Rubble and relief in a recaptured village in southern Ukraine

Rubble and relief in a recaptured village in southern Ukraine


A basketball hoop stands in the rubble of a school gym. The roof was blown apart during days of heavy fighting in Kreschenivka, a village recently recaptured by Russian forces in southern Ukraine.

The Russians made the village’s elementary school their command post, said Pavlo Ulesco, 62, who showed AFP around.

With trenches and huge pits for hiding weapons, they were firmly dug in when Ukrainian soldiers arrived – and the damage is all the greater.

One of the school buildings was badly hit, some of its walls being smashed into piles of bricks.

“First they fired at the Russians from afar,” Ulesco said. “The street fights lasted two or three days.”

Villager Vasyl Khomych said it was “hell”. The 65-year-old recalls the sky “turning red” as lightning flashed as the ground shook.

His girlfriend Maria Zheleznyak, 62, said Ukrainian soldiers arrived around 07:15 on October 2. Heavy fighting broke out around 09:00.

Ukrainian troops “shot, shot. It was terrible”.

“We heard cars, tanks, trucks driving like crazy.

She was relieved to recognize the Ukrainian soldiers by the yellow ribbons on their uniforms.

“We cried so much, we all hugged,” she said.

Despite the intensity of the fighting, none of the villagers recalled seeing Russian bodies.

The Ukrainian army has cleared traces of Russia’s movement through the south, including the Kherson region, where Kyiv on Thursday claimed to have recaptured 400 square kilometers (about 150 sq mi) from Moscow’s forces in less than a week.

AFP only saw two burned-out Russian tanks on the school grounds. Another near the entrance to the village was taken away, Ulesco said.

Several destroyed tanks that AFP saw on Friday morning had already been towed away on the main road to Kreschenivka in the afternoon.

The bodies of Russian soldiers, pictured on social media a few days earlier next to a sculpture of a watermelon on the road leading to the village, were also gone.

The Ukrainian army, which AFP had invited to visit the recaptured southern areas, appeared unwilling to show the damage it had inflicted on Russian forces.

AFP was forbidden from filming or speaking to soldiers.

In Kreschenivka and three villages largely spared from the fighting – Ukrainka, Biliaivka and Shevchenkivka – people praised the Ukrainian troops and ridiculed the Russian soldiers who had “locked” them in their homes for seven months.

“When the battle in Kreschenivka started, they all fled on foot or on bicycles… and half an hour later they were shot by a (Ukrainian) helicopter” and killed, said Galyna Dekhtyuk, 55, who lives in Shevchenkivka .

In Biliaivka, the attempt to retake the territory came as a surprise. As elsewhere in the rural south occupied by Moscow, the internet has been cut and phone service is poor.

“We didn’t even see them leave, but we were so happy,” said Iryna Shashovska, 41.

Her husband Leonid Tereshchenko, 63, said he was held for five days by Russian forces while they checked he was not pro-Ukrainian or “Nazi”.

He insisted that there was no fighting in Biliaivka.

“They ran away,” he said.

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