Over the weekend, images of a family of Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian shelling outside of Kyiv inspired worldwide outrage, including from Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, who vowed to find and punish “every b*****d” responsible.
“They were just trying to get out of town. To escape. The whole family,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address. “How many such families have died in Ukraine?”
The family in the photo, which ran with top billing in places like The New York Times, has now been identified and linked to a tech company partially based in the US.
Tatiana Perebeinis, 43, along with her daughter Alise, 9, and son Nikita, 18, were all killed shortly after they crossed a partially destroyed bridge over the Irpin River and were hit by a Russian mortar.
The husband and father of the victims, Serhiy Perebeinis, the Times he learned of their deaths via graphic images circulated on Twitter. He said he was in eastern Ukraine looking after his ailing mother when his wife and children fled Kyiv after shell hit their apartment building.
The last time Mr Perebeinis spoke to his wife was the night before she fled, when he apologised for not being with her. “I told her, ‘Forgive me that I couldn’t defend you,’” he recalled to the Times. “I tried to care for one person, and it meant I cannot protect you.”
“She said, ‘Don’t worry, I will get out.’”
Mr Perebeinis didn’t know they hadn’t made it out alive until he saw their bodies captured on camera.
He said appreciates the images because: “The whole world should know what is happening here.”
On Thursday, Mr Perebeinis wrote on his Facebook page that he had spent four days walking hundreds of kilometers to return Kyiv to bury his family.
He had visited the morgue where his family had been taken, which was “overflowing” with civilian casualties from Irpen, Buchi and Gostomel.
“Inside the atmosphere is like a horror movie. This is all hard to watch when your beloved wife is lying in a black bag on the floor.”
His wife’s body had not yet been released for burial while a judicial investigation into potential war crimes was ongoing, he said.
But he had retrieved the family’s pet dog Keks from the vet clinic and buried it.
He said he had met with reporters who were at the scene when his family was killed, and they had returned their personal items that were left in the street.
Ksenia Khirvonina, a colleague of Perebeinis at the Palo Alto, California-based SEO firm SE Ranking, shared the company’s heartbreak with The San Francisco Chronicle.
“We are so shocked, saddened, devastated, angry. There are no words to describe our emotions, we are so heartbroken,” Ms Khirvonina said, adding, “they prove that [the] Russian army and Putin himself are monsters who deserve no mercy for their doings.”
Over half of the company’s employees, including its CEO, live in Ukraine.
When the invasion began, Perebeinis stayed in the country to look after her sick mother, as well as her son, who was old enough that he was required to remain in Ukraine in case he was called up by its defence forces.
“She always talked about him, how smart he was,” Ms Khirvonina added in the paper. “She was a great mother; giving her kids everything she could.”
After hiding out in a basement when a bomb hit their apartment building, the family decided to flee because they thought they had been offered safe passage by a temporary Russian ceasefire.
Over the weekend, Russia said it would offer temporary cease fires to allow for humanitarian evacuations from major combat zones, but Ukrainian officials say they haven’t been honouring these commitments, which Russia denies.
“The Russian side is not holding to the ceasefire,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, has said.
The International Criminal Court has launched a war crimes investigation in Ukraine, and UK leaders have called for Vladimir Putin to be held before a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal.
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.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies