BUCHA, Ukraine — The countdown to the rape began on the day she was wounded in a Russian airstrike, Olena says.
On Day One, a scalding piece of shrapnel embedded itself in her chest after an attack near her home in Hostomel, a suburb of Kyiv.
“I thought I was dying. It was extreme pain,” Olena, 28, said this week. “It was burning like a fire.”
Pointing just under her left breast, Olena said the shrapnel left a slash mark about three-quarters of an inch wide. She showed NBC News the navy hooded sweatshirt she had been wearing, torn in the same place. She said she didn’t remember the exact date but it was roughly mid-March. It still hurts.
The next day, Day Two, she badly needed a bandage changed and, despite that her village was already occupied by the Russian troops, she went out searching for medical help.
“I was crying. He quickly did whatever he wanted.”
Two soldiers offered to help, she said.
One administered first aid while the other stood guard in a nearby apartment.
On her way out, the second soldier, smoking a cigarette casually on the street, offered a warning: “Go home, it’s for your own safety.”
Different Russian soldiers changed the dressings on Day Three, and Olena’s calendar passed without any major issues.
Olena is thin, with a slight build. NBC News isn’t using her last name to protect her privacy. She and her husband, Sasha, a truck driver, were poor even before the war broke out, and they have a 7- year-old daughter who lives nearby with relatives.
After the Russians withdrew and when the couple fled to this area of Bucha, volunteers pointed them to an abandoned cabin where they could stay. The red front door doesn’t fully close, and there is no lock. It is as cold inside as it was outside, but there is a fireplace, Olena said.
As she spoke in the abandoned cabin, Olena sipped tea from a cracked teacup. Taking long pauses, she wrapped her hands around the cup, even though it was no longer hot.
There are numerous accusations of occupying Russian soldiers raping Ukrainian women and girls, according to the Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office. Olena’s is one account.
On Olena’s Day Four, three soldiers came to her house dressed in civilian clothes. She had no idea how they knew she was wounded. One of them — he looked around 40 years old — offered to take a look at her wound upstairs.
“He inspected me,” she said. “But didn’t provide any medical aid.”
He had no bandages, medical kit or antiseptic cream, she said.
When she walked back downstairs, she found her husband lying in a pool of blood. She hadn’t heard a commotion from upstairs and she started screaming at them to leave. Sasha later said the soldiers had asked him to drive trucks for the Russian troops and when he refused, they beat him, breaking at least one rib.
“They wanted to finish him,” Olena said, weeks later. Sasha still has a hard time sitting up.
But the next day, Day Five, one of the soldiers returned — the same soldier who had taken Olena upstairs to supposedly look at her wound.
This time, he was alone.
“He grabbed my arm and pushed me into the car,” Olena said, adding that it all happened very quickly.
After an hour in the car, Olena recognized the building they were approaching. Before Olena was wounded, she had already encountered Russian troops in the town of Gostomel. Out looking for water in early March, Russian troops had detained her, she said, and held her captive for 48 hours.
At that time, about 40 other people were being held in a small apartment, including a pregnant woman. There was only one bathroom. She described the panicked escape when they realized their captors had become distracted.
So on this day with her new captor, they arrived at the same building. It was mostly deserted and had been bombed, she said. The Russian troops had looted everything.
“I didn’t even try screaming, because there was no one around,” Olena said, shaking her head. “I thought whatever happens, happens.”
The apartment was sparsely furnished, with an old table, she remembered. After being forced to undress, she said she stood there, naked with her bandage still on her left breast. He rummaged around the room to find a bra, not hers, she said, to cover her wound.
“He didn’t want to see it,” she said.
She described the rape in short details.
“I was crying. He quickly did whatever he wanted,” Olena said.
She only thought about “how to stay alive.”
When he finished, she escaped. Her attacker was distracted and she grabbed her shoes and started running, she said. Leaving her T-shirt behind, she tripped as she ran and kept going as he screamed after her.
She ran all the way home, arriving in tears. The couple decided to leave town and, in the middle of the night, came to the abandoned cabin in Bucha.
About two and a half weeks later, Olena didn’t raise her voice when she said: “God will judge him. Only God will judge him.”