I stopped my wife from opening mutilated daughter’s coffin to protect her from even more grief

Andrii Dereko pulls back his inconsolable partner after her 23-year-old child’s ‘horrific’ death at the hands of Russian torturers


14 April 2022 • 6:48pm

Karina Yershova's family struggle to contain their grief at her funeral

As the Orthodox priest performed the funeral ceremony of Karina Yershova, her mother struggled to contain her anguish.

Inside the coffin before Olena Dereko lay the body of her only daughter. They had not seen each other in more than a month, because of the Russian invasion.

Not being able to reach out and touch her child left her inconsolable. So, she tried. 

The lid was heavy and yet she persisted in trying to prise it open, with her husband, Andrii, 41, pulling her back with each attempt, desperate to protect his wife from further misery. 

Inside that coffin, draped in a reddish pink velvet with a gold and white lace trim, were the mutilated remains of their tenacious daughter, who had only in February celebrated her 23rd birthday.

It was better for her mother to remember her girl as she had been alive, not the way the Russian soldiers had left her. 

Andrii Derenko with his wife Olena at the funeral
Andrii Derenko with his wife Olena at the funeral CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph

“She was shot at point blank range. Almost half of her head was missing,” Mr Dereko, 41, told The Telegraph. 

The police told the Derekos that Karina had been killed by “violent death”. Yet because the story was “so horrific”, the authorities withheld information from them, although they were informed that she had been tortured. 

They also advised Mrs Dereko against viewing images of her daughter’s remains. 

“We think it could be possible that she was raped,” Mr Dereko added.

“We have not seen the lower part of her body, just the upper part, but what we have seen at the top, we can only imagine what can be on the rest of her body.”

The full details of how their child was murdered are not known. They have been told of the address where her body was found, some distance from the apartment where she had been living. 

They know she was tortured and that she had “tears” and “wounds” on her body. 

Photographs seen by The Telegraph showed that the skin on her hands was scorched and bones were visible, although the silver rings she wore on her fingers were still there. 

All of her nails, bar one, which was painted pink, had been torn from her fingers. 

“It was like she had been trying to fight,” her stepfather said. 

Karina was also found with a tourniquet around her leg, where she had tried to stem the bleeding from a gunshot wound, which were found in her legs and arms. 

Placeholder image for youtube video: OusviV2Qd4o

Mr Dereko said it was well known that Russian soldiers had systematically raped civilians as part of their campaign of terror since the invasion began on February 24.

“I haven’t heard of someone who was violently killed without being raped,” he said.

“The people who were killed without being raped seem to have been the ones who were bombed. Those people who were shot and tortured, the soldiers raped them almost every time.”

Mounting reports about victims of rape are emerging, as the United Nations warned of widespread sexual violence during the Russian invasion. However, the Ukrainian government still has no idea about the full scale of sexual violence in the towns and villages that were occupied by Russians forces. 

This is because many people will not talk about the violence they were subjected to. For other victims, their bodies have been so badly mutilated it may never be possible to tell. 

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner announced that 25 women and girls were “systematically raped” by Russian troops during the occupation of the town of Bucha

It was in this town that Karina had been renting an apartment with a friend. Before the war, she was working as an administrator in a sushi restaurant and had plans of developing her own small business. She even thought she might enrol at university as a mature student at some point.

Karina Yershova had a bright future ahead of her but did not realise the danger she was in as war approached, her step-father said
Karina Yershova had a bright future ahead of her but did not realise the danger she was in as war approached, her step-father said

Yet as news of the invasion began, the Derekos – who were living in Irpin – believe their daughter had not feared it, because of what they had endured in their previous life when they were forced to flee from Donetsk.

“When the full-scale invasion started, we asked her to come to Irpin, but she did not realise how serious it was,” Mrs Dereko said.

On Feb 25, her family was evacuated from Irpin because of the bombing and relocated to Odesa. 

“We asked Karina to evacuate Bucha but she did not think it would be so dangerous,” the family said.

The family had left Donetsk in 2014 when the Russians invaded. Terrified, the three of them travelled to the Kyiv region with what belongings they could fit in their car. They would start from the beginning, they said. 

Family photos and numerous precious items were left behind. Not that it really mattered – they were alive and that was the main thing. 

“I saved our child from Donetsk in 2014 but I lost her in 2022 in Kyiv region,” Mr Dereko said. 

The Telegraph spoke to the couple in an apartment they had rented for the night in Bila Tserkva, in order to bury their daughter. 

Karina Dereko is buried by her mother and step-father after being murdered and tortured by the Russians
Karina Dereko is buried by her mother and step-father after being murdered and tortured by the Russians CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Asked how they felt about Russians now, based on how their lives and country has been torn apart by Vladimir Putin’s regime, Mr Dereko responded: “We hate them.

“We are from the Donetsk region where almost all people speak Russian, but I hate the Russians because they killed a Russian-speaking girl.

“Now I am ashamed to speak Russian because I hate the Russian world.”

Mr Dereko insisted that he will now learn to speak Ukrainian in order to further distance himself from Russia. 

“The Russian soldiers are not humans. They are animals,” Mr Dereko added.

He explained that at just under eight stone and less than 5ft tall, his daughter was the size “of a little girl”. 

“She was small,” he said. “She was not dangerous to the Russians.”

It is hard for the couple of think of Karina as no longer being with them, when they think of the young woman they raised.

“She loved life,” her mother said. 

“She was interested in everything, like all young people. She was very kind and good at communicating. She was easy to be around.”

Karina was also creative and wore her heart on her sleeve. The first tattoo she had was the day, month and year of when she met her first love. Two days before the war broke out, she had her third tattoo – a snake adorned with flowers on her left forearm. 

Karina Yershova was known for her love of tattoos
Karina Yershova was known for her love of tattoos

“We had an adult relationship with her,” Mr Dereko added.

“Everything happened. There were fights and there were great moments. We gave her our advice if she wanted to listen. We were friends.” 

For now, Mrs Dereko is unsure if the deep, unrelenting anger she feels over the murder of her daughter will ever ease. 

“How can I feel when someone took my only child?” she asked. “I have cried everything I had. I have no tears now.”

One comment

  1. So very sorry Mr and Mrs Dereko.
    This is how RuSSia “protects” Russian speakers : they send their nazi degenerate “soldiers” to torture and rape them.
    ALL RuSSians are to blame for this and every other atrocity they have inflicted upon Ukraine.
    Russia must burn. And so should all the trolls haunting western media who are gloating at every horror that the putinazis inflict on innocents.
    God bless Ukraine and protect her from vermin.

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