We stood on May 1, 2013, in Bucha’s mass grave, just one month after it was liberated from Russian invading forces.
Tetiana Sichkar was just 20 years old when she spoke to us about how occupation had impacted her life in the most unexpected ways.
She takes us today to the edge of a forest, where she was victim to a war crime that cost her her life.
Tetiana and her mother Tetiana (also called Tetiana) made the short journey home from Tetiana’s grandmother’s house on 24 March 2013. They were the only ones with a gas stove and wood fire. They traveled through the woods and along a railway track.
To signal to the Russian troops that they were civilians, they wore white tape across their arms. They weren’t a threat.
Bucha would become free in seven days.
The two Tetianas were walking on Thursday when a loud crack broke through the silence between the trees.
The young woman says, “Suddenly I heard an extremely loud gunshot.”
“Then, I saw something, possibly blood or a bullet.
She recalled telling everyone to get down and then falling to the floor. She tried shaking her mother’s leg but got no response.
“There was blood everywhere. Her eyes were open, and she was staring. I began to scream. I screamed for about five minutes.”
Is she able to identify the source of the shot? Tetiana isn’t sure.
She gestures to her left, through the thickest forest.
“My father believes it was here because that’s where the Russians were.”
She points ahead to a white building and calmly says: “The sniper was there on the second floor.”
It is difficult to believe that Tetiana, rooted to such a tragic spot by her composure, can look up at the upstairs windows.
We are taken to the gravesite of her mother, just a short distance away.
She claims that the funeral arrangements were blurred.
Before the Russians invaded Bucha, they took her mother’s body in a stolen car. She was buried in her garden first, then a rush of ceremonies was held at a cemetery once it was safe.
The site is home to hundreds of graves, with less than one foot between them. This was the final resting spot for many people long before the Russian invasion.
Tetiana, now 21 years old, shows us a photo of her with her mum, who is the most important woman she has ever known.
She says, “Ofcourse, I miss her the most because she was closest to me,” she adds – it must be hard for her now. It is difficult. It goes on.
She studies computer programming in her flat in a different part of bucha. However, she travels to Kyiv to meet the woman helping her fight for justice.
Oksana Mykhalevych (36), is a lawyer who has been pursuing human rights violations since the Maidan Uprising of 2014, when 100 activists were killed and 13 officers were injured during protests against Viktor Yanukovych.
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She has pages of documents in orderly sorted in clear plastic sleeves and a bright red folder. This will allow Tetiana to communicate with official war crime investigators, who have received support from various legal systems worldwide, including the UK.
Oksana states that the Ukrainian police want to conduct a reconstruction next month in order to determine where the fatal shot was fired from. This will allow them to identify the Russian military unit that was involved.
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The commanders will be pursued by them. She tells us that “someone should take responsibility”.
Tetiana acknowledges that the Russian military personnel in Bucha who were occupying Bucha might have been sent to another front in the country, and could have suffered the fate of Ukrainian soldiers.
It is highly likely that the person in question is already deceased. If that person is still living, I believe I will see him at a court. Maybe I’ll even ask him why he did that to my family.”