Heartbreaking story behind one of the saddest images of the war

The heartbreaking story behind one of the war’s saddest and most iconic images has been uncovered, as the Ukrainian authorities continue to count the dead in Bucha.

The photograph in question showed the manicured hand of a woman killed during Russia’s brutal occupation of the town north-west of Kyiv.

Her body was found lying on the side of the road next to her bicycle, her arm outstretched to her side. Her bold red and pink nails stood out amidst the dirt.

After the photo was shared widely on social media, and as the tragic events inside the town at the hands of the Russian occupiers were being pieced together, the woman’s unique manicure was recognised by a makeup artist in nearby Gostomel.

The hand in the gut-wrenching picture, it turns out, belonged to 52-year-old Iryna Filkina – an aspiring makeup artist and blogger who posted tutorials to her social media pages.

The heartbreaking story behind one of the war’s saddest and most iconic images (pictured) has been uncovered, as Ukrainian authorities continue to count the dead in Bucha

Anastasiia Subacheva told the New York Times that she instantly recognised Ms Filkina’s hands and distinctive nails from her videos, as they would often be shown applying makeup, lipstick and foundation.

Ms. Subacheva told the newspaper in a telephone call that her heart broke when she saw the photograph. She said that she knew many women from Bucha as she would often travel to the town to do the makeup for many women there.

‘When I saw it, I felt physically like my heart started to break,’ she told the Times.

She said that Ms. Filkina – a heating station operator – had contacted her in February enquiring about makeup classes. She told Ms. Subacheva that her dream was to become a popular artist and to increase her following on Instagram.

To realise her dream, Ms. Subacheva said Ms. Filkina wanted help to become beautiful and fashionable. The makeup artist said her client was particularly excited about an up-coming concert, for which she wanted to look her best.

Ms. Subacheva recalled that the Ms. Filkina, who is believed to have been shot on March 5 while returning from work on her bicycle, one told her: ‘I finally understood the most important thing: You need to love yourself and live for yourself.’

The hand in the gut-wrenching picture, it turns out, belonged to 52-year-old Iryna Filkina (pictured) - an aspiring makeup artist who posted tutorials to her social media pages.  Her red and pink nails can be seen in this photograph she posted online

The hand in the gut-wrenching picture, it turns out, belonged to 52-year-old Iryna Filkina (pictured) – an aspiring makeup artist who posted tutorials to her social media pages. Her red and pink nails can be seen in this photograph she posted online

The New York Times reported that Ms. Filkina’s daughter, Olha Shchyruk had fled Bucha soon after Vladimir Putin’s invasion on February 24. Ms. Filkina stayed behind.

Russian forces moved into the region a few days later, which saw heavy fighting between Moscow’s troops and Kyiv’s. The town was ultimately lost, but has since been reclaimed as Ukrainian forces pushed Russia’s back north.

Ms Shchyruk said that she was told of her mother’s death on March 6, but posted in a Telegram channel that she was holding out hope that she may still be alive.

‘I understand that it wasn’t possible, because she hadn’t been in touch for a month,’ she wrote on a post last week. ‘But a child will always be waiting for her mother.’

On Friday, she said she was sent a video that showed her mother lying on the ground. The daughter said even without the recognisable nails, she would have no trouble identifying her mother.

She is now searching for her body to bury it, the Times said.

The horrific images and stories tumbling out of Ukrainian towns like Bucha in the wake of the withdrawal of Russian troops bear witness to depravity on a scale recalling the barbarities of Cambodia, the Balkans, World War II.

Ukrainian officials are currently gathering evidence of Russian atrocities in Bucha and other cities, amid signs Moscow’s troops killed people indiscriminately before retreating.

Anastasiia Subacheva told the New York Times that she instantly recognised Ms Filkina's hands and distinctive nails from her videos, as they would often be shown in posts applying makeup, lipstick or foundation (pictured)

Anastasiia Subacheva told the New York Times that she instantly recognised Ms Filkina’s hands and distinctive nails from her videos, as they would often be shown in posts applying makeup, lipstick or foundation (pictured)

The New York Times reported that Ms.  Filkina's daughter, Olha Shchyruk had fled Bucha soon after Vladimir Putin's invasion on February 24. Ms.  Filkina stayed behind

The New York Times reported that Ms. Filkina’s daughter, Olha Shchyruk had fled Bucha soon after Vladimir Putin’s invasion on February 24. Ms. Filkina stayed behind

Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of least 410 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv, victims of what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said was a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture.

Some victims had apparently been shot at close range and some were found with their hands bound.

Mr Zelensky accused Russia of interfering with an international investigation into possible war crimes by removing bodies and trying to hide other evidence in Bucha, north west of Kyiv.

‘We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and cellars of territory they occupied,’ he said during his latest video address. ‘This is only an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.’

Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Mr Zelensky urged ordinary Russians ‘to somehow confront the Russian repressive machine’ instead of being ‘equated with the Nazis for the rest of your life’.

He called on Russians to demand an end to the war ‘if you have even a little shame about what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine’.

A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street on April 6 in Bucha, Ukraine

A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street on April 6 in Bucha, Ukraine

A member of the Ukrainian army stands next to a mass grave in front of an Orthodox church, in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6 2022

A member of the Ukrainian army stands next to a mass grave in front of an Orthodox church, in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6 2022

Since Bucha, a chorus has resounded at the highest levels of Western political power calling for accountability, prosecution and punishment for war crimes in Ukraine.

On Monday, Zelensky deounced the killings as ‘genocide’ and ‘war crimes,’ and US President Joe Biden said Putin was ‘a criminal war’ who should be brought to trial.

But the path to holding the Russian president and other top leaders criminally responsible is long and complex, international lawyers caution.

‘Certainly, the discovery of bodies which bear signs of executions – such as gunshot wounds to the head – presents strong evidence of war crimes,’ said Clint Williamson, who served as US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues from 2006 to 2009 .

‘When victims are found with their hands bound, with blindfolds and bearing signs of torture or sexual assault, an even more compelling case is made. There are no circumstances under which these actions are permitted, whether the victims are civilians or military personnel who had been taken prisoner.’

Residents look at destroyed Russian military machinery on the street, in Bucha, the town which was takenen by the Ukrainian army, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6

Residents look at destroyed Russian military machinery on the street, in Bucha, the town which was takenen by the Ukrainian army, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6

A burned car next to destroyed houses, in Bucha, the town which was retaken by the Ukrainian army, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6

A burned car next to destroyed houses, in Bucha, the town which was retaken by the Ukrainian army, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6

Meanwhile, a US defense official said on Wednesday that Russia had pulled all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas in the north, sending them into Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganise.

They are expected to return to fight in the east of the country, where Russia has said it intends to focus its military efforts in a new phase of the invasion.

Growing numbers of Vladimir Putin’s troops, along with mercenaries, have been reported moving into the Donbas.

‘Later people will come under fire,’ Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in urging civilians to evacuate from the mostly Russian-speaking industrial region, ‘and we won’t be able to do anything to help them’.

Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas since 2014. Ahead of its February 24 invasion, Moscow recognised the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent states.

Another Western official said it may take Russia’s battle-damaged forces as much as a month to regroup for a major push on eastern Ukraine.

In his nightly address on Wednesday, Zelensky also warned Russia’s military is gearing up for a new offensive in the east.

Ukraine too was preparing for battle, he said.

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