After the Russian troops’ retreat from the outskirts of Kyiv, revelations of mass graves with dozens of civilians, some with their hands tied behind their back and most shot to the head in towns like Bucha shocked the world.
Fourteen-year-old Yura Nechyporenko from Bucha feared he would become one of them after his horrifying encounter with Russian forces who were occupying the streets he grew up in.
He also witnessed his father die, unable to do anything to save his life.
Yura and his father were on the way to visit vulnerable neighbours sheltering in basements when they came across a lone Russian serviceman. Their bikes were tied with white fabric, a sign they travelled in peace.
“We were biking right up until here. The Russian soldier came from around the corner of the building behind. First, the muzzle of his gun was pointed to the ground, but then he elevated the muzzle, so it was pointing directly at us and told us to halt in Russian.”
But before they had time to explain what they were doing, he fired two shots, killing Yura’s dad in front of his eyes.
“After that, he also shot at my raised hands, but the bullet got between my thumb and forefinger and scraped my thumb.”
Saved by his jumper
The boy lay still on the asphalt, listening to his father die. His elbow burned where a bullet had pierced him. His thumb stung from being grazed.
Another shot hit his elbow. Then, a final shot was fired. Yura lay on the street for minutes afterwards, waiting for the soldier to walk away.
Then Yura ran. He reached the kindergarten where his mother worked, and where some residents used the basement as a shelter. They were shocked to see the boy and gave him first aid.
He realised he needed to go home. He returned to the streets, not knowing where the next soldier might be.
When he arrived home, his family called the police. The police said they could do nothing because they didn’t control the area, according to the family. The ambulance service said the same.
The police told the family that officers didn’t know what to do with the case, according to the boy’s uncle, Andriy.
A prosecutor’s report describes the killing and attempted killing in a few bare sentences, including the loss of a cellphone belonging to Yura’s father. He would have been of help now — he’d been a lawyer.
Yura most likely survived as his oversized grey jumper took the bullet instead of him — an item that he is now keeping as evidence.
Turning 15 without his father
Following Russia’s retreat, Yura’s family transferred his father’s body from a makeshift grave to a local cemetery.
They brought Yura’s father home in a wheelbarrow. He was rolled in a carpet and placed on an old wooden door.
Amidst the sounds of shelling and gunfire, they buried him in the yard behind the woodshed, in one of many makeshift graves hurriedly dug during the monthlong Russian occupation.
Yura and his family left Bucha the next day along a rare evacuation corridor.
This year, Yura turned 15 without his father, who would usually prepare a meal on the grill for his son’s birthday. As investigations into atrocities like this continue, all Yura is wishing for is justice.
“It’s not only me who wants justice,” he said. “People in Ukraine are still possibly being tortured and killed even now.”
Yura’s story, while just one of many, comes as international justice experts arrive in Bucha to investigate possible war crimes committed by Russian forces on their retreat from Ukraine’s capital.
In Bucha alone, local authorities report that 31 children have been killed. The UN human rights office says over 200 children have been killed across Ukraine since the start of the invasion.