Balakliia residents take stock after Ukraine recaptures frontline town

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TeaThe roads leading to Balaklia, a former border town in the recently recaptured Kharkiv province by Ukraine, were littered with war woes; The bodies of Russian tanks, abandoned ammunition crates and destroyed vehicles were scattered all around.

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Three bridges in the city have been broken. One was replaced by a pontoon bridge, but that too was not working as a truck turned towards it while crossing. Many houses on the outskirts were destroyed, as well as factories and farms used as bases by Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Locals said they heard explosions every day since late February and spent most of the last seven months at home and in their basements. He said that around the beginning of last week, he heard an increase in firepower and shortly after, Russian forces fled, some even on foot.

Ukraine gained control of Kharkiv and the towns seized at the beginning of the Russian invasion.
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On the streets of Balaklia on Tuesday, a small section of the 6,000 square km that Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine has re-occupied during its retaliation, mostly older middle-aged or elderly, were cyclists. He said young people who had children had mainly left for Europe.

What the people of Balaklia experienced appears to be different from the inhabitants of cities in the Kyiv region and other northern parts of Ukraine, who came under Russian occupation at the start of the invasion, experiencing well-documented atrocities in commuter cities such as Buka. Had to do

The bodies of Russian tanks, abandoned ammunition crates and destroyed vehicles were scattered along the roads leading to Balakia. Photo: Alessio Mamo / The Guardian
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Luba, a 63-year-old grandmother who had Russian tanks at the end of her garden on the edge of town, said Russian soldiers didn’t respect her and the people on her street, but they didn’t mistreat her. She said the soldiers were mostly in their early 20s and were not devoted to the Kremlin.

“They didn’t threaten us,” Luba said. “I asked them what you’re doing here, your kingdom is making money and you’ve hurt us… and they’ll say: ‘Yeah, yes, we agree.'”

Lyuba still had two pieces of shrapnel in her ankle and lower back – the result of two shells falling while she was in her garden.

Residents told the Guardian that they had little contact with the Russian military, which based themselves mostly on the edges of the city. He recalled the horror of the shelling, the lack of infrastructure and the looting by the Russian military – but not the scenes of torture and executions.

Almost no one heard of atrocities committed by the Russian military against civilians in other regions, or the Mariupol incidents, where at least 20,000 people are estimated to have died, amid a near-information void – of patchy phone signals. With, no mobile internet or wifi and TV for most of the period.

Some said they had heard old stories that Russian occupation authorities had detained volunteers, ex-servicemen, or police officers – or volunteers for anyone they perceived as a political or military threat. One man, Roman, said that his friend’s father was hiding in his house for the duration of the occupation.

A grandfather and grandson stand next to their neighbors who were destroyed by a bomb on 6 September.
A grandfather and grandson stand next to their neighbors who were destroyed by a bomb on 6 September. Photo: Alessio Mamo / The Guardian

Late on Tuesday, Serhi Bolvinov, the head of the Kharkiv region’s National Police Investigation Department, said Ukrainian law enforcement officers had discovered a “torture room” where dozens of people were kept in the basement of the city’s police station. Writing on Facebook, Bolvinov said at least 40 people were detained for weeks in a temporary prison where they were also tortured. He said that on the last day of the occupation, several locals were shot dead by Russian soldiers at a checkpoint.

A 69-year-old man, Ivan Borsch, a former policeman, told the Guardian he was detained after occupation forces stole money from his home while they were searching for people collaborating with Ukraine.

“During Search” [of my house] They stole $45. I insisted that they give the money back and they got angry. So, they put a bag on my head and put me in a jail cell. This was the same cell I used to throw people in when I was a policeman. I never thought that one day I would be thrown there, ”said Borsch.

Balaklia is located on the western edge of the recaptured territory and is about 30 kilometers from the new border. But it is clear that Russia’s plans have been foiled for the time being.

The Russians blew up a bridge in the city before their defeat at Balaklia.
The Russians blew up a bridge in the city before their defeat at Balaklia. Photo: Alessio Mamo / The Guardian

One resident, Lyudmila Voloshina, said the Russians had told her that she would soon need to re-register her property and be given a Russian passport. “They said the Kharkiv People’s Republic is going to be here,” she said.

However, the issue of cooperation with the now-defunct occupation authorities was running through the minds of some locals – a potentially difficult issue for Ukraine as it gains control over areas that many believed that it was lost. Alexander Horvoy, 62, who continues to work with the city’s heating company, said he believes he has an important job, but now fears he may be labeled an ally.

“People had to do the heating, right? And I had to make money for my family,” Horvoy said.

Asked how the people felt about the occupation authorities and the Ukrainian army’s occupation of the city, Horvoy said: “Listen, at this point no one is going to tell you what they think…

Serhi Smack, 44, said there were several associates in the town. “Some are left but the majority have left and gone to Russia,” Smack said. According to Luba, many people living in the city supported the occupation.

Oleksandr Richardovich, a local doctor, was wounded on 8 September when two shells fell on either side of him.
Oleksandr Richardovich, a local doctor, was wounded on 8 September when two shells fell on either side of him. Photo: Alessio Mamo/The…


Source: www.theguardian.com

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