As Ukraine reclaims southeastern villages, the painful stories of a Russian occupation are revealed


In the northern Kherson area, the indicators of an eight-month-long battle are seen from the rutted rural roads that run via the farm fields and stands of timber that also conceal some Ukrainian army positions. 

Several casings from cluster munitions are wedged into large swaths of empty fields that look in any other case barren.

Abandoned army autos sit on the aspect of roads. 

In the village of Khreshchenivka, Russian troopers dug a trench subsequent to a Second World War Soviet cemetery and a statue of the unknown soldier. 

Littered on the floor now could be rubbish and bullet casings. 

A cluster munition is proven embedded in a discipline in a rural half of the northern Kherson area in Ukraine on Oct. 7. Ukrainian troops are clearing farmlands of mines and weapons. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Picking up the items

The Kherson area was one of Russia’s earliest targets in the battle and one of 4 areas that President Vladimir Putin introduced Russia was annexing on Oct. 1. But since that proclamation, Ukrainian officers say their nation’s army has retaken 500 sq. kilometres and dozens of villages and settlements, all of which Russia considers its personal. 

“I’ve a good feeling, like after a good home cleansing,” stated a Ukrainian soldier, who requested to be recognized solely as Andrew. 

He beforehand labored as a biology trainer and spoke as he and a fellow soldier cleaned their rusting pistols. The sound of artillery boomed in the distance. 

Andrew had simply moved to a new place close to a liberated village after the Russian army was not too long ago pushed again dozens of kilometres south and southeast, towards the Dnipro River. 

“I’m shocked. I believed [the Russians] needs to be extra cussed, extra powerful, with greater morale,” he stated. 

“Why are they retreating so quick and unorganized?”

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CBC’s Briar Stewart speaks to a Ukrainian soldier in an space that was not too long ago liberated from Russian occupation in the northern Kherson area.

The faces of liberation

A CBC News crew was granted permission to go to a handful of villages simply three days after Ukraine introduced that they had been liberated from Russian occupation. 

The Ukrainian army and nationwide guard are working to clear the space of mines and get {hardware} off the roads, whereas some residents are getting a welcome reprieve from months of worry and stress.

Oksana Kravchuk wept as she described the intense combating, together with battles simply this month. 

The 48-year-old gathered together with her neighbours to huddle in the cellar when Ukrainian forces arrived to attempt to take again the village of Ukrainka.

Oksana Kravchuk, 48, stated her residence was hit by shelling throughout the current combating, however she was comfortable to see the Ukrainian forces again in her village. Her husband remains to be away, working alongside the army. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

“Our home was hit. Our window was blown out,” Kravchuk stated. “But we have been comfortable to see them.”

She and her neighbours took out a guitar to sing a track to reward God, however she remains to be anxious about her husband, who’s away working with the army. 

She lives in a poor, rural village in northern Kherson, the place chickens roam in easy yards. 

Kravchuk’s younger neighbour sits exterior their houses in the Kherson area, one of the dozens of villages Ukraine says it has not too long ago reclaimed. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

A strategic place

The area, which is Ukraine’s largest vegetable and gourd producer, is strategically necessary to Russia as a result of it lies simply north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. 

Russian officers say 1000’s of troops are regrouping additional to the south in Kherson and that the Ukrainian advance has stopped. 

Throughout the conflict, as Ukrainian forces have retaken villages, horrific stories have emerged of discovering mass graves and studying of rape and torture at the arms of Russian troopers. 

An deserted Russian tank is seen on the aspect of the street in the northern area of Kherson, Ukraine, on Oct. 7. Ukrainian forces have liberated a close by village. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Kherson residents are starting to reveal what they skilled. 

Viktor Kopytok, 37, led CBC down a damp outside cellar the place he stated Russian troopers locked him up each night time for 3 weeks after accusing him of collaborating with the Ukrainian army.

“I am unable to describe what I’ve been via, ” he stated.

“Maybe there have been regular folks amongst them, however there have been additionally these sadists, merely sadists.”

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Kopytok is the head of the Khreshchenivka, a rural farming group situated about 140 kilometres northeast of Kherson. 

After Russia’s army overtook this space on March 8, Kopytok stated he labored to ship meals and drugs to residents who did not need to, or could not, go away their houses. 

Held hostage

While it’s not possible for CBC to confirm this account, Kopytok then stated that whereas driving via a Russian checkpoint at the finish of March, a Russian soldier requested him why he was carrying a hat belonging to the Ukrainian military. 

Kopytok accused him of planting the hat there, telling CBC that Russian troops had already voiced suspicion about him and his spouse. 

Viktor Kopytok lives in Khreshchenivka, Ukraine, which was not too long ago liberated from Russian occupation. He says Russian troopers locked him on this damp outside cellar every night time for 3 weeks straight, accusing him of collaborating with the Ukrainian army. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

They found he had helped make Molotov cocktails and camouflage nets at the village council workplace throughout the early days of the conflict, he stated.

And then troopers accused his spouse of displaying Ukrainian symbols as a result of she had used yellow tape to cowl the home windows in her residence to assist forestall them from shattering into small shards from close by shelling. 

Kopytok stated after he was interrogated by Russian troopers at the checkpoint, they beat him and locked him away in his personal cellar. 

“The most horrible uncertainty was whether or not they would open the door or not,” he stated. 

At instances they prodded his ankle with a scorching hearth poker, he stated. During the day he was allowed to go exterior however needed to keep in his yard. 

The letter Z — seen as a pro-war image of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine — is marked on the aspect of a constructing in the village of Ukrainka, in the northern half of the Kherson area. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

‘I hate them’

This went on for 3 weeks, however then the Russian troopers moved on and have been changed with militia from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in Eastern Ukraine.

He stated they took little discover of him, so he was in a position to flee the group in a humanitarian convoy. 

As he was again in Khreshchenivka on Thursday, he stated it was ironic that Russians had accused him of being a nationalist. 

“I used to be by no means one, however they’ve really made me one now,” he stated. “With each cell of my physique, I hate them.”


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