After hundreds were murdered in their town, Ukrainian residents are turning to anti-depressants, alcohol, religion and ultimately to community to process the horror of what happened

Terrified residents in Bucha are desperately trying to overcome the trauma of the civilian massacre that took place in the city at the beginning of Russia’s war with Ukraine. Located only 15 miles away from Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Bucha came into the world’s focus after Russian forces occupied the city during the months of February and March.

Although Ukrainian troops pushed back the Russian offensive, the residents who remain in Bucha are now battling against the psychological scars they’ve been left with.


Church Wine

Earlier this month, Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Federochuk told Byline Times that over 400 dead bodies had been discovered in mass graves throughout the city with local authorities investigating the deaths as possible war crimes conducted by Russian forces.

Over 100 of the victims were discovered buried in shallow graves beside the Orthodox St Andrew’s Church in Bucha, according to Archpriest Andriy Galavin.

He told Byline Times that despite the horrors, local residents are still turning to religion for mental relief despite the church being mostly closed for service.

“Although it’s unofficial, it is very important people are coming and praying, the church is helping as well and providing humanitarian aid. Everything is individual to how people are reacting. I cannot see everyone, it’s not a little village, but what I saw is people is needing to be with each other, and need more support.”

Halyana. Photo: Tommy Walker

Halyana is a resident in Bucha who cares for her two disabled parents. When Russian forces occupied her village, all she could do was pray.

“All over this place, there were [Russian] tanks. And above my house, there was always striking towards Irpin. There were shooting, I’m Orthodox, I’m a religious person, I was constantly praying, and they did not hit us, so I thank God,” she told Byline Times. 

Halyana and her parents survived, but several of her neighbours were so fortunate. “I saw so many dead bodies, so many people I know,” she said. Despite not drinking alcohol regularly, her harrowing experiences are now difficult to forget. “A neighbour brought some church wine, it is helping.”

An unnamed man holds a bottle of vodka, Bucha, Ukraine. Photo: Tommy Walker

But for resident Lionia, the fear of attacks has led him to drink homemade alcohol. The 62-year-old’s mother-in-law would make homemade moonshine before she left during an evacuation.

“She left it in the closet. There’s no alcohol in the shops, but I have these secrets. It’s not less than 40%,” he told Byline Times.

“When the first explosion I heard I thought I would die, but with this moonshine, I would have relief. If I have 150g of moonshines I will be ok, and I’m sleeping without hearing these explosions,” he added.

In Kyiv since April 1, the ban on the sale of alcohol was lifted after it was prohibited at the beginning of the war. But in decimated settlements like Bucha with fewer stores open, alcohol has become an impossible luxury.


Community

While the memories are still fresh in the minds of residents, the struggle to get back to normal life continues. With a population of less than 50,000 prior to the war, thousands were evacuated during the intense fighting in the city. 

Natalia, a medical nurse at the Irpin Hospital in Bucha said patients who remain in Bucha are still reeling from the massacre.

“All medical workers are giving psychological support because people are coming for high blood pressure because of so much stress and they needed to talk to someone,” she told Byline Times.

“[They are asking for] strong medicines, like antidepressants and prescriptions, and what I saw was that people were smoking more,” she added.

To make things worse, local authorities have admitted that dozens of settlements within the Kyiv region, including Bucha, still remain without gas and electricity. Andriy Nebytov, the Chief of Kyiv Regional Police, told Byline Times earlier this month that the neighbouring city of Irpin is hoping to have regular power by the beginning of May.

The volunteers that have since poured into Bucha, handing out humanitarian aid at the Bucha Ukrainian Gymnasium, has helped.“Volunteers are helping, are coming and I’m able to take any food here and boiling hot water. What’s keeping me sane is the hope that my life will go back to normal. I have no fear, I’m not scared even when I hear the air raid sirens,” Vasyly, a 68-year-old resident said. 

Bucha resident Vladimir with a Russian rocket shell. He stayed in his neighbourhood using a makeshift communal kitchen to cook food with other residents. Photo: Tommy Walker

Without a reliable power supply, some residents were forced to use old school methods to survive.

Vladimir, a middle-aged resident, explained how his neighbourhood was occupied by the Russian military from the beginning of the war. “This yard was full of Russian military cars, over 20. It was a military base,” he said pointing to the flat tyres of cars inflicted by Russian soldiers.

Despite being under Russian control, 150 people were living in underground basements. But it didn’t prevent Vladimir and other residents from converting an outdoor yard into a communal kitchen. Complete with a cooking area, a water supply and a broken door, the makeshift communal became an important gathering spot for terrified residents to lift their spirits.

“From the first day we were very united in the community, we had a generator to make the electricity so we were charging people’s phones. Thanks to this community we survived, we couldn’t survive on our own. This is history for us, a historical place,” he added.

After an evacuation of residents in March, most people left. But a dozen stayed and still use the communal kitchen today, including Vladimir.

“It was very important, my family left but I stayed here for my apartment. We were lucky I guess because the Russians were more intelligent, there were not beating us,” he added.

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