Lydia, 85, moved through a Lviv train station in western Ukraine as a wave of faster-moving travelers rushed in. Her eyes were almost curved due to a disorder of the spine, her eyes were on the floor trying to keep up with her son, a few steps away.
But she said her mind was in the village she had fled from and her daughter, who she could not save when her home was destroyed by Russian bombing.
Before the outbreak of the war, Lydia was living peacefully in the agricultural village of Duvnke, near Izium, with her 61-year-old daughter Irina, who is paralyzed, and her two grandchildren. Three weeks ago, the Russians began bombing the village: the school, the shops, the houses.
Lydia and her son spoke on condition that their last names not be used for fear of Russian reprisals.
At about 1:30 a.m. on March 26, Lydia got up from bed, freezing, to put more firewood into the iron stove. Her daughter was sleeping. They were alone. Her son, Volodya, 62, was sheltering in a friend’s house. One of her grandchildren was wounded in a bombing the day before and was in hospital. His brother was with him.
Then there were explosions and the house started shaking. The roof over Irina shattered.
“The roof fell and everything fell on her,” Lydia said. “She was screaming, Mom, save me!”
There was no electricity. Lydia tried to make her way in the dark towards her daughter’s bed, but she stumbled and fell.
She said, “I got up and then fell, and I got up and fell, and then I crawled over to her.” “She was saying, ‘Fast, faster, I’m choking,'” said Lydia, wiping her eyes with the edge of the mauve skirt she was wearing over her flannel pajama pants.
Lydia said that the only light in the room came from the stars, which could be seen through the hole in the ceiling. She remembers painstakingly trying to move the falling rafters and cut the mud off her daughter. “She kept saying, ‘Quick, quick,'” Lydia said. I told her: I can’t do it fast. I don’t have the strength. “
Lydia did what she could, removing small bits of debris covering her daughter until sunrise. In the morning, a neighbor arrived, removed the largest pieces of wood and rubble, and wrapped Irina in a blanket. She was still breathing but her hands and feet were blue. They took her to a relative’s house, but with the bombing there was no way to treat her.
Lydia said her doctor told her, “If she lives, she lives.”
She died the next day.
Slow deaths like Irina’s have received less attention than other horrors of war – civilians found shot dead with their hands tied in places like Bucha or the bombing of a maternity hospital and theater in Mariupol.
Lydia blamed the death of her daughters on her hands, which were weakened by age and arthritis, and a curved spine that did not allow her to stand up straight.
“What can I say? My daughter is dead,” she cries softly as she sits next to plastic bags carrying her belongings. “If it wasn’t for me, she would be alive.”
At the train station, in the city of Lviv, mother and son were on their way to stay with friends in Khmelnytskyi, central Ukraine.
Volodya, with his experience gained from years of familiarity with the conflict between the Russian-backed separatists, recounted the kinds of missiles he said rained down on their village: “They fired mortars and started hitting us with Grades, Smerch and Uragan.”
My house was demolished and the barn was demolished. My car burned.” “I had everything and now I have nothing.”
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