Her Husband Was Allegedly Shot by Russians, Who Watched Emotionless 'Like an Audience' as She Wept

Iryna Abramova says she was in her robe when a grenade came through the window of her home one morning in Ukraine — and soldiers dragged her husband onto the street and shot him in the head

Bucha, Ukraine
People take cover from shelling in the city of Bucha, Ukraine, west of Kyiv, on March 4. Photo: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty

Iryna Abramova struggles at night with "bloody thoughts" of suicide and revenge.

During the day, she walks to a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, carrying cherry cough drops, cookies, toffee, chocolate and a cigarette to the grave of her husband, Oleh Abramov, who she says was shot and killed by Russian soldiers on March 5 in the early days of their invasion of her country.

That morning, Abramova told The New York Times in a story published Monday, she was still in her robe and slippers when a grenade came through the window of their home, detonated and ignited a fire that burned — until all that was left was a pile of charred rubble.

Four Russian paratroopers forced Abramov into the yard, his wife said. He was ordered to remove his jacket, a sweater and shirt so the troops could inspect for military tattoos, which Abramov didn't have because he never served.

"Guys, what are you doing?" Abramov asked the Russians as they took him past the gate and into the street, according to the Times.

Moments later, when the Russian commander returned, Abramova's father asked him, "Where is Oleh?"

"Oleh will not be coming," the commander said.

Bucha, Ukraine
Ukraine. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty

Abramova ran out of the house, which had filled with black smoke. "I looked to the left. Nothing. I look to the right. I see my husband on the ground," she told the Times. "I see lots of blood. I see part of his head is gone."

Abramov, whom she met 20 years ago and called "Sunshine," was dead.

She grabbed his hand and cried out his name. She held her cat and screamed at the soldiers, "Shoot me! Come on! Come on! Shoot me and the cat!"

"The Russians were sitting on the curb, drinking water from plastic bottles, just watching me," Abramova recalled. "They didn't say anything, they didn't show any emotion. They were like an audience at the theater."

The commander did put the gun to her chest but never pulled the trigger, Abramova said. "I do not kill women," he said, she told the Times.

She regrets that but told the paper that suicide was not an option. "It's a big thing to take your own life," she said, "and then I won't be able to meet my husband in heaven."

Stories of torture, rape and execution account for some of the evidence of alleged war crimes that has emerged from Bucha since Russian forces retreated in early April, ending their month-long occupation, which continues to be one of the most horrific chapters in Ukraine's ongoing war.

Children of Bucha
Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo

Russia has denied targeting civilians in its war with Ukraine and insisted the atrocities described in Bucha were faked.

Of pre-war Bucha's approximately 40,000 residents, only about 4,000 remain, the Times reports. Several hundred have died, including children, and the rest fled.

But Abramova can't leave. Her savings, which she kept at home in cash, burned. So have all her documents and other papers that could verify her identity.

Without them, she can't travel even if she wanted to.

"I used to say that I had the best family in the world. One husband. Three cats. And one dog," she told the Times this week. "It's hard to process."

Abramov's sweater and shirt still sit in the mud outside the pile of bricks that used to be their home. Her dog and two cats are buried somewhere under the debris.

"I look at this but I keep seeing my old house," she said. "It's like I've made a wrong turn into a parallel reality and there is another reality where my house and my husband still exist. And here in this reality I am alone."

Ukraine War
A woman cries after not being able to board an evacuation train that departed on March 4 in Ukraine carrying women and children that fled fighting in Bucha and Irpin. Chris McGrath/Getty

Abramova said she dreams of a nightly routine that was once mundane but is now a cherished, sweet and poignant memory.

"I'm in bed watching TV, and he's walking through the door, taking off his cap," she said, referring to her "Sunshine," who called her "Kitty."

"And then I hear: 'Kitty, I'm home,' " she said. " 'Where are you, Kitty?' "

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but thousands of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children, though the actual number of deaths is difficult to determine.

More than 5.5 million have fled the country as refugees — and half are children, according to the United Nations. Millions more have been displaced inside Ukraine.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

Body bags are seen by the morgue building on April 18, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine. The Kyiv suburb was heavily damaged in fighting between invading Russian forces and Ukrainian troops weeks before.
Alexey Furman/Getty

With NATO forces amassed in the region, various countries are offering aid or military support to the resistance. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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