A fighter-bomber in the garden

The remains of the fuselage of the Russian fighter-bomber have protruded grotesquely from Yulia Grebnyeva's garden since March 5.

A fighter-bomber in the garden

The remains of the fuselage of the Russian fighter-bomber have protruded grotesquely from Yulia Grebnyeva's garden since March 5. Huge engines gleam through the rubble and a door embedded in the ground begins to blend in with the vegetation. The Sukhoi 34, shot down as it was preparing to bomb the city of Chernigov, north of kyiv, devoured his backyard, sweeping away the swimming pool, sauna and manicured lawn, taking his own house and five others in its wake, of which only half-ruined structures and a mountain of bricks, glass and twisted iron dotted with pieces of the bluish-green fuselage. One of her neighbors, a retiree, died instantly charred by the gigantic explosion. The miracle is that Yulia, her three children and the girlfriend of her eldest, came out unscathed from the hell in which her garden became.

“I had convinced the boys to help me clean the basement, where we took shelter from the explosions. My husband was fixing the garage door when we heard a tremendous explosion. A huge flame devoured everything. At first he couldn't get me up, unconsciously he had thrown me on the two little ones to protect them and my body was paralyzed », he says in reference to his 6 and 10 year old children. «The pipes had burst, the dust prevented us from seeing, everything was falling around us. Suddenly I heard the little boy's voice. ‘Mom, are we alive?’ The next thing I remember is hearing my husband scream and cry desperately at the soldiers who tried to stop him, to prevent him from burning alive. 'Let me in, my wife and children are in there!'"He himself, despite a head injury and burns on his arm, forced the cellar door from the outside allowing Yulia and her children to save the life.

Just two minutes earlier, Yulia had asked her daughter to take a picture of her in the bunker, smiling relaxed. Just two minutes later, the world came crashing down on her head in hunting fashion. "I thought it was the end of us. The noise did not stop, the smoke choked us », she explains, walking through the devastated area that was once her home.

The scene was attended by hundreds of neighbors who from their homes and shelters looked out at the threatening whistle of the Russian aviation that had been spraying Chernigov for three days. They reconstruct the image with an overwhelming fidelity, as if the details had been burned into them. “We heard two planes fly over. The first launched thermal countermeasures (a diversionary system to avoid missile defenses) and fell out of sight, but the Ukrainian defense fired on the second. I think they were shooting from the roof of my building, because when they came out it was full of ammunition casings », explains Yaroslava Kaminietskaya, a 25-year-old computer scientist, showing photos of her own hand with the casings. "And they hit him full."

The Su-34 turned 180 degrees and crashed. About 300 meters away, Nikolai felt the stinging heat of the blast wave on his body. "The plume of smoke was huge. We began to hear more explosions, it was the bombs that were exploding », he explains. They say that there were five projectiles left in the plane, half-ton bombs, 500 kilograms of concentrated death that volatilized the surrounding houses, leaving a Dantesque scene. According to Yulia, three of them did not explode immediately and were deactivated days later by bomb squads. The casings lie embedded between the fuselage and the debris.

Yaroslava was overwhelmed by curiosity. “I saw both pilots eject before the fighter turned around. One fell near the shelter from where we were hiding and I couldn't help it, I went out into the street and approached him. It seemed that his head had exploded, there was a lot of blood », he recalls. "It's as if he propelled out a few seconds after the first one and crashed to the ground. The second I saw him plan with the parachute and get lost in the distance, ”continues the computer science.

Actually, the second was not lost. The parachute was left hanging on a pipe on the roof of Svetlana Voyteshenko, where she was sheltering with her daughter, her brother Vitali and her husband Serhiy. “We heard a deafening noise, like a missile, heading towards us and then a huge explosion. Soon we heard noises on the roof. My brother suspected that he might be the pilot, decided to take a look and grabbed a small garden shovel. My husband joined the hunt." Svetlana's brother climbed onto the roof while his brother-in-law climbed the opposite end, but he only saw a shadow before he heard the shots. «He quickly understood that there were only two people there: the pilot and Vitali. He shot her in the chest. My brother died on the pen of his chickens ».

About twenty Ukrainian soldiers, who had been looking for the pilot since they saw his parachute fly over the neighborhood, broke into Svetlana's house to arrest him. Bloodied and with a bandage that he himself had placed to contain the bleeding, the Russian uniformed man did not resist. It turned out to be not just any aviator, but Alexander Krasnoyartsev, considered a hero in Russia for his bombing of Aleppo and recognizable in photographs taken with President Vladimir Putin and Syrian Bashar al Assad at the Russian base in Khmeimim, in northwestern Syria. According to calculations by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Russian bombardment of Syria claimed 8,000 civilian lives, including 2,000 children.

The soldiers questioned him. “Did you know that you are bombing a peaceful city, killing defenseless people?” "We have not been informed," replied Krasnoyartsev. Svetlana, furious, faced the murderer of her brother, out of her mind. What have you done? What have we done to you? I yelled at him. She replied that she did not know that there were civilians, that she had been told that they had been evacuated. Of course I didn't believe him."

Vitali was 42 years old and "had never married because he had taken care of our mother, who died a year and a half ago," explains Svetlana. She was not the only victim: an elderly man, a resident of one of the houses destroyed by the military plane, died instantly, charred by the flames. But there could have been many more, given that "these bombs would have killed dozens of residents," as Alexandra and Anna Korietskaya, Yulia's neighbors, recall. "The aerial bombardment began on March 4 and only stopped when the Russians withdrew," explains Deputy Mayor Oleksandr Lamako. "They used to go out several times a day" and have destroyed schools, libraries, hotels and residential buildings. At least fifty people died from aerial bombardment of the city, but the defense took its revenge. In Chernigov alone, Lamako remembers "four or five planes shot down." The same night Krasnoyartsev was arrested, there were three more attacks by Russian aircraft.

Yulia does not regret not having talked to Krasnoyartsev. "What can you say to someone like that? Not a human creature, she knew she was killing civilians. I just hope he ends his days in an isolation cell. He should ask for compassion and forgiveness every day until the last of his days ». The wing of the plane where the identification number appeared was collected by the Army, which took it as evidence. Interestingly, Yulia discovered the piece at an auction in Lviv a few days ago: it was sold for 50 million dollars, which its supposed owner says he donated to an NGO, "created two weeks ago." She has been left with nothing. She wanders through the wreckage and fuselage wreckage to find a pile of stiff children's pants, which she sifts through carefully. “This one from Mickey Mouse is from the middle school, this is the little one's swimsuit” she lists, checking a half-calcined garment. Her family is in Norway, where her husband is being treated for advanced cancer, but she has decided not to leave.

«I am a councilor and my place is here, I work as a volunteer assisting civilians and volunteers at the front. Now I know how they feel when they ask for help, because I feel the same abandonment as them », she sighs, taking in the apocalyptic scenario where her children used to grow up. «I live hosted by a family I don't know, who gave me a room when they found out about my story and now it has become my second family». She claims that helping others is therapy, but she begs for help to rebuild her and her neighbors' houses and is outraged that the corruption persists even during the war. "With those 50 million, we could have rebuilt a good part of Chernigov," she lamented.