‘Why fire eight rockets at a kindergarten?’
The eldest son of Okhtyrka resident Liubov Maksymchuk died while helping to equip a bomb shelter in a kindergarten. Due to constant shelling, they were able to bury him only three days later. Maksym's two minor sons were left orphaned. Eight months later and barely holding back tears, Liubov Maksimchuk talks about the events of February 25 in Okhtyrka, a town in the northeast Sumy Region of Ukraine.
On 25 February, Okhtyrka was bombed, especially the military unit in the Dachny minidistrict. They shelled a garden nearby, where civilians found shelter. Today is eight months since our son was killed there. For what? We lived, did not know much, and the son went to work. Now his sons are orphans. There are no words to describe the grief that the Russians brought us.
What actually happened? How exactly did your son die?
They bombed the military unit's location and its vicinities. Eight rockets were dropped on the kindergarten, perhaps on purpose. Maybe there was a tip. I don't know. I understand, a military unit: there were soldiers there. However, the kindergarten is where peaceful people are. The children were hiding there. My son was called to move the chairs from the kindergarten to the bomb shelter so the children could sit. But they bombed everything. Airplanes flew around the city, and our house was bombed.
Was your son hurt while bringing the chairs?
Yes. He and others were carrying chairs for the children, then a rocket flew in and hurt him. The fragment hit the femoral artery. My son Maksym and Natasha, the security guard who opened this bomb shelter, died immediately on the spot, and two others died later in the hospital. The men who carried chairs in the bomb shelter were wounded. They were injured, and those on the edge of the group were killed.
Did you then go to the hospital to look for your son?
We couldn't go because there was shelling.
But in the end, were you able to go there?
No, the youngest son ran there at his peril and risk. He ran to the kindergarten first, but the ambulance already took Maksym to the hospital. He found his brother in the morgue the same day, 2 hours later. The shelling did not stop: they would shoot, rest for twenty minutes and shoot again. Therefore, we could not immediately take him out of the morgue; we buried him only on the third day.
And what was the situation in the morgue? Were there a lot of people?
There were many people in the morgue, especially from the military unit. The father brought his son without a head. He only recognized him by the tattoo. There were a lot of soldiers: shot, burned, with their skin scorched. They said they would take DNA for identification. But I say: these are warriors. What about civilians? Why were rockets fired at the kindergarten?
How far was the kindergarten from the military unit?
Approximately five hundred meters.
And rockets continued to fly into the area for a week?
Yes, we did not get out of the cellar. Every day they fired, and planes flew. It was unbearable.
But they destroyed the military unit, as I understand it, on the first day?
No, they bombed it for three days! After that, there was no longer a living place, and everything was destroyed. The military unit was big, but they wrecked everything. The soldiers were covered with slabs. They were our children. All of them, regardless of age 20 or 40 years old.
How old was your son?
Forty-one years old. He worked at Okhtyrkaneftegaz as an assistant driller. First, he worked as a cook and then as a driller assistant. Everyone liked him, and he was golden. I wish all mothers to have such a son. We cannot believe he is no more.
Did he have children?
He has a fourteen-year-old son, Arturchik, from his first marriage. And Yurchik is eight years old. The one from his first marriage went with his mother to Germany. Called, saying: “Daddy.” And the grandfather replies: “There is no daddy.” “How is it possible, no daddy? Only yesterday, we hid in the forest with him.” “That's it, he died.” So the children were left orphaned.
And your house — how do you live in it now?
We repaired it and put in new windows. We paid our money, but what could we do? The winter is coming, and it will be cold.
What do you feel about the Russians now? How do you explain your feelings?
What can I say? I have relatives in Russia, but we do not communicate. They say that we are bombing, not them. My sister is alone in Bryansk; she is for us, for Ukraine. In St. Petersburg, my classmate from the village who lived across the road and went to school with me asked: “Well, do you have many widows?” My husband said: “That’s it; we don’t communicate with them anymore.” But, of course, there are many widows here. For example, Natasha, our daughter-in-law, is a widow. What should she do now with her son? She can’t go to work because she has to take her son to school and care for everything else. Where will they get money to live?
How is life in Okhtyrka now? Relatively calm?
Relatively calm, but the sirens are howling. Shops and everything else close when the siren starts to go off. Otherwise, it’s okay, but there are many explosions nearby. We border with Velykaia Pysarevka, and we can hear well. We are apprehensive and nervous.