OrlaGameLynn, BBC News(Eastern Ukraine)
Ukrainian forces push back Russian forces in a reversal offensive in the northeast and recapture much of the territory.
But there is a mixture of relief and sadness in the newly liberated areas. Residents report torture and murder during months of Russian occupation.
Artem, who lives in the town of Balakriya in the eastern province of Kharkiv, told the BBC he had been detained by Russian forces for more than 40 days and tortured with electric shocks.
A “cry” of pain and fear
Balakriya, occupied by Russian forces for more than six months, was liberated on September 8. The base of the atrocities was the city police station, which served as the headquarters of the Russian army.
Artem said he heard screams of pain and fear coming from another room.
The occupants reportedly turned off the building’s noisy ventilation system so the screams could be heard.
“They (the Russian military) had turned off (the fans) so everyone could hear the screams of electrocution,” Artem said. “We used to do this to some inmates every other day…even to women.”
Artem also received an electric shock, but said he only survived once.
“I was given two sons”
“There was a generator. I started to increase the voltage even more, and the voltage also increased.”
Artem said he was arrested after Russian troops found a picture of his brother in military uniform. Another man from Balakriya said he was detained for 25 days for carrying the Ukrainian flag.
School principal Tatiana was detained at a police station for three days. Meanwhile, he heard screams coming from another room.
We visited the police station. The walls of the narrow room were carved with the words “The Lord’s Prayer” and the number of days he had been imprisoned.
Up to eight people have been held in double rooms, according to Ukrainian police. Residents were terrified even to walk past the police station, fearing Russian soldiers would capture them.
Murder of his son: “I want to ask Putin”
In the center of Balakriya, where the Ukrainian flag is once again flying, crowds have formed around vans carrying supplies. Many of the people queuing were old and exhausted. Still, there were moments of happy reunions, like embracing friends for the first time since the Russian army was driven out.
In a deserted alley a few steps away, some of the victims were hastily buried by their neighbors. There was a crude wooden cross on the grave of a taxi driver named Petro Sheper. Next to him is an unidentified passenger.
As the police exhumed the body and placed it in a body bag, the smell of death filled the air.
Authorities said Petro and his passengers were shot dead at a Russian military checkpoint on the last day of the Russian military occupation.
Petro’s mother Valentina cursed the Russians who killed her only son as she watched the exhumed bodies.
“I want to ask Putin why he shot his son,” exclaimed Valentina.
“For what? Who asked you to come here with such a threatening weapon? Not only did he kill our children, but he also killed us, their mothers.”
“I died these days. I want to say to all the mothers in the world to rebel against this assassin.”
Vandalism just before removal
On our way to Balakriya, we saw military vehicles with the pro-war symbol “Z”. The Russian army seems to have abandoned these vehicles and fled.
In a nearby village, I was shown a school that had been badly damaged. Local officials say it was one of the last acts of vandalism by Russian troops before they were expelled.
Amid the ruins, Kharkiv administration chief Ole Sinekhbov said restoring water and electricity supplies was a key task. He also said he feared the power lines could be attacked.
Asked by the BBC if he thought the Russian army might return, Mr Siniekhbov said: “We are in the middle of a war. There is always a danger.”