Stolen washing machines, phosphorus bombs and abandoned Russian corpses

‘How could a person in his right mind do such things?’ (Alla Korzurina) The six-month nightmare endured by a village near Kharkiv, used first as a base and then as a target by Russian forces.
Iryna Skachko10 December 2022UA DE EN ES FR IT RU

Руські Тишки, вулиця Джерельна © Оксана Комарова Ruski Tyschky, Dzherelnaja Straße © Oksana Komarova Ruski Tyshki, Dzherelnaya Street © Oksana Komarova Ruski Tyshky, calle Dzherelna © Oksana Komarova Ruski Tyshky, rue Djerelna © Oksana Komarova Русские Тишки, улица Джерельная © Оксана Комарова

Ruski Tyshki, Dzherelnaya Street © Oksana Komarova

Two villages in the Kharkiv Region named “Ukrainian” (Cherkaski) Tyshki and “Russian” (Ruski) Tyshki stand side by side, but the latter name evoked no sympathy among the invaders. On the afternoon of 24 February, Russian forces entered the two settlements and over the next half year both suffered, “Russian” Tyshki even worse than its neighbour.

For over two months the villages were a base from which the city of Kharkiv, 20 kms away, was constantly shelled. Then, around 6 May, the Russian forces withdrew northwards across the river and started to shell the Tyshki settlements instead. For four months they were on the frontline.

© Оксана Комарова © Oksana Komarova “People and children live here” © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Оксана Комарова

“People and children live here” © Oksana Komarova

78 missiles in a row were fired into Kharkiv (Alla Korzurina)

“I couldn’t understand how a person in his right mind could do such a thing! What did I ever do to Russia?” Alla Korzurina points out the damage and destruction in her native village. “We had wonderful pine trees here; the air was so fresh. They set fire to them all! I’ve five grandsons. Where will they play now? What will they return to?”

Алла Корзуріна, Руські Тишки © Ірина Скачко Alla Korsurina. Ruski Tyschky © Iryna Skatschko Alla Korzurina © Iryna Skachko Alla Korzuryna, Ruski Tyshky © Iryna Skachko Alla Korzourina, Ruski Tyshki © Irina Skatchko Алла Корзурина, Русские Тишки © Ирина Скачко

Alla Korzurina © Iryna Skachko

The pine grove next to Dzherelnaya Street stands sad and blackened. Sappers move slowly between the burned and broken trees.

До війни тут гуляли діти © Оксана Комарова Vor dem Krieg haben hier Kinder gespielt © Oksana Komarova Children played here before the war © Oksana Komarova Antes de la guerra, aquí solían jugar los niños © Oksana Komarova Avant la guerre, les enfants jouaient ici © Oksana Komarova До войны здесь гуляли дети © Оксана Комарова

Children played here before the war © Oksana Komarova

Walking around a pit filled with building rubble (these are craters left by missiles), Alla leads us to her home, disfigured by shelling.

“Howitzers stood here – large, covered vehicles. They loaded Grad missile launchers here and fired them,” Alla shows their location. “The cannon stood next to the garden. Excavators dug pits and these enormous muzzles began firing at Kharkiv.

“I counted the shots. The Grad launcher fired 78 times without a break … The cannon fired 43 times in a row … What are you firing at?! I asked. There are people and children there.”

Будинок Алли Корзуріної © Оксана Комарова Alla Korsurinas Haus © Oksana Komarova Alla Korzurina’s house © Oksana Komarova Casa de Alla Korzurina © Oksana Komarova La maison d’Alla Korzourina © Oksana Komarova Дом Аллы Корзуриной © Оксана Комарова

Alla Korzurina’s house © Oksana Komarova

Q. Which Russian units were based in Tyshki?

“At first, they were young lads. ‘I’m from Petersburg’, one said, ‘and I’m 19 years old. My brother is in Kharkiv and they’re making me shoot into the city.’ Then there were fighters from the ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ and Chechnya.

“Two times they carried out a search, looking for something in our houses, cellars and attics.”

© Оксана Комарова © Oksana Komarova Abandoned Russian equipment © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Оксана Комарова

Abandoned Russian equipment © Oksana Komarova

In early May the Russian soldiers withdrew but they did not go far, just north of the river.

“The invaders told us it would all be over by 9 May [Victory Day]. We waited and (idiot that I am) I believed them. On 6 May we got up and no one was left. On 7 May Ukrainian soldiers entered the village: ‘We’re from Ternopil,’ they said, ‘electric lighting will soon be back on’. We were so happy. Everything had finished, we thought. But it had not yet begun. They were from a Ukrainian intelligence unit and went somewhere else,” recalls Korzurina.

“On 9 May, in the afternoon, the shelling began. We spent two days with our in-laws in their cellar. Day and night it continued. We couldn’t even go out to feed the hens. As soon as we opened a door they were firing again. The Russians had moved across the river, where you see the pines. They dug in there and fired at us.

“The Ukrainian territorial defence force moved us out of the village. We left on 12 May and our in-laws followed on 14 May. They saw their house destroyed one night. The Russians were firing from helicopters … There was hardly no one left here but they were shooting at anyone who moved. I can’t get my head around it.”

After withdrawing, Alla says, Russian soldiers shelled the places where they had been based, the local school in particular. At that moment there were no Ukrainian forces in the village.

У місцевому ліцеї росіяни спочатку жили, а після відступу намагалися зрівняти із землею © Оксана Комарова Die Russen hatten sich zunächst in der örtlichen Schule untergebracht. Nach dem Abzug versuchten sie, sie dem Erdboden gleich zu machen. © Oksana Komarova The Russians first lived in the local school; after they withdrew, they tried to raze it to the ground © Oksana Komarova Al entrar, los rusos se instalaron en el colegio local, y después de su retirada intentaron destruirlo © Oksana Komarova Les Russes ont d’abord vécu dans le lycée du village, et après leur retraite, ils ont essayé de le raser © Oksana Komarova В местном лицее россияне сначала жили, а после отступления пытались сравнять его с землёй © Оксана Комарова

The Russians first lived in the local school; after they withdrew, they tried to raze it to the ground © Oksana Komarova

When they left, the Russians didn’t even take the corpses of their own soldiers.

“They tossed the bodies of their own dead soldiers here among the pines … The stench was awful! My sister’s husband went there to get something from my home. He said you couldn’t breathe the air.”

Ліс, де росіяни покинули своїх загиблих © Оксана Комарова Der Wald, in dem die Russen ihre getöteten Kameraden zurückließen © Oksana Komarova The wood where Russians abandoned their dead © Oksana Komarova El bosque donde los rusos dejaron a sus muertos © Oksana Komarova Les Russes sont partis en laissant leurs morts dans cette forêt © Oksana Komarova Лес, где россияне бросили своих погибших © Оксана Комарова

The wood where Russians abandoned their dead © Oksana Komarova

They dumped stolen washing machines in my yard (Sergiy Serdiuk)

The invaders displayed an odd liking for certain kinds of domestic appliance. Scattered next to Sergiy Serdiuk’s house are dozens of frames and drums from washing machines, like the remains of dead animals.

“They stole these washing machines all over the village,” says Sergiy, “and dumped them here.”

У будинку Сергія Сердюка окупанти влаштували базу © Ірина Скачко Im Haus Serhij Serdjuks hatten die Besatzer einen Stützpunkt eingerichtet © Iryna Skatschko The invaders used Sergiy Serdiuk’s home as a base © Iryna Skachko En la casa de Sergiy Serdyuk los ocupantes instalaron su base © Iryna Skachko Les occupants avaient installé leur base dans la maison de Serhiy Serdiouk © Irina Skatchko В доме Сергея Сердюка оккупанты устроили базу © Ирина Скачко

The invaders used Sergiy Serdiuk’s home as a base © Iryna Skachko

He shows me a photo on his phone. His home looked very comfortable: no doubt that’s why the Russian invaders chose it as their base.

“We left almost at once and in March they stormed into the place. One lot of orcs lived there to begin with, then they left, and others replaced them,” says Serdiuk. “They carried off everything – refrigerators, washing machines, the lot! All our belongings, the bath, the beds and everything from the garage. Neighbours say that two large trucks drove up and carted off everything they could. They sorted the stolen washing machines here and stacked them onto trucks and took them away. Then a shell hit the house and a pile of drums was all that remained of the washing machines they didn’t take.”

Apart from smashed-up washing machines, the Russian soldiers left behind filth, empty tin cans and their dry rations. By chance, Sergiy came across the documents confirming ownership of his house on a pile of rubbish outside the fence. The sappers checked the yard and what remains of his house but warned him not to go out into the garden.

© Оксана Комарова © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Оксана Комарова

© Oksana Komarova

© Оксана Комарова © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Оксана Комарова

© Oksana Komarova

When Ukrainian troops moved into the village, they also chose Sergiy’s cellar as their base. The house was on the edge of the settlement and had a good view of the place to which the invaders had withdrawn. It became some kind of outpost for Ukraine’s soldiers, and a very dangerous one: shells frequently landed there and a motor vehicle carrying military medical personnel was set alight in the garage …

On 1 September they fired phosphorus bombs at us (Victor Simyachko)

“On 24 February, my wife and I heard explosions. Tanks were shelling the village and that day columns of Russian military vehicles drove through Tyshki. A great many Russian soldiers moved into the school,” says farmer Victor Simyachko. “There was hardly any damage to the village then. But when the Russians withdrew, they began shelling us heavily in early May.”

By training an engineer, Victor Simyachko has been a farmer for the past 37 years. He does everything himself. He can repair the equipment and built a shed for his tractor.

Фермер Віктор Сім’ячко, Руські Тишки © Оксана Комарова Der Bauer Viktor Simjatschko, Ruski Tyschky © Oksana Komarova Farmer Victor Simyachko © Oksana Komarova Agricultor Víctor Semyachko, Ruski Tyshky © Oksana Komarova Viktor Simiatchko, agriculteur, Ruski Tyshki © Oksana Komarova Фермер Виктор Семьячко, Русские Тишки © Оксана Комарова

Farmer Victor Simyachko © Oksana Komarova

“Our farm was not big. Only me and my wife worked there. But we made a profit, and I paid our taxes.”

During the occupation Russian soldiers stole Simyachko’s plough.

“On 24 April, at Easter, they drove up on a tractor, attached the plough and off they went. My equipment is old: they took a look, saw nothing worth stealing and drove off with my new disc plough.”

To protect his motor vehicle from the invaders Victor disabled it by taking out the battery and hiding it.

Віктор Михайлович каже, що його будинок згорів після обстрілів фосфорними снарядами © Ірина Скачко Viktor Simjatschko berichtet, dass sein Haus nach einem Angriff mit Phosphorbomben abgebrannt ist © Iryna Skatschko Victor’s house burned down after phosphorus bombs were fired into Tyshki © Iryna Skachko Víctor dice que su casa se quemó al ser bombardeada con proyectiles de fósforo © Iryna Skachko Viktor Mykhailovych explique que sa maison a brûlé après avoir été bombardée par des bombes au phosphore © Irina Skatchko Виктор Михайлович говорит, что его дом сгорел после обстрелов фосфорными снарядами © Ирина Скачко

Victor’s house burned down after phosphorus bombs were fired into Tyshki © Iryna Skachko

Today little remains of Victor’s proudly named “Falcon” farm. The animals died, the vehicles were wrecked, and the high-quality seed was spoiled; the house burned down in September after phosphorus bombs were fired into Tyshki.

“On 17 June, my wife and I were hiding in the cellar. Sixteen shells landed in the garden and the yard. Then one landed next to the house. We crawled out and saw that the seed-store had collapsed, and the fences were flattened. The windows of the house had been blown out. After that, the shelling stopped,” says Victor.

“I think a spotter adjusted the range. Sixteen shells missed but when one hit us, they stopped firing at once. Then they started again and fired often. The barn where we keep the pigs caught fire. 110 egg-laying chickens also died.

“At midnight on 1 September [just before the Ukrainian counter-attack] the Russians fired phosphorus bombs at us, and the second floor of our house caught fire. ‘Why’s it light outside?’ my wife asked. We ran out of the house and saw that the second storey was alight.

“I have a generator. I turned it on and attached a hose … but the wind was too strong, and the house burned down.”

Такими білими слідами (ймовірно це фософор) всіяна ферма “Сокіл” © Ірина Скачко Mit diesen weißen Spuren (vermutlich Phosphor) ist der Bauernhof „Sokol“ übersät © Iryna Skatschko Such white traces (probably phosphorus) were strewn over the Falcon Farm © Iryna Skachko La granja Sokol está salpicada con residuos blancos (probablemente de fósforo) © Iryna Skachko La ferme « Faucon » est parsemée de traces blanches (probablement du phosphore) © Irina Skatchko Такими белыми следами (вероятно, это фосфор) усеяна ферма “Сокол” © Ирина Скачко

Such white traces (probably phosphorus) were strewn over the Falcon Farm © Iryna Skachko

Now Victor lives in Kharkiv with his daughter. Each day he returns to the farm, mending and restoring what can be saved. He patches the holes in his shot-up tractor and covers the roof of the barn where some of his stock of high-quality sunflower seeds remains with surviving corrugated sheets. A pile of barley, dampened under the open skies and rains, has already put out green shoots.

© Оксана Комарова © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Oksana Komarova © Оксана Комарова

© Oksana Komarova

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