Locals said more than 300 villagers were forced into the basement. Then, during weeks of stress and deprivation, some began to die.
Kovalenko and Varvara spent weeks in the basement of the school, doing their best to stay alive.
Residents of Yahidne told The Associated Press they were made to remain in the basement day and night except for the rare times when they were allowed outside to cook on open fires or to use the toilet.
As people died one by one in the basement, neighbors were allowed from time to time to place the bodies in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery.
Kovalenko’s husband Petro and Veronika were at first buried in the woods, but later reinterred in the Yahidne cemetery, carried there in coffins along a rough path as friends and relatives wept and some placed flowers and in the grave and scooped in handfuls of dirt.
The re-burials took place after Russian troops left Yahidne in early April when forces pulled back to concentrate their fight in the eastern part of Ukraine.
Kovalenko’s searing memories are enmeshed in the twisted wreckage of their car.
And on a concrete block at a village checkpoint someone has spray-painted a macabre joke: the words “polite people,” the term that Russian authorities dubbed the forces who annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine