The Kazakh Who Saved Over 300 Ukrainians from Russian Occupation
Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, volunteer Konstantin Kyastutisovich has helped to save over 300 people in the Kyiv region, particularly in Bucha, Irpin and Vorzel. He witnessed many of the violent atrocities committed by the invaders, including the killing of adults and children.
In an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Konstantin reveals his experiences, and his views on whether the occupiers’ brutality was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
How did you help to get people out of danger? Why did the Russians let you pass into the occupied territories?
I am a citizen of Kazakhstan and have a Kazakhstan passport. It is a great sadness for my people that my country has an alliance with Russia, including militarily. Kazakhstan votes against Ukraine at the United Nations, but it is a dictatorial power. I can tell you that the ordinary people of Kazakhstan support Ukraine.
Did the Russians consider you an ally?
I was not Ukrainian and so they treated me differently. I am sure that the Russians came specifically to kill Ukrainians. I found myself in situations where I was carrying people with Ukrainian passports, and saw just how Russians treated Ukrainians. They came here with the specific purpose of destroying the Ukrainian nation.
How many trips to the occupied territories did you made?
I didn't count. My first trip was on the first day of the full-scale invasion. I saved a family with children and a woman who was eight months pregnant from Yasnogorodka [a village in the Kyiv region]. The woman has had a baby boy and I am his godfather. All the people who were saved in my car became my relatives.
You also risked your life. What is your motivation?
I was forced to leave my country in 2019 because of political persecution. When the Russian invasion started, I asked myself – how much longer can I run? I decided I wouldn’t run any longer.
What orders and rules did the Russians impose on the occupied territories? How did people survive under occupation?
First, the Russians started doing door-to-door searches for weapons and mobile phones. Then they introduced curfews for locals to leave their homes. They were allowed out between 10 am to 12 pm to draw water because everything was cut off. Bucha and Irpin are small towns and there are no wells, so people had to go to look for water in springs.
At first, the Russians thought they were coming here for a parade, and I found a lot of parade uniforms that they brought with them to Ukraine, However they were rebuffed and there was a partisan war.
A grandfather in Bucha went hunting [for Russians] every night, and the Russians were afraid to sleep in the vehicles. They hid in the canals because he would shoot them off, like shooting at a beast in a hunt.
Such actions provoked further aggression from the Russian militants, and they started killing people indiscriminately if they went out on the streets.
They set rules for people to walk with white armbands, just like the Nazis once did. Then they said that people had to write on the fences how many people lived in their home.
After the de-occupation of Bucha, terrible atrocities were revealed. You must have been a witness to these. Can you describe them?
I had to bury people. It was back in March, the weather was warm, and people were lying dead on the streets. There were a lot of animals that people had to leave there, because they were not allowed on the evacuation bus. Those homeless dogs were tearing around [feeding on the bodies of corpses].
I went to the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) headquarters in Vorzel and asked for permission to bury people because we didn’t know when the occupation would end. At first, they refused. Then, after some time, I met this FSB officer again and told him: ‘Well, it's warming up now. The bodies will all start to decompose, so please allow me to bury them.’ He said: ‘Ok, bury the bodies where you find them.’
What shocked you the most?
There are a lot of stories, but probably the worst is when I was carrying a wounded seven-year-old girl. She was unconscious and had a shrapnel wound. The Russians wanted to sterilize or kill her.
I knelt and told the soldiers – ‘if it were your child, I would also go and save her. She is an angel. She will grow up, and she will decide for herself. You do not have the right to take her life.’
He said: ‘She will give birth to Banderovets [Ukrainians]. This was a Russian soldier barely 20-years-old.
I also came across several cases of children being abused which stopped me from sleeping for a few days. I still close my eyes and see the eyes of those children.
I recently congratulated the children on St. Nicholas Day in Bucha, and they were so broken. When St. Nicholas asked them: ‘Do you have a dream?’, they answered ‘No.’ These children have experienced terrifying things.
Is it possible to forgive the Russians?
I will never forgive them. None of my relatives have died in this war, but I’ve seen such horrible things.
One day, When I was driving down the street in Bucha, a family was walking down the street and a sniper first killed then man, then a teenager, before watching the woman crying over the bodies
This is not war. This is genocide. He killed them for fun. People were walking in white armbands, trying to survive, and he killed them for fun!
That's the kind of joy Russians get when they see such terrible pain. It was hard for me because I couldn't stop [driving]. I knew that if I stopped, the people in my car and I would die.
Did you come across any Russians who showed any sense of humanity?
I didn’t meet any good ones among them – not a single one who showed any humanity to Ukrainians whom I helped.
There was one occasion when we ran into a Russian military column. They dragged us to the ground, and one put a gun to our heads… then he shot over my head.
At first, I didn't understand what had just happened. I thought he had shot at me.
Do you think Putin gave the order to kill people in such a brutal way? Or do you think they acted on their own initiative?
People ask this a lot. All I can say is, Russia is the people who give birth to the likes of Putin.
Yanukovych failed in Ukraine. In 2014 so many young people died on the Maidan to ensure that there would be no Putin here in Ukraine.
In Russia, the people support what Russia is doing in Ukraine, and it is not because of TV propaganda. I have many acquaintances there – even relatives who have cursed me. My grandmother, who has known me since I was a child, said: ‘Damn you for helping the Banderovets [Ukrainians].’
It's not Putin. It's Russian society that hates Ukrainians for living differently.