My son and I were kidnapped by the Russian army and kept in the basement for three weeks – 12 people died in front of me

A MUM and her one-year-old child were kidnapped by the Russian military and held in a crowded basement for three weeks after trying to flee the Ukraine war.

Viktoria Kovalenko hid in a parked car after her husband Petro and daughter Veronika, 12, were killed by Russian shelling as the family tried to escape fighting in Chernihiv in March.

Viktoria and her young daughter were kidnapped by the Russian army


Viktoria and her young daughter were kidnapped by the Russian armyCredit: AP
Viktoria was held in a crowded basement for more than three weeks


Viktoria was held in a crowded basement for more than three weeksCredit: BBC
The wreckage of the family car after the Russian shelling


The wreckage of the family car after the Russian shellingCredit: AP

But the next day, Viktoria and her young daughter, Varvara, are kidnapped by Russian troops and marched to a school in Yahidne.

They were held in a crowded basement with 300 other civilians for more than three weeks.

Viktoria told the BBC: “It’s dark, it’s dusty, there’s no air or windows – it’s for containment, not for people.

“Sometimes it’s unbearable. We have people over 80 who are really poor and suffocating from lack of oxygen.

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“In our room we are writing in a piece of coal, the names and dates of those who have died, so that we can put it on their graves.

“Twelve people died in the basement.

“I can’t think, I’m in shock, I’m trying to suppress all emotions. I’m just telling people, but my whole being is focused on surviving.”

Most of the time people are not allowed to use the toilet, and they have to use buckets instead.

Viktoria said: “The inactivity makes people sick, they sit in chairs, they sleep in chairs.

“We could see their veins, and they started bleeding, so we bandaged them.”

As people died one by one in the basement, neighbors were allowed to place the bodies in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery.

Viktoria begs the Russian army to bring back the bodies of her husband and daughter.

“They repeatedly refused … but in the end I asked the commander of that Russian unit,” she said.

Petro and Veronika’s bodies were taken to the school and buried in the woods.

“I was there when my loved ones were buried,” she said.

“There were about five Russian soldiers and they dug two graves for my daughter and my husband.”

When she was finally released from the basement after the Russians retreated after fierce fighting, she and her children fled to the safety of Lviv before reaching the safety of Poland.

Viktoria is currently stuck in Poland and has been waiting almost 50 days for a visa to enter the UK.

“I am in Poland right now and it is becoming difficult for me,” she said.

“I need to move, not have to remember it or revisit events in my memory, and just not think about it.”

Viktoria is said to have a sponsor in the UK – but she’s stuck in limbo while she waits for her visa.

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A government spokesman told the BBC: “Our untapped Ukraine family program for Ukraine routes is among the fastest and largest in UK history.

“The 124,400 performance visas that have been issued show the work we’ve been doing to accelerate the process that’s working and improving on a daily basis.”

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