Ukrainian Woman Saw Her Daughter and Husband Being Killed | She Was Then Held Captive in Basement With Toddler

Ukrainian Woman Saw Her Daughter and Husband Being Killed | She Was Then Held Captive in Basement With Toddler

"When I'm with people, when I do something and communicate, I forget what's happened. But when I'm alone, I'm lost."

Image source: Canva Images

Trigger Warning: This story discusses violent death that may be disturbing to readers. 

After watching her husband and daughter die, Viktoria Kovalenko has been living a nightmare. 

Just nine days into the war, Viktoria and her husband Petro made the decision to flee Chernihiv, in the north of the country. All they wanted was to keep their children safe. Viktoria had a 12-year-old daughter, Veronika, from her first marriage. Her other daughter, Varvara, is just a year old, according to BBC


The family of four grabbed everything they needed and drove away from their family home. But, as they left the outskirts of the city, stones in the road blocked their path. Petro pulled over, climbed out of the vehicle, and started to move the stones to make way for them to leave. 

Within seconds, their car was fired on. 

"My older daughter Veronika started to cry because my head had been cut by a piece of flying glass and I was bleeding," says Viktoria, while pointing to a spot high on her left cheekbone—a small, twisted red scar.


"Veronika started to shout, her hands were shaking, so I tried to calm her. She got out of the car and I went to follow. As I got out I saw her fall. When I looked, her head was gone," recalled the mom. 




The car had been struck by a Russian shell and burst into flames. "I tried to stay calm, I was holding my baby daughter and I needed to get her to safety". She never saw or heard from her husband again, but she knew deep down that he wasn't alive, either. 

As she fled from the burning car, her only goal was to keep her and her little one alive. Soon enough, Viktoria and Varvara found shelter in a parked car, but then the shooting began again. She ran to a small building that had clearly been used by soldiers. Hiding there, her phone switched off to save battery, all while wondering how she'd keep herself and her daughter safe.
But the very next day, the patrolling Russian troops found the two of them and held them captive in the basement of a school in Yahidne. The mom and baby spent the next 24 days there, in appalling conditions. Viktoria watched people die around her, unable to access the medical care they needed.


There were about 40 people in the room, Viktoria recalled, with little space to move or walk. There was no light, so they had to use candles and cigarette lighters. It was dusty and hot, and Viktoria shared that people found it difficult to breathe. Most of the time people were not allowed to go out even to use a toilet. They were made to use buckets instead.


"The lack of movement made people ill, they sat on the chairs, they slept on the chairs. We could see their veins, and they started to bleed, so we made bandages," said Viktoria.




While trying to stay alive in these brutal conditions, Viktoria also had to process the grief of losing both her husband and daughter. Not only did she ask her captors to get her the bodies of her husband and daughter to bury them, but she also contacted her ex-husband so he could send her pictures of the remains.

The vehicle was completely destroyed, with just a few items here and there. However, the grieving mom still remembers the day the bodies arrived. "It was the 12th of March. They called me and said, 'Let's go, and you will see where they will lay down.' They were buried in the forest, in two graves, one box was bigger, and one box was smaller. And two crosses with signs. We stayed and started to cover the boxes with earth, but shelling started, so we ran away before we had finished burying them. It was very frightening."


When asked what she would say to the people who did this to her family, she said, "If I was given the possibility of shooting Putin, I would do it. My hand would not shake."

Thankfully, Viktoria and Varvara are now safe in Lviv, in the west of Ukraine. But letting go of the trauma has not been easy for her. "When I'm with people, when I do something and communicate, I forget what's happened. But when I'm alone, I'm lost."

The woman who is now undergoing therapy, also said that it was Veronika who kept her safe during this traumatic ordeal while showing a keyring - a small cuddly cow with a heart on its chest. It was a gift from Veronika.



Attached to it is a small gold ring, etched with letters. "That was from the church, she bought it for me too. It's an amulet, I feel like it saved me. It was in my pocket. The whole time, she was there keeping me safe."

Disclaimer: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a developing story, and we’ll update as we learn more. Information is swiftly changing and Women Working is committed to providing the most recent and verified updates in our articles and reportage. However, considering the frequency in developments, some of the information/data in this article may have changed since the time of publication.



Cover Image Source: Canva Images