Destroyed armored vehicles litter the road in Balakliya, in the Kharkiv region

Chaos on the battlefield as Ukraine moves east

Balakliya, a key city in the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine, was taken this week by Russian forces, but it has been left with the scars of a violent conflict.

The city and its environs suffered from many months of violent conflict. It returned to Ukrainian hands as Kyiv’s counter-offensive launched earlier this month began to bear fruit.

To the north of the city lay a patchwork of dozens of civilian cars, trucks and burned-out Russian armored personnel carriers, some marked with the invading force’s Z symbol.

A few kilometers away, Ukrainian soldiers were taking away armored vehicles and a tank recently abandoned by the Russian military.

Boxes of ammunition abandoned by Russian troops were scattered along the roads.

Access to Balakliya, which had a pre-war population of 27,000, became precarious after Russian troops destroyed two bridges before retreating Wednesday, locals told AFP.

According to Ukrainian media, during the occupation, only about a third of the population, mostly elderly, remained in the city.

Now the Ukrainian military patrolled the main street, and a few residents moved along it – mostly on foot or on bicycles.

While some buildings remained unscathed, many were either destroyed or damaged.

“We were happy to meet the Ukrainian troops” when they arrived on Wednesday, said Oleksandr Sidorov, 59, an employee of the local electricity company who fought to keep supplies going despite the conflict.

At the same time, he lamented the extent of the destruction.

— Borscht for troops —

Many streets were almost deserted, but the Ukrainian flag had already been raised over the statue of the national poet of Ukraine Taras Shevchenko on the main square.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted on Saturday that Balakliya is back in Ukrainian hands.

52-year-old Irina Stepanenko, having cycled through the city for the first time in several months, recalled the months of the occupation.

“There was a lot of fear, shelling. It was scary. We hid in the basement for three months,” she explained.

They did not expect the return of Ukrainian troops,” she admitted. Big.”

But she still didn’t feel safe.

“I’m worried that the Russians might come back. I’m afraid the shelling might start again.”

Andrei Kiktev, 49, said the Russians killed one of his friends for violating curfew during a “very terrible” occupation.

“Movement without a passport was prohibited,” he said.

“All phones have been checked. If they found something yellow or blue in your phone, they threw it on the ground and smashed it with the butt of a rifle.”

Alla Plesak, 53, couldn’t hide her joy that Ukraine was reclaiming the city. She said that she had gone to cook food for the soldiers with a friend.

“At the moment, the pasta is waiting to be cooked. And my friend cooks borscht, a traditional Ukrainian soup.

When the troops arrived, there were “tears, just tears,” she added.

Daniil Grigorenko, a 24-year-old volunteer, brought food and medicine for the isolated residents.

“People are happy that he has arrived, that people have returned to their homes (to Ukraine),” he said. “That there is no Russian occupation, no oppression, no basements, no FSB (Russian Federal Security Service).

“But at the same time, people are traumatized by the occupation.”

And in the distance, people still heard the regular response of artillery shots.

Post-battle chaos amid Ukraine’s eastward advance first appeared in Digital Journal.

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