“I hid seven children in the boot of my car. Apart from my own, there were children of friends and family. I quickly headed east, but after a short drive, I saw that I was heading toward the Russians. I realised that this was the end. I was already reconciled with my death,” says Tanja, sister of Olga Sukhenko, the murdered village chief of Motyzhyn.
“She was a great patriot. She did not hide it. She did not want to leave her village. She knew she was particularly vulnerable, but she decided to stay and help the people of Motyzhyn,” Tanja recalls in an interview with the Polish Press Agency.
Located in the Kyiv region and with a population of just over 1,000, the Russians entered Motyzhyn three days after the invasion of Ukraine began in February.
“They immediately caught all Ukrainian patriots. Collaborators were operating in the village, who handed over anyone who did not hide their attachment to their homeland,” she explains.
According to the villagers, the Russians tried to persuade Sukhenko to cooperate, but she firmly refused them.
“On 10 March, I realised that they were holding her. I immediately notified journalists and the services,” Tanja recounts.
“I waited, but she has already been dead.”
“I waited for the exchange of captives because I was convinced that Olga would be in that group. I didn’t know at the time that my sister was dead,” adds the woman, wiping away her tears.
Tanja found out about the murder of her sister, her husband Ihor and their son Sasha at the end of March.
“Olga and Sasha were thrown into a shallow grave in the forest, carelessly covering their bodies with earth; Ihor, naked and with his hands tied behind his back, was found in a nearby well,” she says, showing pictures of the bodies of his loved ones.
According to the investigators dealing with the case, the cause of death of the village chief and her family was a shot fired at close range.
“They were brutally tortured before their deaths; screws were driven under my sister’s fingernails by the orcs (Russians),” Tanja notes.
The woman knows the faces of those responsible for the death of her sister and her family. During an interview with the Polish Press Agency, she shows pictures on her phone of Russian soldiers identified by Ukrainian investigative journalists.
“They were the ones who terrorised the village and killed members of my family,” she says.
“I was ready for my death…”
Heading towards Kyiv, the Russian offensive found Tanja in Yasnohorodka, 7km east of Motyzhyn. On 5 March, Russian tanks approached the village; the woman – who was working at the time in a shop that was later bombed – decided to flee.
“I hid my seven children in the boot of the car. Apart from my own, there were children of friends and family. I quickly headed east, but after a short drive, I saw that I was heading toward the Russians. I realised that this was the end. All I could think about was paying them for their promise to let the children go, I was already reconciled with my death,” confesses the woman.
“As I approached, I saw Ukrainian badges on the shoulders of the soldiers. I rapidly burst into tears. I told them not to go that way, that behind my back everything was under fire,” she says.
“It was unreal, I felt like I was in a movie. I was speeding, hearing incessant explosions behind me and the loud cries of children coming out of the boot,” Tanja adds.
Ten families, some of whom she had not met before, were hiding in her house in nearby Lishnya.
“They had nowhere else to go, and this area seemed safer,” Tanja explains.