For days, Rivil Kofman and her son David were in the cross-hairs of blood-curdling duels between Russian tanks and Ukrainian artillery in their village of Myrotske, 40km (25 miles) the capital Kyiv.
They spent days in an ice-cold, pitch-dark basement without electricity and running water – and even survived a house visit by Russian soldiers who mistook them for artillery spotters.
Last Wednesday, they decided to try to flee the Russia-occupied area by car.
“Only five cars made it out of there,” the bespectacled 62-year-old psychologist, who also heads a charity, told Al Jazeera.
The other seven or so village cars – packed with civilians, children and pets – were shot at and burned down by Russian troops.
David believes this is because the Russians realised fleeing civilians would be able to help Ukraine’s military locate their armoured vehicles and artillery.
Myrotske, which is near Belarus, is where Kofman started her charity, Strong-Willed, and built a rehabilitation centre for children with cancer.
A cancer and multiple sclerosis survivor, she has for years used what she called “fairy tale therapy” to help hundreds of children with the disease by immersing them in positive impressions and thoughts.
But her village of 1,500 was taken over by Russians shortly after the invasion began on February 24.
Russians are still trying to take the strategic highway into Kyiv and tighten a noose around the city of more than 2 million.
Myrotske that includes the towns of Bucha and Irpin has seen some of this war’s worst fighting yet that killed dozens of civilians, according to Ukrainian officials and witnesses.
The Kremlin has claimed it never targeted civilians and residential areas.
But Russian planes bombarded the area relentlessly, hitting just behind the Kofmans’ house.
Then Russian tanks and APCs entered the village, hiding behind the houses from Ukrainian artillery fire.
“We were in the cross-hairs,” Kofman said.
For days, the villagers – and residents of Bucha and Irpin – were trapped in their basements without electricity, natural gas supply, heat or running water.
They were “fully surrounded, cut off from everything that gives people lives,” Kofman said.
“A friend told me she was slowly dying in her house [because of a lack of essential items and services],” she said, adding that another friend spent days in the frigid darkness of her basement with a newborn baby.
The Kofmans’ cellphone batteries died and, only during the loud shootouts, David snuck out of the basement for a couple of hours to start a generator to pump water and recharge the batteries.
Otherwise, the Russians would have killed him for making the suspicious noise, he said.
One morning, two Russian servicemen visited their house, thinking the Kofmans had been notifying the Ukrainian military about the whereabouts of Russian armoured vehicles.