For many in the recently liberated territories near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s lightning offensive to reclaim their towns – and the hurried Russian withdrawal -- came as an enormous relief.
At a roadside stop on the outskirts of Balaklia, residents of the nearby Ukrainian village of Verbivka, which was recently liberated from Russian forces, huddled together to receive humanitarian aid. Their mood was palpably relaxed after months of tense occupation and isolation, Sam Skove reports for RFE/RL from Ukraine.
For many in the recently liberated territories near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s lightning offensive to reclaim their towns – and the hurried Russian withdrawal — came as an enormous relief.
This was especially true for Oleksandr, a 53-year-old former Ukrainian soldier who said he had been imprisoned and tortured for weeks by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
“They slapped two battery clamps on my hands. ‘If you lie, we’ll dial it up more,’” Oleksandr recalled the FSB agents telling him.
When that didn’t work, they turned to beating him, Oleksandr said. Not responding to the pain merely prompted them to try harder.
Information Blackout, Uneasy Truce
Civilians liberated by the Ukrainian counteroffensive launched on September 6 describe life under occupation as defined by blackouts, medicine shortages, steady shelling, and debates with Russian occupation forces about the supposed Nazis that Russia alleges are running Ukraine’s government and oppressing its people.
The road from Kharkiv to Izyum — a city with a prewar population of about 45,000 that is some 120 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv –– bears the scars of war. A destroyed Russian Grad rocket launcher sits ruined in front of a boarded-up residence, its launching pod blown off and spilling unfired missiles out like crayons from a box.
Further along, underneath a destroyed bridge, a Russian armored personnel carrier is flipped over, its hull half submerged in water.
At the outskirts of Balaklia, a town on the way to Izyum, residents were still giddy from being liberated.
“We’re very happy,” one woman said, her face beaming and her eyes bright.
Most of the region was captured by the Russians in the early weeks of the invasion that was launched on February 24. Izyum fell in April. For much of the occupation, residents had no electricity, although gas supplies were uninterrupted.
Two older residents said medicine shipments came only twice during that time. One local said Russian soldiers forced open cash machines and committed at least one rape, for which the soldiers involved were executed.
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