When Russian troops invaded Ukraine and began stationed in the country’s capital, Kyiv, Andrii Dereko begged her 22-year-old stepdaughter Karina Yershova to leave the suburbs where she lived.
But Yershova insisted she wanted to stay in Bucha and told him: “Don’t say nonsense, everything will be fine – there will be no war,” he said.
With her tattoos and long brown hair, Yershova stands out from the crowd, with her stepfather adding that despite living with rheumatoid arthritis, she has a fiercely independent spirit: “It’s her. He decided on his own how to live.”
Yershova works at a sushi restaurant in Bucha, and hopes to earn a college degree in the future, says Dereko: “She wants to develop herself.”
When Russian soldiers surrounded Bucha in early March, Yershova hid in an apartment with two other friends. On one last occasion, Dereko and his wife, Olena, heard Yershova told them she had left the apartment to buy food from a nearby supermarket.
“We don’t think the Russians can get to the point of shooting civilians to the point of shooting,” he said. “We all hoped that at least they wouldn’t touch the women and children – but the opposite happened.”
As weeks went by without a word from Yershova, the family became desperate for news. Her mother left a message on Facebook begging anyone who knows what happened to her to contact her.
She was told by friends that an image of a dead woman with tattoos similar to Yershova’s – including a rose on her forearm – had been posted on a Telegram group set up by a detective in Bucha. , who is trying to identify the hundreds of bodies found in the town after Russian troops withdrew from the area two weeks ago.
Dereko said the images seen by CNN show his stepdaughter’s mutilated body. Police told her family that she was killed by Russian soldiers.
It looks like she was tortured or beaten up, he said. “They mutilated her. They shot her in the leg, and then gave her a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. And then they shot her in the temple.”
Dereko also believes that Yershova was sexually abused by the Russian military. “The [police] the investigator hinted “that she was raped, he said.
CNN has not been able to independently verify this claim. Officials overseeing the incident declined to comment to CNN due to the ongoing investigation. CNN has reached out to Kyiv prosecutors for comment.
The painful wait for Dereko’s family for answers reflects growing anxiety amid reports of wartime rape in the country.
Human rights groups and Ukrainian psychologists CNN spoke with say they have been working around the clock to tackle a growing number of alleged sexual abuse cases involving Russian soldiers.
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