According to reporters o “Washington Post” who arrived in the recently liberated areas of the Kharkiv Region, the Russsian forces were retreating in such a haste and disorganised state, many soldiers were left behind, forcing them to steal bicycles, cars, and civilian clothes from the local populace. Sadly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, the first evidence of war crimes has already been uncovered.
The village of Zaliznychne is located some 60 kilometres from Kharkiv within the first hours of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, half of the troops simply fled using the vehicles they had at their disposal. One of the villagers, Olena Matvienko, told the reporters that the remainder were told by their brothers in arms to fend for themselves.
“They came into our houses to take clothes so the drones wouldn’t see them in uniforms. They took our bicycles. Two of them pointed guns at my ex-husband until he handed them his car keys,” recounted Ms Matvienko.
Another resident, Tamara Kozinska, 75, whose husband was killed by a mortar blast soon after the Russians arrived. She said that each month the Russian armed forces would rotate the soldiers stationed in the village, and each month the soldiers would grow more aggressive. She recounted how a soldier asked to “borrow” her phone.
“I gave it to him so he could call his mother, but he took my SIM card.”
“Only God knows if they will be back,” said Kozinska.
“I asked what they wanted from us and they said,” said Ms Matvienko. In response, she heard that the “soldiers” Russia sent to Ukraine “can either be here or we can be in jail.” Other villagers said that the Russians assured them they were there not to fight Ukraine, but to “protect us from America.”
Immediately upon liberation, war crime investigators arrived in the village. The locals told them of the killings perpetrated by the occupiers. Two people were shot for violating the 6pm curfew. Two more corpses were discovered rotting on the floor of a gravel elevator at an asphalt plant. One of the bodies was that of a security guard working at the plant. They lay there unburied for months, even though the Russians used the plant as a sniper tower throughout that entire time. One of the investigators was reportedly so sickened by the scene, that he vomited several times while the officers were collecting the remains.
“We’re here looking into war crimes,” said Serhii Bolvinov, chief investigator of the Kharkiv Regional Police. The police had to wait for the area to be cleared of explosives before they could recover some of the bodies.
The Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine announced that three of the bodies bore marks of torture and that they are investigating the deaths as war crimes.