She lost her husband and unborn son in Bucha. Now she's rebuilding her life: Reporter's notebook

When Anna tried fled her town in Ukraine, her family's car was hit by a shell.

May 27, 2022, 6:03 AM

KYIV -- Anna Polonska had struggled to get pregnant. So when she did, it was a moment of sheer joy; a happy family life lay ahead.

But days after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine, her husband and unborn son were killed in shelling as the family tried to flee their home country, she told ABC News.

She was also gravely injured in the attack, and doctors did not think she would survive.

Adding to her loss, soldiers stole almost all of her possessions and destroyed her apartment, she recalled.

But in a remarkable interview, Anna said she is now focusing on picking up the pieces -- showing incredible courage and determination to live and walk again.

PHOTO: After almost three months of war, citizens try to come back to their life in Bucha, Ukraine, May 22, 2022.
After almost three months of war, citizens try to come back to their life in Bucha, Ukraine, May 22, 2022.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

This is her story:

Anna, 32, said her nightmare began when Russian soldiers entered her town, which has since been decimated by war, in late February.

Up until that moment she and her husband Anton, 37, lived a comfortable life in the up-and-coming district on the edge of Kyiv.

They had a modern apartment on two floors. “Amazing” Anton owned his own construction business.

Being fluent in German and English -- in addition to Russian and Ukrainian -- Anna was a language teacher.

They got married 12 years ago after getting to know each other at the local gym.

Their neighborhood was leafy and full of young families. For Anna, Bucha was “one of the most beautiful towns in Ukraine.” It felt like the ideal place to have a family of their own, she said.

Anna had struggled to get pregnant, but eventually that magical moment arrived and a happy future lay ahead.

But in late February war crushed their stable, comfortable life.

Bucha had very quickly become a living nightmare and, for Anna, it had become “impossible to stay," she recalled.

PHOTO: ABC News Team meets with Anna
Anna Polonska and ABC News team
Tom Soufi-Burridge


So on March 4, she and her husband tried to escape.

They took their Yorkshire terrier, Mia, and packed their most precious possessions into the car.

Russian troops were already in control of the town. Horror and fear was all around.

Human body parts were lying on the road as they drove away from their apartment, she recalled.

With the boom of shelling in the background she said they drove for what felt like four or five minutes when their car was hit.

Anton was killed immediately.

“I only have this image of his head on the steering wheel, covered in blood," Anna remembered.

She also recalled feeling a strange burning sensation in her back: sharp shards of metal had pierced her body in several places.

Anna was 20 weeks pregnant at the time.

PHOTO: Anna Polonska is learning to walk again
Anna, Bucha
Tom Soufi-Burridge

'No one thought I would live'

Anna’s wounds were so serious that the doctors didn’t think she would survive.

“No one thought I would live," Anna told ABC News. “The doctors were very surprised.”

But to live, she had to undergo major surgery. Doctors were able to save her, but not her unborn baby.

“My son didn’t die immediately," she said.

Four days after her husband was killed, Anna’s unborn son died too.

“Our boy didn’t die on the 4th of March, he was with me until the 8th of March," she recounted. “It was hard for me to get pregnant, so it was awful to lose my son.”

Anna's Russian roots

Anna is just one of the thousands of civilians killed and injured in Ukraine. The barbaric tactics of Putin's soldiers, who have occupied parts of Ukraine, are already well-documented and the evidence keeps mounting.

According to Ukrainian police, investigations into more than 10,800 potential war crimes are underway across the country.

But Anna’s family background, which is by no means unique in Ukraine, is worth a mention.

It demonstrates the senselessness of Putin’s war.

Because, like so many people in Ukraine, Anna has Russian blood.

Her dad grew up in the Bryansk region of Russia which borders Ukraine. Her 86-year-old grandmother still lives in Russia today.

As if the pain of losing her husband and her unborn child were not enough, Anna has been forced into another painful decision.

Following Russia’s violent invasion and the atrocities carried out by its troops, Anna has decided that she will never again visit Russia.

The annual summer visits to Russia to spend time with her grandma are done, she said.

Anna said she is “devastated” that she will never see her grandma again. Nor will her father.

So Anna’s grandma, a citizen of Russia, is also a victim of Putin’s invasion as she will be left “all on her own," she said.

The tragic impact of Putin’s war on this family makes a mockery of Kremlin propaganda.

The family’s close links to Russia and the fact that it is natural for them to speak both Ukrainian and Russian shows how twisted and bizarre the Kremlin’s claims are that Russian speakers are persecuted in Ukraine.

'Almost everything is gone'

There is now extensive evidence that in the days after Anna and Anton tried to escape Bucha, Russian soldiers executed many civilians in the town. The bodies of many men were found with their hands tied, after having been shot in the back or in the head.

According to Ukrainian police, around 1,200 civilians have been killed by the Russian army in the Kyiv region alone.

In fact, at some point after Anna and Anton left, Russian troops occupied their apartment, Anna said.

Her neighbors told her the soldiers stayed there for five days.

When the soldiers left they stole almost everything, according to the neighbors.

They took the couple’s coffee machine, their television, their computers and other valuable items.

She said they also stole clothes, including underwear, make-up and even bottles of shampoo.

Anna has not been able to visit her apartment yet because she can barely walk but a friend went on her behalf and sent a video showing extensive damage to the roof.

“Almost everything is gone,” she said.

Learning to walk again

After almost three months in four different hospitals with countless doctors and nurses, Anna is learning to walk again.

As a gym fanatic, it was not easy for her to be stuck in bed for weeks on end. So Anna set herself challenges every day, like learning poems by heart.

ABC News met Anna at a hospital in Kyiv where she is now undergoing intensive physical therapy.

Every step, with a walking aid, looks painful.

But the fact that Anna can walk slowly along a treadmill is a mark of the progress she has made.

She is brave and determined and is already giving English and German lessons again from her hospital bed.

When we tell Anna her strength is inspiring she smiles and shrugs it off.

“People keep saying it, but I don’t know why,” she said.

(For the record, during her physical rehabilitation session we attended in the hospital gym, Anna was better at shooting basketball hoops than your ABC News correspondent.)

The future?

Like many Ukrainians right now, Anna is living day to day.

She sets herself targets and goals and said she achieves them each time.

Understandably, she can’t imagine ever going back to live in Bucha.

Russia’s invasion shattered her near-term prospects of a happy family life.

For now she wants the world to know about what happened to her; the grim and senseless way that her husband and unborn son were killed.

She wants Russia to be held accountable for the countless crimes it is accused of committing in Ukraine.

“My story is not unique”, she said. “I don’t know why Russia invaded, and what for.”

“Time will pass, and they will regret it," she added. "We will remain in a free and independent country with our borders.”

With good reason, Anna believes Putin wants to destroy her country, but she epitomizes a brave and fearless spirit which is pervasive in Ukraine today.

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