BUCHA, Ukraine - The cruise missiles had just finished smashing into Kyiv when Tetyana Telyzhenko buried the mutilated body of her tortured son in the capital’s traumatised suburb of Bucha.
Tuesday’s strikes appeared to be aimed at Ukrainian power stations that Russian-guided suicide drones had failed to reach the previous day.
But the body of Tetyana’s 44-year-old son Oleksiy had been missing since his capture in Russia’s aborted assault on Kyiv in the first weeks of the war in March.
Tetyana never saw her son’s corpse after its discovery in a random field last month.
Her granddaughter decided it would be too much.
“She wouldn’t let me see his interrogation video either,” the grieving mother said.
“She told me that I wouldn’t recognise him after what they had done to him.”
The Russians have launched a punishing new air assault on Ukraine’s biggest cities after failing to seize them in the first eight months of war.
Punishing air assault
This has pierced the euphoric mood that permeated Kyiv after its residents took up arms and pushed the Russians back – at monumental cost.
One of these men was Oleksiy.
UN investigators concluded last month that “war crimes” had been committed by Russian forces in Kyiv suburbs such as Bucha and Irpin.
Ukraine’s national police puts the number of civilians executed by invading soldiers or killed by Russian bombs in Bucha and its neighbouring town at 1,137.
Oleksiy’s mother said her son was probably being interrogated by the Russians about his peacetime work as a top instructor at Ukraine’s SBU security service academy.
He had only just signed up with a local volunteer defence unit when he disappeared.
But she has no idea how he died. His body was identified through DNA.
“It must have been so difficult for him,” she whispered.
Tired of asking
“He had never killed a thing in his life. He was so squeamish that he couldn’t even kill the fish that he caught in the river.”
The UN war crimes investigations had helped bring a sense of closure to many who lost loved ones during the first weeks after the invasion.
Kyiv began rebuilding its suburbs and families that had fled abroad began to return.
This month’s shift in Russian tactics to long-range strikes aimed at wiping out Ukraine’s critical infrastructure ahead of the approaching winter has brought the war home to Kyiv.
The city’s power grid is still holding up and its streets fill up with traffic around lunchtime.
But shops are boarding up windows and taking unplanned breaks to allow staff to rush to safety when air raid sirens – which most had begun to ignore – wail at random hours.
The rector of Oleksiy’s SBU academy had the air of a man slightly embarrassed by continuously begging for Western military help as he laid to rest the body of one of his former star students.
“We are very grateful for the help that our international partners have been able to give,” SBU academy rector Andriy Chernyak said at the Bucha cemetery.
‘I simply hate them’
“But everyone needs to understand that this is not a fight for Ukraine. It is a fight for democracy and peace.”
Oleksiy’s Russian-speaking mother said she now felt nothing but anger and pain.
Her life was intertwined with those of her Russian friends on the other sides of the border before the Kremlin’s forces invaded on February 24.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has changed all that.
Any Kremlin attempt to win over Ukrainian hearts and minds – if that ever was the plan – had had the reverse effect on Tetyana.
“I have many friends in Russia. Now I don’t even know whether to treat them as friends,” she said moments after the funeral.
“They keep writing to me, saying ‘We are not responsible for this’. But I simply can’t deal with it. If they support that regime, I simply hate them.” AFP