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New images of Russian 'war crimes' traumatize Ukrainians who've fled to San Diego

Thousands of Ukrainians continue to arrive in Tijuana. The ones who have been here for a few weeks are starting to adjust. But KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado tells us fear for their loved ones has increased after seeing images from the Russian invasion of Bucha. A warning some viewers may find some of the images in this report distressing.

After being overwhelmed by thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war, Tijuana officials opened up a shelter just for them. Hundreds more are still camping near the port of entry. Since Russia waged war on Ukraine, more than 3,000 Ukrainians have crossed through the San Ysidro port of entry.

Some Ukrainians seeking asylum are already starting to settle in San Diego. One of them is Oxana Mushchenko. The former teacher arrived here with her husband and children a few weeks ago. She now volunteers at the House of Ukraine in Balboa Park. This cultural center has become ground zero for fundraising to help the country under siege.

"My mind is visited only difficult thoughts," said Mushchenko, whose smile has been replaced by a blank stare. "Now, I feel empty in my heart."

She’s been in contact with family and friends who stayed in Ukraine. Until now, she was hopeful they could quickly move on after the war.

But images of execution-style killings in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, where Russian soldiers occupied until recently, have left her so traumatized it’s hard for her to speak. Reporters who have witnessed the aftermath say there’s evidence of war crimes.

Fellow volunteer Nina Kay helps to translate, and she steps in as Oxana shut down.

"I’m afraid Oxana is having PTSD right now ... those horrifying pictures of atrocity in Bucha completely destroyed her," said Kay.

Also weighing heavy on her heart are thoughts of her friend and colleague, a math teacher named Viktoria, who stayed behind to take care of her elderly parents. Oxana said Viktoria and her family were brutalized by Russian soldiers who broke into their home. They stayed for days then took her with them when they left.

"Knowing how it happened, it just horrifies her and she’s just devastated ... really worried. She was one of her best friends," said Kay adding that this is a turning point. "Those mass graves, it just, they just, it just destroys me to see what’s happening in Ukraine."

"I am just so upset about what’s going on and feeling helpless," said San Diegan Wendy Sammons.

Like many others, she visited the House of Ukraine to donate and offer support. She said she wishes she could do more, and something must be done to stop this war.

"It’s hard to just go in there and start 'World War III,' we don’t want that but we have to stop this, whatever it takes, I just know it needs to stop," she added.

Kay says people like Sammons make all the difference.