“I can’t believe something like this is happening in the twenty-first century.” With these words, Olena Matvienko, with tears in her eyes, described what happened to her small town in eastern Ukraine when Russian soldiers fled after the Ukrainian army counterattacked.
In the village of Matvienko, hundreds of Russian soldiers eventually left after their units abandoned them, and ammunition boxes and burned vehicles testify to the passage of Russian forces there and their occupation for several months before Ukrainian forces came and liberated them, according to A Washington Post report that highlighted the escape of Russian forces and ongoing investigations into the commission of war crimes and the future of the conflict after these important field developments.
Testimonies from local residents in the small town of Zalinshin, east of Kharkiv, indicate that “the Russians fled by any means possible on Friday, on stolen bicycles, or disguised as local residents.” “They threw their guns on the ground,” says Matvienko.
A number of townspeople said they were afraid of the Russians, but they almost felt sorry for them after the scenes of their escape.
They said half of the soldiers fled in their cars during the first hours of the attack.
Those stranded became desperate, and some heard soldiers’ pleas to their commanders over radios to come get them.
In the midst of this ordeal, soldiers had to storm houses to dress locals so they wouldn’t be spotted by drones in military uniform.
One of the villagers said: “Two of them pointed their guns at my ex-husband until he gave them the keys to his car.”
The quick escape of the Russians from the village represents “a new reality that surprised the world during the weekend”: “the escape of invaders in some parts of Ukraine that caught them early in the conflict”.
On Monday, the Ukrainian military announced the recapture of “more than 20 villages” within 24 hours as part of its counteroffensive, noting that it had liberated one village after another and pushed the invaders in one area to the border.
Meanwhile, a Russian official in the Kharkiv region said Monday that the number of Ukrainian forces outnumbered Russian and pro-Moscow forces by eight times during a Ukrainian lightning counterattack in the region last week.
The Russian Defense Ministry released a map on Sunday showing Russian forces retreating behind the Oskil River on the eastern edge of the Kharkiv region.
On Sunday, Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valery Zalogny said that Ukrainian forces had regained more than 3,000 square kilometers of territory, figures that were not confirmed by an independent source, according to the Washington Post.
The Institute for the Study of War reported that “Ukrainian forces penetrated Russian lines in some places to a depth of up to 70 kilometers” and seized more territory in the past five days “than Russian forces have captured in all their operations since then have. April”.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky refused to talk about his military’s next moves, he said in an interview with CNN: “We will not stand still. We will move forward slowly, gradually.”
Is it resolved?
Military experts explain that the matter is by no means resolved, as Russia still controls about a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, and it continued its heavy bombardment in several regions over the weekend.
Ukraine cannot guarantee that it will keep the retaken territories safe. “The counterattack liberates the area, and then you have to control it and prepare to defend it,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said in an interview with the Financial Times.
But as Ukrainian soldiers continue to push deeper into territory once held by Russia, others see a tipping point.
The Washington Post reports that residents of liberated villages southeast of Kharkiv took to the streets at the end of their ordeal, now wondering if it’s really over.
“God only knows if they will come back,” Tamara Kozynska (75), whose husband was killed by a mortar explosion, said shortly after the Russians arrived.
But residents of the village of Zalinshin returned to normal life, sleeping in bedrooms instead of basements for the first time in months and trying to communicate with their families abroad.
Kosinska, who has not seen her daughter since last February, has just received a message that she is coming to collect her.
While the testimonies of some residents indicate that the first Russian soldiers who settled in the village did not initially harass the residents, but as the occupation continued, and the Russians rotated every month, their aggressiveness increased.
The Russians ordered the inhabitants of the town to stay in their houses after six o’clock in the evening and not to turn on the lights, and the cost of disobeying the orders was sometimes death.
Maria Grigorova said two friends disobeyed the order and were destined to be killed, as they were found that morning with two shots in the head.
A team of investigators, originating from Kharkiv, is investigating this incident, in addition to the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the bodies of two people, one of whom is a security guard whose remains were found months ago on the floor of an elevator in a asphalt factory rotted. , causing one of the investigators to vomit while collecting the remains.
A specialized team is working to remove mines before the bodies are exhumed.
“We are looking at war crimes here,” said Serhiy Polvinov, chief investigator of the Kharkiv regional police.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said they would no longer negotiate a peace deal that would allow Russia to occupy any territory, even Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions held by Russian-backed separatists.
“The point of no return has passed,” Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday.
On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to backtrack on his previous claim that the time was not right for peace talks, statements he made as Russia prepared to hold referendums on the annexation of the occupied territories .
“We do not refuse talks,” Lavrov said. “Those who refuse must understand that the longer they delay this process, the more difficult it will be to negotiate.”