KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine – Valentina, 67, said she refused to obey the Russian soldier when he demanded that she wear a white armband while walking outside in the Ukrainian village of Kamyanka during the Russian occupation. When she went outside without her, a Russian soldier reportedly aimed his assault rifle at her, and Valentina feared the worst.
She was sure he would shoot her in the back, just as she had seen Nazi soldiers killing civilians in WWII movies.
“But he just looked and looked. He didn’t shoot,” Valentina told The Daily Beast.
Valentina was one of the few locals remaining in villages south of Kryvyi Rih, the largest city in central Ukraine, which was occupied for about a month in March. The Ukrainian army regained control of the villages last month.
“It was terrible when they came. They shot so much. They smashed windows; they broke my roof; they smashed everything. I hid in the basement; If not, I would have been dead,” Valentina said.
Although the Russians are gone and their hideouts throughout the village have been destroyed, Valentina remains traumatized by the terror she witnessed during the occupation.
In one particularly horrific incident, she recalled how a Russian soldier shot and killed a Ukrainian soldier while he was hiding near their barn. She said she found blood on her property and watched a neighbor drag the body into his basement. She feels guilty for not being able to help the Ukrainian soldier, she said – and although the body has since been removed, she is too afraid to go near the barn again.
“The Russians thought I was hiding Ukrainians in my house, so they often came and ransacked and ransacked the place. They came three times and searched everything and I was so scared that they would shoot me,” said Valentina. “I told them to shoot my two cats and my dog as well if they decide to shoot me. I didn’t want them to starve.”
“My mother always told me that during the world war it was so terrible, but I didn’t know that war could be so terrible. I had no idea,” she added.
Kamyanka is one of several villages recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces. In recent months, the Ukrainian army has managed to push back the Russians further from the industrial center of Kryvyi Rih in southern Ukraine, now 70 kilometers from the front lines.
The signs of a devastating war are visible around the newly liberated villages. Houses are torn apart. Cars and armored vehicles are destroyed. Windows are blown out. The movement of the tanks on the village streets left deep scars.
“Even though the Russians have more men, we were able to stop them and push them back a bit,” Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the military administration in the city of Kryvyi Rih, told The Daily Beast. “But to go on the offensive, we need more weapons.”
In the first days of the war, says Vilkul, the city blocked its streets to halt the Russian advance and buy time. They lost control of several villages, but managed to prevent the region from collapsing. The situation is more stable now, but the fight is far from over. Even in Kryvyi Rih, sirens can be heard several times a day as Russians try to push through southern villages like Kamyanka to reach Kryvyi Rih, a town crucial to controlling central Ukraine.
Kryvyi Rih is a major industrial center in Ukraine and recently reopened its steel factory, which is one of the largest in Europe. The city also produces bulletproof vests and shields in hidden facilities to outfit the Ukrainian military.
“It is a patriotic war for us. Everyone fights in the war in one way or another,” said Vilkul.
71-year-old Alexander vividly remembers how Russian troops moved into his neighbor’s vacant house. Many had fled the area as Russian troops advanced, but Alexander did not want that. “Where would he go?” he thought. He just stayed and hoped for the best.
“I was surprised at how unprofessional they were,” Alexander says, explaining how soldiers from the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic came to his house and set up camp in the houses around him. “They had no food and no proper equipment. Machine guns only.”
According to Alexander, the soldiers begged for food at neighbors’ houses and moved around in large groups, ignoring the dangers posed by Ukrainian drones flying overhead. It’s no surprise that Russia is losing so much equipment and men in the war, he mused.
“I told them they were bumps and that if I had been younger and in the military I would have made real soldiers out of them. Showed they are real men,” he said as Ukrainian artillery fire rang out in the distance.
Although normal life has not yet returned to Kryvyi Rih, there is a daily influx of refugees into the city, with more than 800 arriving each day, according to Natalia Patrusheva, the head of the main refugee center in Kryvyi Rih. Most come from southern Ukraine, many are quickly sent to other regions of Ukraine. Patrusheva says most are from Russian-held Cherson on the Black Sea.
“They fear that Russia will hold a referendum and include Kherson in Russia. They fear that Russia will completely close the borders,” Patrusheva told The Daily Beast, referring to rumors that a rigged referendum will soon take place in that region. Russia had previously held referendums in Russia-annexed Crimea and Russian-backed separatist regions in 2014, the results of which were condemned by the West and accused of being falsified to favor pro-Russian puppet candidates.
“The referendum is one of the reasons to leave now. It’s getting harder and harder to leave and live in Kherson. Everything Ukrainian is gone,” 18-year-old Maria, who arrived in Kamyanka after months of trying to escape from Kherson, told The Daily Beast. “Our shops will be closed, our flags removed and everything exchanged for Russian things.”
“Every night something explodes above us and there’s not even any money left in the banks,” she added. “I’m just so happy to be here. It’s such a relief.”
https://www.thedailybeast.com/body-in-a-basement-how-vladimir-putin-is-still-haunting-a-liberated-town-in-central-ukraine?source=articles&via=rss How Vladimir Putin still haunts a liberated city in central Ukraine