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As Mykola Kulichenko got out of the Russian military jeep, his body aching from another beating and blindfolded after three days of torture, he realized he was about to be killed.

Next to her stood her older brother Dimitro, 37, and Iveni, 30, the youngest in their close family. Like him, their legs were tied, their hands were tied, their bodies were bruised and bruised.

And they could hear their graves being dug under poplar trees near Vaishnev, a generally peaceful part of northern Ukraine close to the Belarus border.

The Russian soldiers did not say anything as the three brothers were standing there. There was a shot – and Mykola realized that Aveni had fallen to the ground.

As Mykola Kulichenko got out of the Russian military jeep, her body aching from another beating after three days of torture and blindfolded, she realized she was about to be killed

As Mykola Kulichenko got out of the Russian military jeep, her body aching from another beating after three days of torture and blindfolded, she realized she was about to be killed

As Mykola Kulichenko got out of the Russian military jeep, her body aching from another beating after three days of torture and blindfolded, she realized she was about to be killed

He recalled, ‘I just heard a clicking sound, as if his pistol had silencers. ‘ Then they started joking, saying, ‘Oh, your little one is ready’, as he was lying there.

‘Then they shot Dimitro standing next to me. Another click happened and he fell. And then they shot me.’

The past 11 weeks after Vladimir Putin’s decision to send his military forces to Ukraine have seen several shocking revelations of atrocities, vandalism and harsh war crimes.

But the story this 33-year-old is telling me sounds like a horror film. He survived his own execution—and then pushed aside his brother’s body and covered soil to crawl from his shallow grave and stagger his way to salvation.

Incredibly, the bullet only made superficial wounds as it passed through his head. It entered through his right cheek and exited into the soft tissue next to his ear, leaving a small hole in his flesh.

‘Of course, it was scary,’ said rural laborer Mykola, but I didn’t feel anything. ‘It wasn’t painful. I was in shock. I could feel the blood running down my cheek.

His story is remarkable. Not only did he escape the execution squad intended to kill him, but he also escaped the heavy Russian military presence in occupied Ukrainian territory to find his way home to an elderly Good Samaritan.

He recalled, 'I just heard a clicking sound, as if his pistol had silencers.  ' Then they started joking, saying, 'Oh, your little one is ready', as he was lying there.  'Then they shot Dimitro standing next to me.  Another click happened and he fell

He recalled, 'I just heard a clicking sound, as if his pistol had silencers.  ' Then they started joking, saying, 'Oh, your little one is ready', as he was lying there.  'Then they shot Dimitro standing next to me.  Another click happened and he fell

He recalled, ‘I just heard a clicking sound, as if his pistol had silencers. ‘ Then they started joking, saying, ‘Oh, your little one is ready’, as he was lying there. ‘Then they shot Dimitro standing next to me. Another click happened and he fell

‘I saw that he was badly beaten and he was blue. He was covered in mud. I took him in and gave him breakfast and to wash his face,’ said Valentina. ‘A hug every time we meet – he’s like family to me now.’

Yet Mykola is still coming to terms with the horrific loss of his real family members due to the inhumanity of some Russian soldiers who captured the sleepy village of Dovzik where he lived with his two brothers and sister Irina.

His nightmare began with loud explosions near his home on the morning of 18 March, followed by rumors in his village that some nearby Russian military hardware had been destroyed.

Still the day seemed normal. They had lunch, then Dimitro and Avni cut each other’s hair while Irina went to visit a neighbor. She hid from Russian soldiers who were walking around the village ‘because they were shooting any civilians they saw on the street’.

Suddenly Mykola saw a tiger – a 4×4 Russian military vehicle used by infantry – standing outside their house. The soldiers demanded their documents, then the two of them entered the house and found a packed military bag by the living room sofa.

It belonged to Evheny, who spent six years serving as a military medic. He had seen fighting on the Donbass frontline against Russian-backed separatists and was hoping to serve again in the latest Ukrainian conflict to save his country.

Next to her were pictured her older brother Dimitro, 37, and Avni, 30, the youngest in their close family.  Like him, their legs were tied, their hands were tied, their bodies were bruised and bruised.

Next to her were pictured her older brother Dimitro, 37, and Avni, 30, the youngest in their close family.  Like him, their legs were tied, their hands were tied, their bodies were bruised and bruised.

Next to her were pictured her older brother Dimitro, 37, and Avni, 30, the youngest in their close family. Like him, their legs were tied, their hands were tied, their bodies were bruised and bruised.

The Russians got the youngest brother on his knees and began beating him with the leg of a bat-shaped chair found in his bag. Mykola said: ‘They were asking, ‘Why were you killing our boys?’ They were threatening to kill us, firing in the air.

Soldiers also received medals given to their grandfathers during World War II. “They told her that these are your medals because you were killing our boys,” Mykola said.

Eventually he put all three men into his vehicle, before transferring them to an armored personnel carrier, placing sacks captured from a neighbor over their heads and driving them to the lumber yard in Vaishnawe, 25 miles away.

The brothers were kept with wounded Ukrainian soldiers in a workshop for three days. They were kept in hoods, beaten frequently and fed once a day.

At night, they were shivering from the cold, only thin blankets were thrown over their bound bodies by the guards. Mykola was sad, isolated and alone from his brothers because ‘if anyone tried to chat, they would be beaten’.

In the early evening of March 20, he was beaten especially brutally. ‘They didn’t warn us what was going to happen when they took us. I was almost fainting.’

He got confused when he loaded it in an army jeep. ‘I didn’t really understand what was happening. I didn’t know where we were going and why.

But once they stopped, they realized that the end of their lives was near. After a shootout, he was kicked into a freshly dug grave near a wheat field, which landed over Avni’s body. The body of his elder brother was then thrown from above, before a thin layer of soil was scattered over them.

‘I fell on my face and it saved me. I was able to lift myself up and after a few minutes I started pushing. I was afraid but I was not thinking. I suffocated in the pit.’

After escaping, he realized that Dimitro’s body had slipped into the empty space. ‘When I crawled out, the soldiers were not there. I tried to come back to my senses. I blindfolded. I could not untie the thread of my wrist biting my skin. But I opened my legs and started walking with my hands tied. I walked and walked until I saw an empty house, which I entered and rested there for the night.’

He started walking again the next morning before dawn, and went to Valentina’s house. He gave her warm clothes and, with the help of other Ukrainians, he went back to Dovzik to visit his distraught sister. Irina was shocked to see her brother. “He was beaten, he had a wound on his cheek, he could barely walk – and he told me he had come out of a grave when he was shot and killed,” she said. ‘I asked about the other boys and they said they were gone.’

She cries remembering this moment. ‘I couldn’t believe he was dead. I don’t understand why the Russians would kill them – they are ordinary village boys.’

The couple decide to find the grave. They found the site a month ago with the help of Ukraine’s intelligence agency. The bodies were found on 18 April, which was Evgeny’s birthday, and were buried three days later on Dimitro’s birthday. Irina said, ‘I searched for them until I saw it with my own eyes. ‘I hoped they were alive until I saw their bodies.’

Ukraine’s public prosecutor has opened a war crimes investigation after two bodies were found to be tied to the head and shot in the head. Investigators are also probing claims that an aide in his village of 700 people informed the Russian military about Ivani’s military service.

Mykola’s facial wound has healed, the psychological scars are deep. ‘The Russians were our neighbours. Avni worked in Russia. From here many more people went there to work on the construction sites. Now there is only hate,’ he said.

Additional reporting by Kate Baklitskaya


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