Ukrainian whose bloodied face is iconic war image begs Putin to stop
Woman, 52, whose bloodied face became the iconic image of the sickening war in Ukraine, pleads with Vladimir Putin to halt the carnage before more children are orphaned and mothers lose their babies
- Mother-of-one Olena Kurilo was injured at her apartment in Chuhuev, Ukraine
- In an exclusive interview, she told how she still has glass embedded in her skin and eyes, and fears for her sight because there is no medical help available
- The half-Russian kindergarten teacher is now begging Putin to stop the war
- ‘I don’t know anyone who would like to go to war with Russia. Not a single person thought that Putin could do this,’ she said
The Russian-speaking woman whose bloodied face became the iconic image of the sickening war in Ukraine has blamed Vladimir Putin for the carnage.
Brave Olena Kurilo, 52, was pictured outside her blitzed home in an image which summed up the horror of a conflict in which thousands have now died.
She was almost one of them, when the Russians struck at a military base near her home in Chuhuev, Ukraine – and blitzkrieged her block.
In an exclusive interview, she told how she still has glass embedded in her skin and eyes, and fears for her sight because there is no medical help available.
But the half-Russian mother-of-one, a kindergarten teacher, tells how she was almost killed – and pleads with Putin to stop the war, and take his troops home.
The Russian-speaking woman whose bloodied face became the iconic image of the sickening war in Ukraine has blamed Vladimir Putin for the carnage. Olena Kurilo, 52, was pictured (above) outside her blitzed home in an image which summed up the horror of a conflict in which thousands have now died
Olena was almost killed when the Russians struck at a military base near her home in Chuhuev, a suburb of Kharkiv, in Ukraine – and blitzkrieged her block. In an exclusive interview, she told how she still has glass embedded in her skin and eyes, and fears for her sight because there is no medical help available
The scene of devastation at Olena’s apartment building. ‘We live at the third entrance, on the second floor. The epicentre of the explosion was 20-25 metres from us. It was a missile,’ she said
Her flat was hit by Putin’s war machine. ‘I registered that the window was entirely ripped out. All of our windows were blown out and the door. The window shattered into a thousand small pieces,’ she said. (Above, Olena’s apartment block after the attack)
Two years ago, Olena nearly died when a military plane came down a stone’s throw from her flat, killing 26.
She said: ‘After Putin made his statement recognising LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic] and DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic], we carefully watched the situation.
‘We thought that some common sense was still there to negotiate. We never thought there would be a war.
‘Never have I thought in my life I’d look death in the face and see war. I could never imagine it even in the worst nightmares.’
That she was hit by a Russian strike is agonising for her. She is half-Russian, through her mother.
‘I speak Ukrainian well, too, but Russian is more familiar,’ said Olena.
Olena (pictured) said: ‘Around 70% of people in our region speak [mainly] Russian. I love the Ukrainian language too. I have Russian blood in me, but no-one could imagine things would be like this’
‘We thought that some common sense was still there to negotiate. We never thought there would be a war,’ said Olena. Above, a destroyed armoured personnel carrier on the roadside in Kharkiv on Saturday
‘Around 70% of people in our region speak [mainly] Russian. I love the Ukrainian language too. I have Russian blood in me, but no-one could imagine things would be like this.
‘Everyone believed that the person [Putin] would somehow stop at recognising LPR and DPR.’
Olena relived the horror of an attack which saw her anguished, bloodied face on front pages around the world.
‘All this turned out to be a huge shock for us,’ said Olena.
‘When we heard the first shots, we were warned they had military targets. The first shots were fired at the airport area.
‘It was clear that smoke immediately appeared on the runway, then the tower, because it is very close. The noise was terrible.
‘It was clear to me that they would disable the military infrastructure first of all, destroy it. This is a military tactic, I heard.’
Olena said: ‘Then, for about six hours, we thought that that was it. Yet soon we realised that this was really a war.
‘I was at home alone. My husband Nikolai went to the filling station in case we needed to escape – so he was not at home during the explosion.
‘He told me to get our documents and belongings ready, so that he’d pick me up and we could quickly go somewhere because we were at the epicentre, near the military airport and a military unit 300 metres (1,000ft) away.’
She is convinced that ‘a miracle’ saved her husband, 54, because he got a flat tyre as he returned.
‘If he had pulled up with the car at that moment, he would have been killed.’
She told MailOnline: ‘The explosion was at the first entrance [to the apartment block].
‘We live at the third entrance, on the second floor. The epicentre of the explosion was 20-25 metres from us. It was a missile.
‘There was a very large funnel, my husband usually parked the car there, at exactly that place.
‘He was saved by a miracle, the 15 minutes he was delayed.’
Olena rushed outside to escape.
‘But I saw the smoke and went back in, thinking they won’t shoot at the same place a second time – it’s a one in a million chance.’
‘I packed my documents, collected a few valuables, not even computers, no devices or appliances. I could not imagine that there would be an explosion.
‘We have a two-room apartment. I don’t know why, but I sat on the couch in the bedroom. And then… There was a bang, an explosion.’
An apartment building in Kharkiv hit by recent shelling. Olena said: ‘I am not a politicised person but I love my land. I love the place where I was born, we have very good, kind people here in Ukraine’
Her flat was hit by Putin’s war machine.
‘I registered that the window was entirely ripped out. All of our windows were blown out and the door. The window shattered into a thousand small pieces.
‘I managed to cover myself a little, there was a wall and a closet behind me, and front door next to it that opens to the other side of the house.
‘The back wall of the closet flew out completely, the mirror blew out and so did the door frame.
‘I don’t know by what miracle I [survived]…
‘I curled up and was covered with glass. All in a fraction of a second. All these pieces are flying at me.
‘My first thought was “I’m not ready to die yet”. And then dead silence.
‘After a few seconds, screams were heard, there were dead.
‘In the next entrance, the mother of a child jumped out, shouting: “How am I going to live? My child was killed”. The girl was 12.’
Olena said: ‘I had a “before” and “after”.
Ukrainian servicemen stand guard on a road in Kharkiv on Friday. ‘Nobody wanted war. I watched [Russian state TV], and they constantly say that Ukraine wants to attack Russia. This is such nonsense,’ Olena added
‘I had the feeling that I dreamed it all, the unreality of what was happening [was overwhelming].
‘Something happened that cannot happen. It didn’t fit in my head.
‘I was badly wounded by small fragments of glass, they are small as dust. There were many minor wounds on the face, two deeper ones, on the lip.
‘Fragments hit my eyes. My right eye now does not see at all.
‘It is now completely swollen with blood. It is festering, but there is no ophthalmologist in the city, and no-one will [take care of] my eye.’
She is afraid she will lose her sight.
‘There are 30,000 people living in the city – it is a good place, a suburb of Kharkiv.
‘Ilya Repin [classic Russian painter] was born in our city.
‘Twenty minutes by car and you’re in Kharkiv. Now we can’t go to Kharkiv to see a doctor because of the hostilities.
‘There are shots fired from time to time, and we don’t know who is shooting – the Ukrainian or the Russian army.
‘We are not too far from the border, so our bridge was blown up yesterday so that the tanks would not pass.
‘A dam was blown up on the Pechenezhsky reservoir. This dam supplied water to Kharkiv.
‘I’m getting phone calls from Kharkiv – they say heating was turned off in many places.
‘Missiles are flying from Russia. Yesterday there was a fire at the Kharkiv Tractor Plant, an aircraft factory. Shells hit residential areas in Klochkovskaya street.
‘I want to say, and this is my personal opinion, I don’t think that the people who fired at the airport wanted to hit the residential area on purpose. They didn’t aim to hit peaceful people, civilians.
‘It’s just that someone fired a rocket in the wrong direction. It happened so that we became victims of the first attack.
‘I don’t know anyone who would like to go to war with Russia. Not a single person thought that Putin [above, on Feb 22] could do this. I understand that we are pawns in the game between Russia and the United States. We are a bargaining chip, but the world has turned upside down,’ said Olena
‘I ran out into the street in a state of shock, I tried to stop bleeding with everything that was at hand – my jacket and shirt.’
Olena said that ‘in this state, you don’t feel pain, but you understand that the blood must be stopped.
‘There is blood on the walls in the apartment, there were some items left intact in the closet.
‘The chandelier flew off, the linoleum was ripped, I took a couple of photos in shock.
‘When I went outside, about 25 minutes after the explosion, I saw an ambulance.
‘They bandaged my head a little, and then journalists started taking pictures of me.’
She and another victim, a woman, 90, were taken to hospital.
‘There were about 20 people, that’s what I saw. I had a concussion and a lot of shrapnel wounds.
‘In the evening, I saw wounds on my back, I did not feel pain.
‘Many thanks to the doctors, they gave me tea and water to drink. They knew what they were doing very well, they helped everyone. I was told that I was just lucky, I could have died.’
Back in her flat, she said the carnage was terrible.
‘Only the sofa and the bed were not damaged. We had everything, and there is nothing left. We had just finished renovating the flat.’
‘The missile hit the yard, and created a huge funnel. I don’t think it was targeted. People must have something human in their hearts.
‘Although they also hit residential buildings in Kharkiv, and my daughter is in a bomb shelter, a bomb hit 700 metres from her.’
She told how she blames Putin for the war.
‘Nobody wanted war. I watched [Russian state TV], and they constantly say that Ukraine wants to attack Russia. This is such nonsense.
‘I am not a politicised person but I love my land. I love the place where I was born, we have very good, kind people here in Ukraine.
‘I don’t know anyone who would like to go to war with Russia. Not a single person thought that Putin could do this.
‘I understand that we are pawns in the game between Russia and the United States. We are a bargaining chip, but the world has turned upside down.
‘In other cities, in the south, there are Russian soldiers. They are without food, they just go into houses, shops – looting has begun. These are real things.
‘We are in touch with other cities. They just go into the shops, they want to eat, they go into the houses.’
Olena said: ‘We are afraid too. We don’t know what will happen to our home. We are now staying in a country house, very far from home.
‘I don’t know how I will return. I will see blood on the walls. It’s creepy. You won’t understand – you didn’t live through it.
‘My husband is with me and he supports me. My daughter cannot leave. It is impossible to leave the city.
‘If they let them through, there are bombs and shots fired, tanks and missiles. Driving down the highway and getting shot at? It is chaos.’
She told how she would love to travel to Britain.
‘I don’t want to move to another country, only to travel. I love to travel, but Ukraine is my home. I don’t want to leave. I was born here. This is my motherland.
‘I would love to go to the UK. I am learning English with my husband.
‘He told me: “Let’s go to the UK and learn the mentality of the British”.
‘Usually we travelled to Turkey and Egypt. It was a dream to go to England.
‘We live here and now. Everything changes. When it is silent, you think everything will be fine. I would not like to think that it will take a month or a year yet.
‘How many children will become orphans, [how many] parents will lose their children?
A Russian military vehicle is seen near the village of Oktyabrsky, Belgorod Region, near the Russian-Ukrainian border on Saturday
‘I call on all mothers in Russia not to let their children go to war.
‘This is a meaningless war, it will not bring happiness to anyone, it will not make anyone richer.
‘Our mothers will lose their children, old people and children will die, ordinary people will die innocent of anything.
‘Please, get the message across that Ukraine does not want to harm anyone. Ukraine is a very friendly nation.
‘And the last thing we want is war. We always have to negotiate, not to use our fists. Ambitions should not come without common sense.’
She said: ‘We are looking forward to support – not [just] Nato – we are waiting for the support of the whole world to knock them out.
‘We want peace. War is grief, it is human grief.
‘If this goes further, there is a possibility that they will not stop in Ukraine, because the appetites can be immense, it can spread to Europe.
‘We see that many artists support us, Madonna supports us. We only want peace, we don’t want war, we only want to live.
‘I really want to see my future grandchildren, hold them in my arms, teach them.
‘We want to live normally, regardless of the desires and ambitions of politicians.
‘Maybe they won’t call me a patriot, but I don’t want to leave my land anyway. All my friends and family are here.
‘I am ready to work in order to raise Ukraine from the ruins. It will take years to restore it.
‘We want to live. Tell this in Russia and in Britain — we don’t have Nazis running around, we’ve never seen them. We want to be friends with all nations.
‘All over the world, people are zombified, but you need to look at both points of view, you can’t be categorical.’
Olena had been to her local hospital and she was told she had glass fragments in her eye.
‘Nothing can be done until the fragments come out and the swelling disappears. Maybe I will be able to see, I want to work.
‘If everything works out, I want to create a charitable foundation and help those who have nothing left, no clothes, no food.
‘Having learned what it’s like, my consciousness has changed. I will try to do as much good as possible.
‘People, let’s be kinder to each other. This is the most important thing, and then everything will be fine with us – both in the country, and in the family and in the world.’
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