Ordinary evil. My experience of communicating with the Russian military in Bucha
Ordinary evil. My experience of communicating with the Russian military in Bucha
Let’s imagine a common situation on the social networks. You see some vicious and aggressive comment like "I would execute people like you! Die, you ugly beast!" Such words shock you a bit, so you decide to check this person's profile, to see maybe she is some sort of a maniac. But what you see there is a mom's blog full of kids, suns, and flowers. And the profile pic has some motivational words like "may everyone have love in their soul". Slightly shocking, right? But it shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, there is nothing extraordinary in this. "Unfortunately," because meeting such a contrast is always unpleasant, and sometimes even deadly dangerous.
Now we have a lot of comments on Bucha, a lot of explanations, but almost every speaker stumbles talking of violence. Like, we didn't expect such atrocities. It hardly needed mentioning that most of locals also could not imagine that the photos of their town would very soon be all over the world media with horrible headlines like "Bucha massacre". The evacuation from the town started on March 9, and it was relatively safe to leave by bus or by personal cars then. But some people decided to stay. Some of them did not know about the evacuation or could not come to the meeting place physically. And the rest remained as they simply did not see the danger. Do these good boys really pose any threat to us? And by "good boys" I mean those that now animal rights activists ask not to call "animals." Out of respect for animals.
I communicated with the Russian military at the beginning of March. I stayed in Bucha and saw them coming in with their tanks, parking as close to the houses as possible. The private house I was in was completely surrounded, so I could watch them from my windows. This area would soon become the bloodiest in the city. But then the Russians just came out of their tanks and broke in a small grocery on the ground floor of an apartment building. They took some chips, crackers and were eating on the go. It was obvious that they were hungry. We were afraid that they would get drunk quickly, but that didn't happen. At least not early in the game.
One of the tanks was hysterically going back and forth and finally stopped next to us. They pulled the half-alive "one of their people" out of it, threw him under the wall, started interrogating, shouting, and threatening him with weapons. It lasted for an hour. Then he was pushed back into the tank, and it went somewhere hysterically again.
We were waiting for them. The night before a tank came to this place, stayed there for an hour firing somewhere and then went away. It looked like it was a spy who checked the situation and found out that it would be safe among the houses. Therefore, upon arrival the tanks were placed as close to the walls of apartment buildings as possible, and some were located almost in the yards of private houses.
We did not hide in the basement in time, so had no idea what to do, and it lasted for three hours already. "We" mean me and my acquaintance’s elderly parents. I must say that the father of that family was a truly fearless man. At one point, his patience ran out and he just went out on the porch and started talking to them. I didn't even believe it was really happening. A few minutes later he came back and said we were going to the basement. He said that he came out and called them, showing his hands. They asked him to go outside to them. The man explained who was in the house and told that we wanted to go down to the basement. The young soldier in his early twenties told him with obvious and, most importantly, sincere sympathy and concern that yes, be sure to go down, because it would be hot here soon. He asked us to stay there for a few days. And when asked "What is planned here?" gave just as sincere answer "I have no idea. We don't understand what's going on here."
By the way, we heard these words more than once. And the manner of speaking got more and more irritated with each iteration. Actually, there was no "heat" that day or even that night. Well, relatively, of course. We were shocked by the benevolence of the Russians, which took on some phantasmagoric forms under these circumstances. Our neighbors felt just the same. Everyone thought it might be not such a terrible devil, so the next day people began to go out carefully, lighted fires for cooking, and even went outside to cut down tree branches, because many of them had run out of firewood. There were no facilities at that time, running water came later.
We expected that Russians would check our phones and documents, so we had to delete all the videos, photos, and messages and block our social networks accounts. And so they came. Two of them and one of our, Bucha people. They checked my passport and wanted to break my phone, because they suspected that it had signal. I hardly persuaded them to give it back. I told them that there is no signal, really, and offered to call someone and check. They started calling my mom. I asked to hang up and try some other number and joked that it was in their best interest not to contact this woman. They hung up. Called my friend. There was no signal, so I got my phone back although they asked why I have Telegram subscriptions for "bullshit" such as "ZSU Operatyvnyi" [Telegram channel with the news of Armed Forces of Ukraine].
One of Russians was 24 years old, and he was very tired. He and I went to check the basement, apparently looking for some younger men. When we were going down there, he started being shockingly frank with me. He complained about Putin and his own commanders saying, "They promised us three days, and we had already been here for a week and a half." He told me that there was no food, six people shared one ration, moreover — expired one. There was no place to sleep. They didn't know what was going on here and what their task was. Such poor things.
At first glance, he was a perfectly normal young man, perhaps a good husband and son. Many other Russian servicemen I spoke to made the same impression. Although their incomprehensible frankness still gave us a weird feeling. My new acquaintance told me that the day before he had to "take out a guy." He didn't really want to, but an order was an order. He admitted that they did not need this war in the slightest. It was simply a question of some nuclear warheads being brought to Ukraine, so Russia had to defend itself. They were talking to us in a friendly manner, advised us not to go outside and to hide in the basement. They were so attentive because they were defenders. "Liberators", more precisely. It took us a while to understand such an obvious thing: they were sure that we were happy to see them. They "reassured" us that "we would clean everything out here now and it would be safer." They told us that all the Ukrainians they had time to communicate with greeted them happily. And one old woman got on her knees and tearfully said, "Thank you, boys, for coming, we were waiting for you so."
One day I decided to go to my apartment and get my cat. I left her there because she was hysterical outside her usual place. Now I understood that I needed to get her, as it was not clear when and how exactly we would have to evacuate. Walking the streets was dangerous, but I had no choice. When I was close to the place, I heard tanks. They crept so far into the town that the conclusion was disappointing: Bucha was occupied. I stood in the alley, not knowing if I should go to my apartment or not. I was pondering on it when three Russians found me as they came to the crossroad.
I decided that I had to stand still till they passed me. Apparently, their military were not used to look around, so they noticed me at the last moment. I showed them my hands and waited for them to come closer. St. George's ribbons were all over them, and their faces were full of the deepest sorrow. "Did I come out at a bad time?" I asked. They said yes. Fire activity. I asked if I could go to my apartment. They shook their heads. "There is a fight. Aren't you afraid?" I said that we had been afraid for a long time here, but I needed to go there. They offered to lead me. I thought it would be too much but decided to move them to pity. "You’d better kill us all already, so that we were not afraid anymore." All three began shushing me at once, saying, "How could you say so, we are not going to kill civilians. Go home and don't go anywhere." And nailed it down with even more sympathetic facial expressions.
It was a total looney bin. This mad delusion was wrapped in something normal looking, and it influenced us the most. These people were not monsters with animal fangs and tails. I don't really want to use the word "people" after seeing photos of their atrocities. But that's the problem: damn, they are people. And at least the history of Nazism and Bolshevism makes it clear that evil is often very ordinary. Many people can be turned into zombies in just a few years, even those that are quite civilized, not to mention Russians who have been brainwashed for a long time already.
However, afterwards everything was falling into place. The longer they sat in Bucha, the angrier they became at their government and at us. And since they were not able to do anything with their government, they could not but take on solving the "Ukrainian question." It soon became clear that no one was going to greet them with flowers. All their ideas crashed. Where was that old woman who fell to her knees and cried with happiness? Was it a vision? It turned out that the TV had been telling the truth and there were no normal Ukrainians, as all of them were Bendera-worshipping fascists, getting ready to attack Russia as soon as possible. The warheads were already delivered here. So, you couldn't feel sorry for them. Even for children, because children would grow up and would also dream of waging bloody war with Moscow.
Ukrainians are traitors. That thought was shoved into their heads. And traitors are worse than enemies. We came here to protect them, we thought most of them were still normal, if just a little foggy with gayropean, State Department and Nazi propaganda. We would ruthlessly kill those who had finally chosen the path of evil, i.e., the military, territorial defense forces and suspicious men. But we would take care of others, and they would understand that Russians were their friends. Their brothers and sisters, liberators, and simply good people. It took them two or three weeks to finally understand and accept the bitter truth: none of these damned Ukrainians could be trusted, none could be seen as human. Women, the elderly, even children — no one should be spared. This land just needed to be cleared out.
Later, I often heard that no literature, no movies, or documentary chronicles could prepare people for such a catastrophe that happened in Bucha and, unfortunately, not only there. But I don’t agree. I was prepared. Everything had been pointing towards the scenario that took place a bit later. So, it became obvious that I had to run. It was possible only on foot, risking my life. But death from a bullet or a shell was not the worst option for me. It's fast and painless. Dying of torture was different. I often remembered everything I read and heard about the Donetsk concentration camp "Izolyatsia" [Isolation], so I assumed that something similar could be arranged in the Bucha colony. But for starters the basements would do.
Several factors had to make these "polite people" turn into monsters. First, disappointment that I talked about. Then there is grudge against their government and commanders. Once we overheard their night conversation. Those Russians who were on duty near the tanks were warming up by the fire. The rest were sleeping in apartments. They were angry because they had been abandoned and paid miserable 75 thousand rubles for a three-day operation. They had to take Kyiv and the region, be greeted by the grateful locals, and get back in their Rubtsovsk. But here they were instead, sitting cold and hungry under somebody’s fence.
Then goes fear. They had to acknowledge their obvious zugzwang in the same conversations by the fire. There was no way home as they would be punished for desertion. Giving up was scary. Fleeing to another country was a bad idea, and their families were left in Russia still. And the death most likely waited ahead. At some point, it got to be almost impossible to convince themselves of the success of the "Second Army of the World" as they could hear the characteristic sounds of their columns being destroyed. And then they could see these walls of stinking black smoke as an obvious prediction for their own near future. Moreover, a column of mutilated tanks marked with "V" was lying in a pile on the next street, and some hats with stars, torn striped undershirts, green bags with the inscription "Army Surplus", shampoos, rubber slippers and socks were scattered all around it. It had to be difficult to see this and to know that it would happen to them.
Hence the feeling of humiliation. They had come in with their heads held high, in their menacing tanks, as tough soldiers, brave and courageous males, proud Russians. And now they were sitting by the fire, miserable and confused, and asking their neighbors for permission to use a wooden outdoor privy now and then. No one respected them here.
Also, there was a much-discussed factor that turned into "Nutella memes." I mean our "good living." Brick houses, laptops, expensive things. Bucha’s being quite a prosperous suburb made the situation worse. This was especially easy to notice in basically all the area of private houses. People not only take care of their yards here, but they also have beautiful lawns behind the gates. We have a wonderful park, some gated communities, nice residential complexes, expensive cars. And these guys did not come from Moscow or St. Petersburg, as their phone calls and later published lists proved. Just look at their hometowns on Google Maps to understand the shock caused by the contrast. Shock, envy, indignation, and hatred.
Last but one factor is propaganda. You could not find a more terrible weapon and should never underestimate it, in any case. It is common mentioning Goebbels' quote "Let me control the media and I will turn any nation into a herd of pigs" in this context. It's easy to make someone hate to the point of wanting to kill. Especially when it is a long-term project with not so smart subjects. This experiment has been going on with the Russians for so long and on such a scale that it is naive to be surprised with the result.
And the last one is impunity. The movie I Stay With You by Mexican director Artemio Narro was released in 2014. It is a story of a good girl who joins the company of bad ones. They are real psychopaths. They pick up a guy at the club, bring him home and brutally murder him. The main character is shocked at first, but she slowly accepts the situation and is almost ready to join others, because she finds out that the father of one of the girls is a prosecutor and they will not be punished for what they have done. They throw out the corpse somewhere in the desert and go on to have fun.
Violence has been cultivated in Russia for decades. Domestic violence was decriminalized five years ago. There is currently no liability for war pillaging. In addition, the Russian military still believed that they would take Kyiv and the region, so this territory was technically theirs, and they could do anything they wanted as the masters. Because there would be no punishment for it. Maybe they would even be praised for a fair trial of Ukrainian traitors who were not human. All these conclusions are not at all original, they are proved by literature, cinema, documentary chronicles. Turning people into pigs is easy.
I left on the first day of the evacuation, which, as it turned out, was thwarted by the Russians. Of course, the cat was with me. A neighbor said that the soldiers came to us again that day with a search and asked where I was. They turned the whole house upside down. This conversation probably would not be as calm as the previous one, as knowing my last name it was easy to google enough for something more interesting than just execution. As for me, I got lucky. In particular because a tank passed me on my way, and one of the soldiers, all black with soot, started aiming at me with a machine gun. But he changed his mind. That was just the beginning. He would not doubt later.
Now the word "Russian" is equal to the word "danger" for me. Looking for some good people among them is masochistic. Not only because of things I’ve seen in the occupation, but also because of what I’ve seen on Instagram. Young women, mothers of little kids, wishing death to "small Ukrainian f*kers" touched my nerve the most. It was quite possible that you and I once lay next to them somewhere by the pool, sat at the next table, lived at the same hotel, and maybe even had a nice chat with them. They could be nice people and cheerful drinking companions. And nothing, just nothing, told you then that in a few months, a year, two or five, the man in red shorts, that you watched the colorful fish in the sea with, would shoot you in your own basement. And his wife will rejoice in such a "heroic deed." Was it possible to recognize them? Not as quickly. Would it be possible? The same. So, you should be prepared for absolutely anything, while dealing with Russians. And should have no illusions about the limits of their humanity.
Photos taken by the author in the first days of Bucha occupation