Well-known Ukrainian journalist, translator and poet Olena Stepanenko has told the Kyiv Post how her family succeeded in getting out of Bucha, a town near the Ukrainian capital which was occupied by Russian troops from day one of Russia’s unprovoked war.

Stepanenko was evacuated from Bucha in the second humanitarian corridor on March 11 together with her husband, Belarusian poet Serhiy Prylutsky, and son Adam, as well as their neighbour.

Shrapnel litters the streets, the aftermath of missiles hitting housing in Bucha. (Photo Credits: All photos Olena Stepanenko)

Shrapnel littered the streets in the aftermath of missiles hitting housing in Bucha. (Photo Credits: All photos Olena Stepanenko)

“We could smell corpses every day because there was a thaw. And we were so glad that these were Russian bodies. But when we all left Bucha, we found out there were ours,” Olena Stepanenko told the Kyiv Post.


On Feb. 24, from the very first days of the war, the city was left without electricity, gas and water.

The family couldn’t be evacuated from the very beginning because the first green corridor was arranged only for private cars. The family don’t have a car, so they couldn’t leave in the first corridor.

“On the previous day, we were stood in the cold for seven hours. We took a little water and food with us. I was generally surprised. Around 400 people were standing with dogs, cats, with little children, which was scary,” the writer explained to the Kyiv Post.

The family succeeded in getting out of Bucha to the safety zone by a minibus re-equipped from an industrial bus with a little window near the driver’s side. It had no seats. The family succeeded in jumping into the minibus when it was at end of the street and the column was already moving.

“On day two, I left my family and neighbor and went to each car to ask for help to evacuate our family. A lot of cars refused to take us because they were loaded with bags. They know that this was a matter of life and death, and nobody threw out an extra bag,” Olena Stepanenko added.


The family was forced to leave from the first day of the occupation because it was less than one kilometer from near Hostomel Airport. When Russian troops began  to bomb their district, they went to another flat of one woman at another end of their city, who saved their lives. When they came back they saw how one flat of their housing block had been completely destroyed. There was rubble and fittings on the ground.

”We saw Antonov’s ‘Mriya’ [Dream] plane, not from our windows, but from the windows of the stair landings. We saw “Dream,” Hostomel airport….And when the war started, all of this actually began under our windows. Everybody who was able to left. We don’t have a car. So, we had no choice.” Olena explained.

So, from day one of the war till March 11, the family lived in the flat of the woman whom they knew woman without heating, electricity, water or medicine. It was around 5 °C outside.

Firewood readied for cooking.


Moreover, Olena Stepanenko caught Covid when the war started, which caused pneumonia and bronchitis. All the pharmacies and shops were closed, so the family were unable to buy medicine. On the third day of the war, the electricity disappeared, so nobody could pay for food by bank card.


The family was, however, able to use a nearby water pump when the electricity provided by a generator was turned on. When the generator worked, people could charge their smartphones and laptops and take water. Men were taking pallets and chopping them up and lighting a fire, after which they were able to cook food.

Now the family is divided by the Ukrainian-Polish border. Olena and her son Adam are in Wroclaw, Poland, while husband Serhiy is temporarily in Ternopil, Ukraine.


“I can’t understand how I can ever come back to Bucha, to those streets where innocent people lay, where my compatriots lay. On Promenysty Station near my home, people were tortured. I don’t know how our authorities allowed this to happen when they had known a month earlier that Russian troops would attack Bucha, and they didn’t do anything either to evacuate people or destroy bridges,” Olena told the Kyiv Post, explaining her feelings when looking at all the photos of Bucha after its eventual liberation from Russian occupying forces.

Cooking in the outdoors on the street.




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