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Ukrainians forced into basement recall weeks of 'death and deprivation'

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By Joshua Askew  with AP
The names of the dead were scrawled on the basement's entrance
The names of the dead were scrawled on the basement's entrance   -   Copyright  Evgeniy Maloletka/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved   -  

Ukrainian citizens have recalled enduring weeks of stress, deprivation, and death after being forced into a basement by Russian troops

Some 300 residents of Yahidne were ordered into a school basement at gunpoint by Russian soldiers after they took control of the small village near Kyiv in March.

Stress and deprivation followed during their weeks-long captivity, with some dying under the strain.

“An old man died near me and then his wife died next,” survivor Valentyna Saroyan told the Associated Press on Tuesday, as she toured the dark basement.

"Then a man died who was lying there, then a woman sitting next to me. She was a heavy woman, and it was very difficult for her,” she added.

In one room, those who survived wrote the names of the 18 people who did not.

The residents of Yahidne, which lies on the outskirts of the northern city of Chernihiv, said they had to remain in the basement day and night and were only allowed out to cook on open fires or use the toilet on rare occasions.

Neighbours were also allowed to place the bodies of those who died in the basement in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery from time to time.

The health of the captives also suffered in the dark, squalid basement.

“Here’s a chair, and that’s how we were sitting for a month,” Saroyan said, recalling her aching legs.

Revelations of Russian brutality in Ukraine continue to emerge in areas where their troops have withdrawn. More are feared and other surviving villagers have described more acts of Russian cruelty.

Svitlana Baguta said a Russian soldier who was “either drunk or high” made her drink from a flask at gunpoint.

“He pointed the gun at the throat, put the flask and said drink,” she recalled.

Julia Surypak said the soldiers allowed some people to make a short trip to their homes if they sang the Russian national anthem.

“But they didn’t allow us to walk much,” she added.

Russian forces left Yahidne at the beginning of April, as part of their pivot away from northern Ukraine to the eastern Donbas region. Unexploded artillery shells, destroyed Russian vehicles and rubble were left behind.

A message scrawled on a wall of the Yahidne school marked April 1 as “the last day” of their captivity.