A FAMILY whose home was destroyed in the first days of Putin’s Ukraine invasion have rebuilt it, thanks to your help.
Kateryina Tytova, 36, fled her house on the outskirts of Kyiv as the country’s heroic defenders launched a ferocious action that scuppered Russia’s advance.
A picture of the mum and her six-year-old daughter Tajisia running for their lives captured the horror faced by ordinary civilians as their homes were turned to rubble by Moscow’s bombardments.
They had to sprint past corpses of civilians killed by shelling as they crossed the Irpin River under fire.
But today they are rebuilding their shattered lives — and convinced of Ukraine’s victory — as the world prepares to mark the first anniversary of Putin’s invasion on Friday.
Kateryina said from her rebuilt home: “I believe in Ukraine more than ever.
“People said we would last two days, but it is a year and we haven’t fallen. Our military is great.
“Our doctors are great. Our teachers, our volunteers are great.
“Every day they do incredible things. With people like that on our side, I am not afraid any more.”
We first met Kateryina in the relative safety of central Ukraine after she had fled her home, and The Sun fund made donations to help her pick up the pieces of her life.
She said: “I really want to say a big thank you to The Sun fund and to Sun readers. We couldn’t have rebuilt our home without the help.”
At first she had no idea if she would ever get back to the family home where she had made the heartbreaking decision to leave their beloved husky, Belyi.
But astonishingly, only a month after she fled, Russian troops were ordered to make a humiliating retreat as commanders abandoned their assault on Ukraine’s capital.
It was the first in a series of spectacular Russian defeats which have come to define the first year of Putin’s invasion.
In May, Kateryina went home with Tajisia, son Makar, 11, and husband Oleksandr, 36, who had all faced the deadly Russian shelling together.
They were met by devastation.
There were shell holes in the roof and walls. Rain had flooded the house and an entire wall of Kateryina’s jewellery studio was gone. All the windows had been blown out.
Outside, concrete fences were shot through with bullet and shrapnel holes.
The remains of a tank sat yards from her front gate.
Kateryina said: “The only good thing was Belyi was still there.”
They also had a pet squirrel, Grigori, and she said: “He had survived by eating everything, even books, and chewing strips off blankets to make a nest in the cellar.”
When Oleksandr’s pals saw pictures of the devastation on Facebook they volunteered to help the rebuild.
Kateryina used The Sun fund’s donations to buy materials including bricks, new windows, a door and roof tiles.
She said: “Lots of people helped us. I am so glad we have come home. It is where we belong.
“Tajisia and Makar are both much better now they are here.
“They are going to school and they have their friends around them.”
When we met them this week, Tajisia was dressed in a rabbit onesie, playing with teddies in her home-made cardboard dolls’ house.
Makar dashed off on his bicycle to see a neighbour.
They were a far cry from the terrified kids who had been too scared to go outside, and upset by the sight of smoke from a chimney, when we first met them in March.
Little wonder after what they had lived through. Their home is three miles from Hostomel Airport, where Ukraine fought one of the decisive battles of the war so far.
Elite Russian paratroopers attempted to seize the airfield in a huge airborne assault from helicopters on the first day of the invasion.
But Ukraine repelled the initial assault and killed hundreds of Russian attackers, thwarting Putin’s aim of a lightning assault on the capital.
As the Ukrainian troops fell slowly back — eventually losing the airfield — the carnage inched closer to the family’s home.
Gruesome footage from the time showed charred corpses in the streets and dead soldiers dangling from Russian armoured vehicles.
Kateryina said: “One day our neighbour found a Russian soldier hiding in his garden shed. He was handed to the Ukrainian soldiers.
“My husband went outside and saw so many Russian bodies all over the roads.”
By the seventh day of the invasion the family were cowering in their 10ft-square cellar.
Kateryina said: “There were so many explosions. One of them was so loud the cellar swayed like we were in a boat. I understood we had to leave.”
They packed three small rucksacks — for Mum, Dad and Makar to carry — and left out all the food and water they had for Belyi. Then they waited for a lull in the fighting.
Kateryina recalled: “The only way out was by foot. The Russians were shooting at cars.”
At 4pm the next day they made their dash for safety, heading for the home of friends in the nearby city of Bucha.
Kateryina continued: “I tried to be calm to stop the children being scared. We told them we were like superheroes on a mission.
“But it didn’t really work. We were running for an hour, always on small roads, through forests, never on main roads. Tajisia was so thirsty she cried the whole time.”
They stayed two nights with their friends but Russian troops were still closing in, eventually seizing Bucha.
There they committed a massacre and many other war crimes, including rape at gunpoint, killing children and executing civilians whose hands were tied behind their backs.
On the morning of March 6 the family made a frantic dash for the city of Irpin, where they knew there were still buses to central Kyiv on the far side of the river.
On the way a minibus stopped and the driver urged them to get in.
Kateryina said: “It was full but he said we could climb into the luggage compartment at the back.
“The bus dropped us near the bridge, which was down. It was like an apocalypse and there were soldiers directing us to the side where we had to walk on wooden planks over the water.
“I thought maybe on the other side it would be safe, but no way.
“A soldier told us, ‘Run! Don’t stop or you will die’.
“I told Tajisia and Makar we had to run, we’d be OK. There was shooting and explosions all around.
“There was an explosion just the other side of a concrete fence and we all dived down on to the floor. It was so close, it was just instinct.
“That was the hardest part of the journey. It was about 500 metres from the bridge to the buses.
“Tajisia was crying. She was so tired, she was so stressed. We hadn’t eaten properly for a week and she said, ‘Mum, I can’t go’.
“I said, ‘We have to go. You have to run now, you can cry later’.
“As we were running to the buses a soldier shouted at us to cover the children’s eyes with their hats, so they didn’t see the bodies.
“There was a family who had been killed by Russian shells about 15 minutes before.”
Even when they reached the buses, their ordeal was not over. Oleksandr ran back to help an old woman who was breathless and struggling to walk.
Kateryina said: “The bus door shut behind me and I realised Oleksandr wasn’t there.
“I screamed at the driver not to leave — ‘We are not leaving without my husband!’
“When Oleksandr ran on, we just all collapsed in tears, and the bus drove off so fast it was like a Formula 1 car. I never knew a bus could go that fast.
“It was really strange because only ten minutes away, in central Kyiv, it was like a different world. It was quiet, there was no shelling. Where we had been was hell.”
She added: “We are lucky we all survived, that we are rebuilding our lives.
“The only thing that upsets me now is the burnt and blown-up buildings. I see them every day.
“But that will take time to fix. And there will be time enough when we win.”
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