A family’s race toward safety in Ukraine has a tragic end.
KYIV, Ukraine – They met in high school, but became reunited a few years later, on a dance floor in a Ukrainian nightclub. Married in 2001, they lived with their two children and their dogs, Benz and Kek, in an apartment in a one-bedroom community outside Kyiv. She was an accountant and he was a computer programmer.
Serhiy and Tetiana Perebyinis owned a Chevrolet minivan. They shared a country house with friends, and Ms. Perebinis was a devoted gardener and an avid skier. She had just returned from a ski trip in Georgia.
And then, late last month, Russia invaded Ukraine, and the fighting quickly escalated toward the capital, Kyiv. It wasn’t long before artillery shells were crashing into their neighborhood. One night, a shell struck their building, forcing Ms. Perebinis and the children into the basement. Finally, with her husband taking care of her ailing mother in eastern Ukraine, Ms. Perebinis decided it was time to take her kids and run.
He didn’t make it. She and her two children, Mykita, 18, and Alisa, 9, along with a church volunteer who was helping them, 26-year-old Anatoly Berezhny, were killed on Sunday as they collapsed under the concrete of a damaged bridge in their hometown of Irpin. The remains were razed. , trying to clear Kyiv.
His belongings – a blue roller suitcase, a gray suitcase and some backpacks – were scattered near his body, along with a green carrying case for a small dog that was barking.
Four people were among those who tried to cross that bridge last weekend, but their deaths went far beyond their Ukrainian suburb. A photo of the family and Mr. Berezhny lying motionless, covered in blood, taken by the New York Times Photographer Linsey Addario covers the indiscriminate slaughter by an invading Russian military, which has increasingly targeted heavily populated civilian areas.
The family’s life and their final hours were described in an interview on Friday by Mr Perebinis and a godmother, Polina Nedva. Mr Perebinis said he learned of the death of his family on Twitter from Ukrainians’ posts.
Shedding tears only once in the interview, Mr Perebinis said that he had told his wife the night before her death that he was sorry he was not with her.
“I told him, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t defend you,'” she said. “I tried to take care of one person, and that meant I couldn’t protect you.”
“She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll leave.'”
After she did not go, he said he felt it was important that his death was recorded in photographs and video. “The whole world should know what is happening here,” he said.
The Perebinis family had already been displaced by war once, in 2014, when they were living in Donetsk in the east and Russia sparked a separatist insurgency. They fled to Kyiv to escape the fight and began to rebuild their lives. When Russian tanks entered Ukraine last month, they could hardly believe it was happening again, Perebinis said.
Ms Perebinis’s employer, SE Rankings, a software company with offices in California and London, encouraged employees to leave Ukraine soon after the fight broke out. There were even rooms for them to rent in Poland, Mr Perebinis said. But his wife delayed him because there was uncertainty over how to evacuate his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
A colleague at work, Anastasia Avetisian, said the SE rankings had provided emergency funds to lay off employees and that Ms Perebinis, as chief accountant in Ukraine, was busy disbursing them in her final days.
“We were all in touch with him,” Ms Avetisian said in a telephone interview. “Even when she was hiding in the basement, she was optimistic and joked in our group chats that the company would now need to do a special operation to get them out, like ‘Saving Private Ryan’.”
But behind the jokes was a period of waiting and intense anxiety, Mr Perebinis said. His son Mykita started sleeping during the day and kept awake all night watching his mother and sister. When the sounds of fighting came, he would wake them up and the three would go down a corridor away from the windows. “My son was under a lot of stress,” said Mr. Perebinis.
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Last Saturday, after being in the basement for two days, he made his first attempt to escape. But as they were packing their minivan, a tank rolled out onto the road. He decided to wait.
The next day they got up around 7 o’clock and on the way Tetiana Perebinis discussed the plan in detail with her husband. He and his two children and his mother and father, who lived nearby, would join a church group and try to evacuate to Kyiv, and then escape somewhere safe.
They drove as far as they could, but Ms Perebinis was eventually forced to abandon the minivan. They set out on foot towards the damaged bridge over the Irpin River.
To escape, they were forced to cross a hundred yards or so of open road on one side of the bridge. As the Russian army opened fire in the area, many tried to hide behind the brick wall.
Mr. Berezhny, a church volunteer, had previously evacuated his family, but he returned to help others and was with Ms. Perebinis and her children when they started running to the other side.
Maria Varennikova contributed reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.
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