Illustrative photo – Ukrainian soldiers near the body of a civilian in the town of Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv, April 2, 2022.
Buča (Ukraine) – Her identity was revealed by her brightly painted nails. Iryna Filkin was 52 years old when she was killed last year during the first days of the war in Ukraine. Almost four weeks after her death, which probably occurred on March 5, journalists reached the town of Bucha near Kyiv, which had been occupied by Russian troops until then. Filkin was one of the dead they discovered. She was lying on the side of the road and a photo of her muddy hand with bright red nails went around the world and became a symbol of the suffering of civilians in the Ukrainian war, Reuters wrote.
Photo gallery: Russian invasion of Ukraine
A year after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the footsteps of Iryna's family and friends are divided, and their lives continue to be turned upside down. But they all have one thing in common, sorrow in their hearts for a woman whose death still seems so senseless to them.
“For me, the world ended on March 5,” says Iryna's older sister Svitlana Safonova as she sobs at her grave in the cemetery in the Buč region. “It's one thing when someone dies after a long illness and is buried. It's another thing when someone is killed unexpectedly and for no reason,” adds the 60-year-old woman, who brought 12 pink roses with her on a cold, snowy February day. “And then when you don't even know where to find her so you can bury her so she has a resting place where we can visit her,” she pointed out how difficult it was to find Iryna's body.
The town of Buča, which is located near Kyiv, has become a symbol of Russian atrocities. About 500 bodies of murdered civilians, including small children and teenagers, were discovered on the streets and in mass graves. According to the local mayor, some of the civilians were shot by Russian soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Buch, a charge the Kremlin denies. And he claims that the images of dead bodies in the city streets are not real, and calls the war a special operation to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine.
According to relatives, Iryna was shot by Russian soldiers while riding her bicycle across town. She died in Jablunská Street, a now infamous street on the southern edge of Buča, because it was there that a large part of the search for committed war crimes was concentrated.
It was only at the beginning of April that the first images of dead civilians from the city began to circulate in the media, among Iryna's remains were also visible through them. Her body was recognized by a beautician to whom Iryna used to have her nails painted.
“It was a classic evening,” describes Anastasija Subačevová, who used to live in Buča, but moved to Vilnius, where she now also works in a beauty salon. “I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a post with pictures of Iryna and a picture of a hand. I couldn't breathe,” she adds. Some of the users of the social network noticed a possible connection between the images of the bodies of the victims and the images that Subačeva published earlier, which showed a laughing Iryna with newly painted nails. Four were red and the fifth had a small purple heart on it.
“I immediately started going through the messages and compared the pictures of Iryna that I had taken with the photo. And it was her. I started to scream… and cry on my mother's shoulder,” says Subačevová.
Svitlana Safonovová she found out what happened from her nieces, Iryna's daughters. The photos that became public eventually helped the family find Iryna's body. The daughters of the murdered woman subsequently founded a charity fund called Mama Ira, which collects money for children affected by the violence committed in Buč.
As Subačeva recalled, Iryna, who worked in one of the Kyiv department stores, wanted to become a make-up artist and she completed several hours of the course with her last February. They became close, and her older friend inspired her to live life to the fullest.
When asked what February 24th, when the Russians attacked Ukraine, meant for her, the beautician paused for a moment. “It's the day God died…It's the day they stole my life. February 24 is the day they stole the life of all Ukrainians, but now we're trying to get it back,” she added.