After the killing of her husband and daughter, a Ukrainian woman looks on the phone at the burial, 300 miles away: “Tears won’t let me look to the end”
Viktoria Kovalenko witnessed the deaths of her husband and eldest daughter when their car was hit by a bullet in the north. When her loved ones had an actual funeral, she was about 300 miles away, only able to watch her burial on a video on her cell phone sent to her by her relatives.
Even in the relative peace of Lviv, a city little touched by the violence in the war with Russia, it was a test he could not bear.
“Tears won’t let me look to the end,” she said as she played the video in a wooded area where she was pushing her 1-year-old daughter Varvara in a stroller.
At the beginning of March, Kovalenko and his family were in their car, fleeing the area of the city of Chernihiv, one of the most intensely besieged by the war.
At a Russian checkpoint near the village of Yahidne, a grenade exploded. The car windows shattered, she said, and she and 12-year-old daughter Veronika were injured by broken glass.
The next thing she remembers is her husband’s voice yelling at them to get out of the car.
“Veronika started screaming, her hands were shaking, so I tried to calm her down. She got out of the car and went after her. When I got out, I saw her fall. When I looked at her, her head was gone “. she told the BBC last week.
It was in those shocking moments that Viktoria’s husband also lost his life.
Viktoria and her youngest daughter Varvara fled, only to be captured by Russian troops and taken to the basement of a school in Yahidne.
Locals said more than 300 villagers were forced into the basement. Then, during weeks of stress and deprivation, some began to die.
The BBC visited the basement and spoke to other people held there. Prisoners describe bodies lying uncollected for hours, sometimes days.
Kovalenko and Varvara spent weeks in the school basement, doing their best to stay alive.
Yahidne residents told The Associated Press they were forced to stay in the basement day and night, except for the rare times they could cook outdoors or use the bathroom.
As people died one by one in the basement, neighbors could occasionally lay the bodies in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery.
Kovalenko’s husband, Petro and Veronika, were first buried in the woods, but were later buried in Yahidne’s cemetery, taken there in coffins along a bumpy path as friends and relatives wept and some laid flowers and in the grave and collected handfuls of earth. .
The burials occurred after Russian troops left Yahidne in early April, when forces withdrew to focus their battle in eastern Ukraine.
Kovalenko’s burning memories are entangled in the twisted wreckage of their car.
And on a concrete block at a village checkpoint someone sprayed a grisly joke: the words “polite people”, the term Russian authorities dubbed the forces that annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. .
The BBC asked Viktoria what she would say to the people who did this to her family.
“If I was given the chance to shoot Putin, I would,” he said. “My hand wouldn’t shake.”