Five-year-old Anastasia Konchakovska wants to be held by her mother.
Lying in a hospital bed in Belarus recovering from surgery to remove a bullet fragment from her skull last month, Konchakovska spoke one word repeatedly: “Mama.”
When she was told that her mother, Tetyana, was at work, the child said that couldn’t be true because “she came and laid down with me.”
Konchakovska must have been dreaming. That remembered interaction with her mother was no more true than the tall tale that she was at work.
Tetyana Konchakovska had been killed along with her husband and son on February 28, when their van was ambushed by invading Russian troops outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, according to Anastasia Mizetskaya, a relative who lives in the United States.
Anastasia Konchakovska survived the attack, as did her grandmother, Vasylyna Moshchenko. But the 5-year-old faces a tough physical and emotional recovery and may have permanent damage to her right eye.
Moshchenko has yet to tell her that her parents and half-brother are dead.
Konchakovska is one of thousands of Ukrainian children who are suffering from incalculable trauma as a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and the Russian military’s treatment of civilians.
Thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia launched the large-scale offensive on February 24. Accurate casualty figures are elusive and the number of children who have lost one or both parents is unknown.
Mizetskaya, in the United States, had been in touch with the family frequently after the invasion began, exchanging text messages with Tetyana Konchakovska until the day before her death. Mizetskaya also recorded her phone conversation with Moshchenko about the details of the attack.
Like many other families, Anastasia’s fled Kyiv for the suburbs the day Russia invaded, believing it would be safer than staying in the capital, Mizetskaya said.
It made sense: Russia appeared to be seeking to take Kyiv in an attempt to impose a puppet government loyal to Moscow, striking the city with rockets.
Anastasia’s father, Oleh Konchakovskiy, a driver for a food-delivery company, put his family into the white van he used for work and drove them to the home of Tetyana’s brother, Pavlo, about 40 kilometers northwest of Kyiv.
However, Russian soldiers sweeping down into Ukraine from Belarus made their way toward Kyiv through those very suburbs in the northwest, bringing the fighting to Pavlo’s area.
Tetyana Konchakovska told Mizetskaya on February 26 that there was “shooting, periodically” in the area. The next day she wrote Mizetskaya to say that there was “a lot of bombing near us.”
Pavlo’s suburb is 20 kilometers from Bucha, one of the towns around Kyiv where surviving residents have given horrifying accounts of alleged abuse and rights groups have accused Russian forces of committing war crimes, including executing civilians, during their monthlong occupation.
Frightened and living in her brother’s home, which was now without electricity and running water, Tetyana Konchakovska and her husband decided to return to Kyiv with their children, against the wishes of their relatives. A hesitant Moshchenko chose to join them.
It was a fateful decision.
Accusations Of War Crimes Against Russian Forces
Ukrainian forces say they have retaken territory from Russian forces around Kyiv.
On the way back to Kyiv, shortly before noon on February 28, Russian troops, apparently hiding in the forest along the road, sprayed the front of the car with bullets, Moshchenko recalled to Mizetskaya.
Tetyana, Oleh, and 18-year-old Mykyta Bobrov — Anastasia’s half-brother — were killed instantly, she said.
As they surveyed the human toll, the Russian troops told Moshchenko they feared the minivan contained members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, the largely volunteer units created across the country as Russia was massing tens of thousands of troops at the border in the months before the invasion.
“‘You, Ukrainians, drive in your cars with automatic weapons. [You are] like regular people, [but] you shoot at us,'” Moshchenko quoted one of the Russian soldiers as saying in her recorded call with Mizetskaya.
‘They Stole Everything From Her’
Other cars were ambushed on the same road as well, resulting in the deaths of several civilians in addition to Oleh, Tetyana, and Nykyta.
Oleh Konchakovskiy’s bullet-ridden van was pointed downward on a slope off the side of the road, with two bodies slumped over inside, when it was filmed by journalist Dmytro Komarov on April 5, days after Russian troops were pushed out of the Kyiv region by Ukrainian forces.
Mizetskaya said the bodies belonged to Tetyana and Mykyta. Oleh’s body had been removed and its location is unknown. His family is continuing to search.
Shortly after the ambush, a Russian officer took Moshchenko and the wounded Anastasia to the air base at Hostomel, which was then held by Russian forces, and they were flown by helicopter to Belarus for surgery, Moschenko said.
Belarusian doctors removed the bullet from the girl’s skull two days later. With the help of the Ukrainian Embassy in Belarus, she was transferred to Germany, where a second operation was performed to remove fragments from her eye.
Anastasia is recovering in Germany, riding her bike, watching cartoons, and playing games, still unaware what happened that day in February.
Mizetskaya said that Moshchenko would like to return to Kyiv with her granddaughter at some point, but feared she would be haunted there by her loss.
“They stole everything from her,” Mizetskaya said.