the Russians were now between the Ukrainian lines. Nobody knew this. While we were under fire, we initially thought the ambush on our Hyundai family saloon was a mistake, that it was a Ukrainian checkpoint. Detectives say that is not the case, citing other attacks on civilians in the same area at the same time, and showing us pictures of their own cars – riddled with bullets from the same location. The officers at Central Police Station Number 4 found 20 bodies and shot-up vehicles in their immediate area of control which is limited to just 15km of the highway. The cars attacked by Russian soldiers have been saved in a series of breakers yards and car parks in the region. Most are burnt out, but many are as they were. The possessions of the families still inside. Dried blood on the seats and bullet holes everywhere. We found our car in one of these yards. We'd seen pictures from other journalists taken when the car was still abandoned on the bridge, but it was a sobering experience seeing it in person, seeing just how many rounds penetrated the vehicle. Not just the number of bullet holes in the windscreen, engine block and bumper, but the volume of bullet holes through the seats, the door frames, the roof, the dashboard, and scarily, the head rests. The only positive was that I found my glasses. Stepan Vydrysch is in charge of the yard and showed us around. He pointed out cars where bodies had been retrieved. "The bodies were removed from the cars on the highway, and only then did police bring the cars here. It's terrifying." He showed us vehicles that had been run over by tanks as well. Stepan is a big man, but quiet. And as he talked it was clear he found it difficult – bewildered and melancholic – hurting inside. Our story is just one of many. Serhii Stotskyi, 32, his wife Lena, and their one-and-a-half year old daughter Anna were ambushed a few hundred metres from the location we were attacked. On 4 March, after hearing rumours there was a Russian tank in their town, they decided, like others, to escape, to drive to the west. They asked people in their neighbourhood what was the best direction to travel and were put in contact with a man who had safely made the journey. He suggested they use the M06, also known as the Zhytmoyr highway, but to keep away from the bridge because it was too dangerous. The family set off. Serhii was driving and his wife and daughter were in the back. "The last thing I remember was passing a burnt car on the side of road, and when we passed that car we were shot at," Serhii told us. He was shot in the chest. "I put my head under the steering wheel and pressed my right hand on the wound and screamed because I was in terrible pain. I momentarily passed out, and when I came round my left hand was still on the steering wheel trying to regain control of the car, which was still moving." "I looked into the back of the car and saw my wife, her eyes were open, her face was blue, and my child was crying." Lena, who had celebrated her 28th birthday two days before, was dead. Serhii's daughter Anna had been hit by shrapnel, she was wounded in the stomach, both legs, and had injuries to one of her eyes and her nose. Serhii instinctively got out of the car and saw a soldier running towards him. "I raised my hands, and they began to speak to me in Russian." Serhii says the soldier asked him, in Russian, why they were on the road. "And I shouted in response: why didn't you see the 'CHILDREN' sign on my car, why are you shooting?" Serhii says he heard two voices and that they only spoke Russian. The soldier he saw was, he says, of "Asian appearance". The soldier told Serhii to take his daughter and leave. Serhii called for his dog, which jumped out of the window of the car and followed them. He walked to the closest village. "When we reached the turn to the village of Mriya, a man ran out from the left side and helped us climb over the motorway barrier." Serhii and his daughter were then taken by locals to another village close by for emergency first aid care, before being transferred to Boyarka where they were both hospitalised.

They are now in western Ukraine and are recovering well. Witnesses in the area later told Serhii his car was set on fire when he left, with his wife's body still inside. Criminal investigators in Ukraine believe that Russian soldiers regularly attempted to cover up their crimes. The violence meted out by the Russians isn’t of course limited to the highway. Parts of Bucha and Irpin are destroyed, whole shopping centres levelled, and homes smashed. Relatively secluded country housing estates are a patchwork of damaged or destroyed homes. Near the location where we were attacked is the factory unit we ran to as we escaped. The truck repair shop was hit by a missile and is being repaired. Behind the building the vast distribution warehouses are flattened. Three caretakers welcomed us inside and hid us at the time. One of them, 57-year-old Yurii Kozhemiakin, is still on duty and is back in uniform now. The other two are alive and well, but not stationed here any longer. I shook his hand and thanked him for everything he did for us. We were both very moved. He and his colleagues stayed throughout the fighting. Yurii was injured by shrapnel in his leg when the garage was hit, but he never left. "During the firing, during the shelling, I wasn't afraid. The fear comes later, it’s only later you realise you could have died." Like so many people he is clearly struggling with everything that has happened. "There was a direct air strike here on 4 March, then mine shelling, then rocket shelling. I heard everything, and I saw tanks shooting each other… you quickly get used to bad things." The war is far from over of course, for now it has moved to the east of the country but could easily return. The M06 is open, the memorials to the dead dot the highway, the scarred locations remain as testament to what has happened here. But it isn't history yet. We're still in the first draft. Reporting: Stuart Ramsay, chief correspondent From BBC.

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