Motyzhyn is no more than a village – and a nondescript one at that – amid a bleak agricultural landscape reminiscent of East Anglia.
Olha Sukhenko was its mayor and she stood up for her community. And that is why – one presumes – the Russian army tortured and murdered her.
Not only Olha. Her husband Ihor and son Oleksandr, 25, were also abused, executed and tossed into the same shallow, sandy grave in a nearby pine forest.
Their killers did not stop there. Innocent Motyzhyn is now a battered, haunted village, almost empty, with horror stories to tell.
The question is how many of its residents – and those of a neighbouring village – were murdered during a Russian military occupation lasting less than one month?
Motyzhyn is no more than a village – and a nondescript one at that – amid a bleak agricultural landscape reminiscent of East Anglia
And why the occupiers chose to behave with such brutality in Europe in the third decade of the 21st century?
Yesterday the focus of worldwide opprobrium was on the Kyiv satellite town of Bucha, whose corpse-littered streets and homes bear witness to war crimes by the invaders.
But it is likely such sights are to be revealed across northern Ukraine as the Kremlin’s military withdraws. The Daily Mail travelled further west, into the countryside 30 miles outside the Ukrainian capital, to Motyzhyn to see and hear what had been done there.
The claims made by locals would be hard to believe if one did not see first hand the violence that had been visited on these backwoods communities.
Mayor Sukhenko, 51, was not allowed an easy death. Marks on her body suggested that she had her arms and fingers broken before being shot.
Her 56-year-old husband was found blindfolded and bound in their shared grave. A fourth, so far unidentified corpse was also buried there. The Sukhenko family had been abducted a few days before the Russians withdrew.
Olha Sukhenko was its mayor and she stood up for her community. And that is why – one presumes – the Russian army tortured and murdered her
In her final Facebook post before her death, written in late February after the invasion of her homeland began, Olha berated ‘someone else’s scum in our village’ and warned other residents not to leave their houses.
Another trussed up body had been pitched into a nearby well. It was that of Hennadiy Merchynskyi, 44, who was formally identified in situ by his heartbroken widow, Zoya.
Anton Herashchenko, a Ukrainian governmental adviser, said: ‘There have been Russian occupiers here. They tortured and murdered the whole family of the village head.
‘The occupiers suspected they were collaborating with our military, giving us locations of where to target our artillery. These scum tortured, slaughtered and killed the whole family. They will be responsible for this.’
Motyzhyn Village: Collect pictures of the head of the village Olha Sukhenko and her husband and her son, whose bodies were found dumped in a shallow grave after they were taken by occupying Russian soldiers
Daria Belenitsyna, who identified herself as Oleksandr Sukhenko’s girlfriend, told the Reuters news agency the family had been taken captive by Russian forces on March 23.
She said Russian soldiers had first searched the house that morning, taking Oleksandr’s car and a phone away. Oleksandr had called to reassure her.
‘I urged them to leave immediately, but Sasha [Oleksandr] said, “It’s okay, don’t worry”,’ she said.
The soldiers came back a few hours later, blindfolded Mrs Sukhenko and her husband, and took them away.
They then came a third time to take Oleksandr, she was told by his sister Lena and the family’s neighbours.
At first relatives thought the Sukhenko family might be part of a prisoner exchange, but then they found out they were dead. Daria wrote: ‘I don’t have enough words and strength to describe how I and my whole family feel. This is a crime in every sense. All involved will be appear in court.’
Their killers did not stop there. Innocent Motyzhyn is now a battered, haunted village, almost empty, with horror stories to tell
The BBC reported that she added: ‘Sasha, my hero. You didn’t leave your parents behind. You will forever be in my heart. In our hearts. Heroes don’t die.’
Tetiana Semenova, deputy head of Kyiv Regional Council, said: ‘They wanted to take Olha only, but her husband insisted he would go with her. After six hours, they also took her son away.’
She said there was a suspicion that ‘a traitor was acting in the village, who told the occupiers, where the head and active villagers lived’. Our journey to Motyzhyn took us out of Kyiv, a little south of the E-40 motorway where, on Friday we had come across around a dozen civilian corpses on the carriageway, next to their charred vehicles.
The last village in the forest before Motyzhyn was the crossroads community of Yasnohorodka. This where Ukrainain territorial defence units had made a stand against the Russians on March 7. The result was devastation and alleged atrocities against civilians.
A Russian airstrike has left a huge crater and flattened a number of cottages, killing at least one homeowner, a disabled woman in her eighties, I was told by locals.
Ukrainian soldier Ruslan, who helped liberate the village, pictured with an anti-tank mine left behind by occupying Russian soldiers
The village church has had its gilded dome shredded by gunfire from three Russian armoured fighting vehicles. The ceremonial gateway was also peppered with cannon fire.
Ukrainian Orthodox priest Rostyslav Dudarenko was executed, along with his deacon named only as Ivan, villagers said.
Both, unarmed, the clerics were targeted because they were organising the evacuation of civilians, Sasha, an 18-year-old student told me. He was part of the local militia units who were eventually overwhelmed and driven out of the village by the Russians.
This was the southernmost point of the Russian advance from Belarus. The road between Yasnogorodka and Motyzhyn was empty save for a destroyed Russian armoured personnel carrier bearing the letter ‘V’.
Motyzhyn itself appeared at first to be deserted, save for stray dogs and chickens in gardens. Built along a winding lane, the village is mainly one of shabby peasant cottages with the occasional weekend ‘dacha’ of a Kyivan resident.
Finally we came across two residents, a man and wife. They described their own experience of the Russian occupation as a ‘reign of terror.’
Damage to the village which was occupied by Russian soldiers
They said that the unit in the village appeared to be troops from the Russian Far East.
‘They were crazy, horrible!’ said the woman. ‘We lived in fear of our lives. One woman was shot dead simply for crossing the road. The soldiers would come down the lane chucking grenades into our yards just for the fun of it.’
The man said: ‘They fired wildly from their vehicles at our cars and homes. We spent most of the time hiding. Fortunately there was a grocery store they could loot so they didn’t come to our homes for food.’ Did they know Mayor Sukhenko?
‘Yes, of course,’ said the woman. ‘She was a good person, respected by everyone here. What a thing to do to her and her family.’
The couple said the surviving villagers believed – though it could not be confirmed – that as many as 30 civilians were killed by the occupiers. ‘I think there will be another grave found,’ said the man.
I was told by Ruslan, the head of the territorial defence unit that one of the young women from the village had been abducted and raped for two days before being shot dead. ‘She was buried in a yard,’ he said. The Mail could not verify this.
He also said that civilians from three villages had been gathered in Motyzhyn and ‘tortured’. Some had then been shot and thrown into a pit.
Land mines and booby traps had been left scattered around the settlement by the retreating Russians. Two people had been injured by them so far.
What kind of army does this? One that is led by Vladmir Putin, we know now.