Ukrainian man learned wife and two children were killed by mortar fire after seeing image of their strewn bags

Sergii Perebeinis was away from his family when they died in civilian refugee corridor

Tom Batchelor
Friday 11 March 2022 00:31
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A man whose wife and two children were killed by mortar fire in Ukraine as they tried to flee the fighting has said he realised his family had died after seeing images on social media of their strewn belongings.

Sergii Perebeinis was not with the family when they were killed on Monday in a civilian refugee corridor while trying to escape from the suburb of Irpin towards the relative safety of Kyiv as he had been caring for his mother in Donetsk.

Tatiana Perebeinis, 43, died along with her daughter, Alise, 9, and son, Nikita, 18. Photographs broadcast around the world showed their bodies lying next to their suitcases and a dog carrier.

Speaking to The New York Times, Mr Perebeinis said photos on his Twitter feed alerted him to the deaths of his wife and children. “I recognised the luggage and that is how I knew,” he said.

He has since returned to the Ukrainian capital to bury them but on Wednesday said their funerals were being postponed because the morgues were already full with other civilian victims.

His wife had stayed in Irpin, where she was living, when the Russian invasion started because her mother was unwell.

Her 18-year-old son, who had started university this year, was required to remain in the country in case he was needed to defend it, Ms Khirvonina said.

Ms Perebeinis’ employer reportedly helped her husband return to Kyiv after he learnt of their deaths.

“Trying to hold on but it’s really hard," he posted on Facebook. “Fourth day on my feet, thousands of kilometers of road."

A woman and child who were evacuated from areas on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital look out the window of a bus after arriving at a triage point in Kyiv

Ms Perebeinis's body was “lying in a black bag on the floor" of an overflowing morgue, he said. The family's dogs also died, he said.

He posted an image of himself holding photographs of his wife and children.

Ms Perebeinis was chief accountant for SE Ranking, a startup with headquarters in London and a large workforce in Kyiv.

“I met with correspondents, witnesses of these events. They handed me some of the personal items that were left lying on the street near the bodies,” Mr Perebeinis wrote.

Russia has denied targeting civilians, although airstrikes hit three hospitals in Ukraine on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said efforts were being made to evacuate some 18,000 people from embattled towns in the Kyiv region to the capital itself. He said about 35,000 civilians have used humanitarian corridors to flee the fighting.

A man is helped in a wheelbarrow after crossing Irpin river on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by Ukrainian troops designed to slow any Russian military advance, while fleeing the town of Irpin

A work colleague, Anastasia Avetysian, told The New York Times that SE Ranking had provided emergency evacuation funds for its employees and Ms Perebeinis had been distributing them.

“We were all in touch with her,” Ms Avetysian said. “Even when she was hiding in the basement, she was optimistic and joking in our group chat that the company would now need to do a special operation to get them out, like ‘Saving Private Ryan.’”

Ms Perebeinis “was a very friendly, brave, courageous woman with a great sense of humor, she always cheered everyone around her up, she was truly like a big sister to all of us,” Ksenia Khirvonina, spokeswoman for SE Ranking, told the San Francisco Chronicle from Dubai, where she fled on 23 February from Ukraine.

“She always had answers to all our questions, even the most stupid ones, about personal finances or taxes or how to upgrade your visa cards; she had answers to everything,” Ms Khirvonina said.

“She always talked about him [Nikita], how smart he was,” Ms Khirvonina said. “She was a great mother; giving her kids everything she could.”

The family’s apartment building was bombed the day before they died, forcing them into a basement without heat or food, and they finally decided to flee to Kyiv, Ms Khirvonina said.

“But then Russian troops started firing on innocent civilians,” she said.

Additional reporting by AP

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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