10-year-old Darinka Monko sitting in front of her piano with the medals and trophies she has won for piano, theater, chess, and singing. (Courtesy Tatiana Monko)
When Tatiana Monko returned to her home in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv last Saturday after two months away, she found it in ruins. Explosions had shattered the windows of her apartment, and almost everything they owned had been destroyed by the Russian soldiers who lived there while occupying the town.
“The door to our apartment was broken into, everything was scattered in the apartment, many things were damaged and looted,” Tatiana told VICE News.
But at least the soldiers hadn’t destroyed the piano her 10-year-old daughter Darinka loved to play.
Tatiana did notice, however, that the scores of medals and trophies Darinka won for piano, theater, singing, and chess in recent years, which were carefully arranged on top of the piano, had been moved and put back incorrectly.
As Tatiana idly ran her fingers along the piano keys, four or five of them didn’t move.
“The men called specialists, sappers arrived,” Tatiana said. “While they were clearing the piano, we waited outside the apartment. When the specialists left the apartment, they reported that a grenade had been planted in the children’s piano.”
The sappers identified the munition that had been placed under the hammers of the piano as a VOG-25P grenade, which is used by the Russian military. While the discovery was shocking, it was hardly surprising: Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, there have been numerous reports about mines and booby-traps being discovered in Bucha and other cities, including grenades left in washing machines,
“I could not sleep peacefully for several days and do not understand how they could put explosives in a child’s piano,” Tatiana told VICE News. “After all, the corner where the piano is placed is arranged so that it is immediately clear that a child is playing on it.”
And the potential damage to her family could have been deadly. “Darinka has a younger brother, 6 years old, he loves her very much and he is always with her at the piano. “It’s scary to even think what irreparable grief the Russians had prepared for our family,” Tatiana said.
The details of the incident were first highlighted in a Facebook post by Mariana Hlieva, a violinist and music teacher at the Children’s School of Arts in Bucha, which Darinka attends.
Hlieva told VICE News that fear of mines and other booby-traps is something all returning residents of Bucha have to live with, pointing out that last week alone 1,200 mines were discovered in the city.
Russian troops arrived in Bucha in the early days of the war in February, on their way to Kyiv. But they were met with unexpected resistance: The BBC reported that Ukrainian troops used drones to take out the lead and rear vehicles in the column of Russian troops, trapping all the others.
In the weeks that followed, Russian troops took control of the town, taking over houses and apartment blocks, and carried out an unknown number of suspected war crimes. When the troops finally retreated in early April, mass graves and other evidence of the atrocities conducted by Moscow’s troops were quickly uncovered.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken labeled them a “punch to the gut,” while NATO’s Secretary-General characterized the situation as “horrific.” Ukraine has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate.
This is not the first time Russia has been accused of using booby-traps indiscriminately. During the conflict in Afghanistan, Soviet troops booby-trapped toys designed to attract children. More recently, in 2020, when Russian private military companies withdrew from Libya, they attached explosives designed to detonate upon touch to toilet seats, doors, and teddy bears, the Washington Post reported last year.
At the time of the pullback from Bucha, Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy warned that the Kremlin’s troops were “mining all this territory. Mining houses, equipment, even the bodies of killed people”—and the grim discovery the Monko family made inside their daughter’s piano shows just how far the Russian troops were willing to go.
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