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Inside the Basement Where an Entire Ukrainian Village Spent a Harrowing Month in Captivity

Olha Meniailo—Courtesy The Reckoning Project

Seven days after the invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops entered the village of Yahidne. They forced the residents out of their homes and into the basement of the local school, which they had turned into their headquarters. Until they withdrew on March 30, 2022, the Russians kept almost the entire population of Yahidne—more than 360 people, including children and the elderly—in that basement for nearly a month.

It was so cramped, people had to sleep sitting up. Instead of a toilet, there were buckets. Food had to be foraged. There was no ventilation, so the oldest went crazy and died. The Russians did not allow the dead to be buried immediately, and when they finally did, they fired on the funeral.

“People jumped into the pit with the bodies,” says one six months later, recalling the ordeal, at a feast for those who emerged alive. Many had not.

In the intervening months, the survivors repeated their experience to one another, and to investigators working for justice. Their confinement in the basement may serve, one year after Vladimir Putin invaded on Feb. 24, as a microcosm of the sadism that arrived with the invaders. But to more than one survivor, what comes to mind is a concentration camp.

“What day,” one of them asks, “did people start going crazy?”

Read the full story in Time here.

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