Russo-Ukrainian War: Live Updates, Latest News and Video
KYIV, Ukraine – They met in high school but became friends a few years later after meeting on a dance floor at a Ukrainian nightclub. Married in 2001, they lived in a dormitory community outside Kiev, in an apartment with their two children and their dogs, Benz and Cake. She was an accountant and he was a computer programmer.
Serhiy and Tetiana Perebyinis owned a Chevrolet van. They shared a country house with friends, and Mrs. Perebyinis was a dedicated gardener and an avid skier. She had just returned from a ski trip to Georgia.
And then, at the end of last month, Russia invaded Ukraine and the fighting quickly moved to Kiev, the capital. It wasn’t long before artillery shells crashed into their neighborhood. One night a shell hit their building, prompting Mrs. Perebyinis and the children to move to the basement. Eventually, as her husband was away in eastern Ukraine to care for his ailing mother, Ms Perebyinis decided it was time to take her children and run away.
They did not succeed. She and her two children, Mykyta, 18, and Alisa, 9, and a church volunteer helping them, Anatoly Berezhnyi, 26, were killed on Sunday as they rushed to the remains of concrete of a damaged bridge in their town of Irpin. , trying to evacuate to Kiev.
Their luggage – a blue wheeled suitcase, a gray suitcase and backpacks – was strewn near their bodies, along with a green carrying case for a small barking dog.
They were four of many who attempted to cross that bridge last weekend, but their deaths resonated far beyond their Ukrainian suburbs. A photograph of the family and Mr. Berezhnyi lying bloodied and motionless, taken by The New York Times photographer Lynsey Addario, summarizes the indiscriminate slaughter by an encroaching Russian army that has increasingly targeted densely populated civilian areas.
The family’s life and their final hours were described in an interview on Friday by Mr. Perebyinis and a godmother, Polina Nedava. Mr Perebyinis said he learned of his family’s death on Twitter, thanks to messages from Ukrainians.
Bursting into tears for the only time in the interview, Mr Perebyinis said he told his wife the day before he died that he was sorry he was not with her.
“I said to him, ‘Forgive me for not being able to defend you,'” he said. “I tried to take care of one person, and that meant I couldn’t protect you.”
“She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going out.'”
After she didn’t, he said he felt it was important that their deaths be recorded in photos and video. “The whole world should know what’s going on here,” he said.
The Perebyinis family had already been displaced once by the war, in 2014, when they lived in Donetsk in the east and Russia fomented a separatist uprising. They moved to Kiev to escape the fighting and began to rebuild their lives. When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine last month, they could hardly believe it was happening again, Mr Perebyinis said.
Ms Perebyinis’ employer, SE Ranking, a software company with offices in California and London, had encouraged employees to leave Ukraine immediately after the fighting began. He had even rented them rooms in Poland, Mr. Perebyinis said. But his wife delayed his departure due to uncertainty over how to evacuate her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Work colleague Anastasia Avetysian said SE Ranking had provided emergency funds for employees to be evacuated and Ms Perebyinis, as chief accountant in Ukraine, had been busy in her final days disbursing them.
“We were all in contact with her,” Ms Avetysian said in a phone interview. “Even when she was hiding in the basement, she was optimistic and joked in our group chat that the company should now do a special operation to get them out, like ‘Saving Private Ryan’. “
But behind the jokes lies a period of expectation and intense worry, Mr Perebyinis said. Her son, Mykyta, started sleeping during the day and staying up all night, watching over his mother and sister. When there were sounds of fighting, he would wake them up and the three of them would move down a hallway, away from the windows. “My son was very stressed,” Mr Perebyinis said.
Last Saturday, after two days in the basement, they made a first attempt to evacuate. But as they were packing their van, a tank drove past on the street outside. They decided to wait.
The next day they were up and moved around 7am. Tetiana Perebyinis had discussed the plan in detail with her husband. She and her two children and her mother and father, who lived nearby, were joining a religious group and trying to evacuate to Kyiv and then get to safety from there.
They drove as far as they could but Ms Perebyinis was eventually forced to abandon the van. They set off on foot towards the damaged bridge over the Irpin River.
To escape, they had to cross a hundred meters of exposed street on one side of the bridge. As Russian forces fired into the area, many tried to hide behind a brick wall.
Mr Berezhnyi, the church volunteer, had previously evacuated his own family but returned to help others and was with Ms Perebyinis and her children when they started rushing to the other side.
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.