Lidiia, 85, walked through the train station in Lviv, western Ukraine, as a wave of faster-moving travelers rushed in. Bent almost double with a spinal disorder, she stared at the ground as she tried to follow her son, a few steps ahead.
But her mind, she said, was on the village she had fled and the girl she was unable to save when a Russian bombardment destroyed her home.
Before the war, Lidiia lived peacefully in the farming village of Dovhenke, near Izium, with her 61-year-old daughter, Iryna, who was paralyzed, and her two grandsons. Three weeks ago the Russians started shelling the village: the school, the shops and the people’s houses.
Lidiia and her son spoke out on the condition that their surnames not be used, for fear of Russian reprisals.
Around 1:30 a.m. on March 26, Lidiia had gotten out of bed, frozen, to put some wood back in the iron stove. Her daughter was sleeping. They were alone. His son, Volodya, 62, had taken refuge with a friend. One of her grandsons had been injured in a bomb attack the day before and was in hospital. His brother was with him.
Then explosions sounded and the house began to shake. The roof collapsed above Iryna.
“The ceiling fell and everything fell on her,” Lidiia said. “She was screaming, ‘Mom, save me’!”
There was no electricity. Lidiia tried to make her way through the darkness to her daughter’s bed, but she tripped and fell.
“I got up and then I fell, I got up and I fell, then I crawled towards her,” she said. “She was saying, ‘Quick, hurry up, I’m suffocating,'” Lidiia said, wiping her eyes with the edge of the purple skirt she wore over flannel pajama bottoms.
The only light in the room came from the stars, visible through the hole in the roof, Lidiia said. She remembers painfully trying to move fallen wooden beams and pieces of clay from above her daughter. “She kept saying, ‘Quick, quick,'” Lidiia said. “I said to him, ‘I can’t do it fast. I don’t have the strength.
Lidiia did what she could, removing small pieces of debris covering her daughter until sunrise. In the morning, a neighbor arrived, removed the biggest pieces of wood and rubble, and wrapped Iryna in a blanket. She was still breathing but her hands and feet were blue. They took her to a relative, but with the shelling there was no way to get her treated.
“If she lives, she lives,” Lidiia said, her doctor told her.
She died the next day.
Slow deaths like Iryna’s have received less attention than other horrors of war – civilians who have been found shot with their hands tied in places like Bucha or the bombing of a maternity ward and theater in Mariupol.
Lidiia blamed her daughter’s death on her hands, weakened by age and arthritis, and a bent spine that made it impossible for her to stand up straight.
” What can I say ? My daughter perished,” she said, crying softly as she sat next to plastic bags containing her belongings. “If it wasn’t for me, she would have survived.”
At the train station in the city of Lviv, mother and son were on their way to visit friends in Khmelnytsky, central Ukraine.
Volodya, with expertise honed by years of familiarity with the conflict between Russian-backed separatists, recounted the types of rockets he said rained on their village: “They fired mortars and started to attack us. hit with Grads, Smerch, Uragan.”
“My house was demolished, the barn was demolished. My car burned down,” he said. “I had everything and now I have nothing.”