'I had to help people': Bucha doctors recall life and work under Russian occupation
It has been weeks since Bucha was last under Russian control, but the city is still reeling from the war -- and stories of life under occupation keep coming out of the now-infamous site of alleged war crimes by Russian forces.
Dr Ihor Kovalchuk, head of neurology at the Irpin City Hospital and Dr Yevhen Repyov, orthopedist and traumatologist, recount life in Bucha during the fighting, under Russian occupation and the flood of patients they received during that time.
Both remember the civilians shot by Russian snipers, the wounded children and so many patients being brought into the operating room that the continuous stream of victims seemed endless.
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An experienced surgeon of 25 years, Dr Repyov recalled he started to receive his first patients from Hostomel on 24 February. The first among the injured were the local firefighters and then later that night, 12 service members of the Lviv Brigade.
"All patients were in serious condition because the logistics did not work," Dr Repyov said.
"The occupiers did not allow the wounded to be taken away. Those who could walk by themselves reached the hospital. Many were left without medical care."
"People called us and asked: what do I do? I’ve got a torn leg, I’m sitting in the basement in Vorzel or in Hostomel," Dr Repyov recalled.
Any vehicle a target, even an ambulance
After the Russian forces took control of Bucha, doctors were required to wear a white bandage in order to leave the hospital, and only during daylight hours and on foot. They were warned that any vehicle could come under fire -- even an ambulance.
Dr Kovalchuk decided to remain as long as he could.
"I had the opportunity to leave here when the Russians were on the outskirts of Bucha, when the war was just beginning. I had this opportunity even before they came here," he said.
"But I didn`t take it, I knew I had to be here, that I had to help people. So I was here until the end, as it happened, until 10 March. Of course, I couldn`t have done otherwise."
All of the doctors and patients of the Irpin City hospital were evacuated to Belohodka and then Kyiv between 10 and 11 March.
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The staff returned on 11 April as the Russian troops retreated and the Kyiv suburb became free and saw that the damage to the hospital was significant -- but the town fared even worse.
The images from the first days after the Russian army pulled back showed dead bodies in civilian clothing, some of them with hands tied behind their backs, and burned-out tanks lining Bucha's streets.
As further mass graves were discovered and the number of civilian victims sharply rose to several hundred, international investigators arrived in Bucha to collect evidence of war crimes, while Ukraine and several other countries deemed that the atrocities amount to genocide.
The Kremlin has denied all accusations, with Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming the evidence was "fake" and giving the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade -- accused of committing the crimes in Bucha -- an honorary "Guards" title, praising it for “mass heroism and bravery, steadfastness and fortitude”.
The unit has since been redeployed to Donbas, reportedly suffering heavy casualties near Izium in early May.