“When I saw our soldiers, I cried”: Ukrainians retake village near Kharkiv

“We left everything there. We just took animals and everything we could put in the car. (It was) two months of terrible fear, nothing else, terrible fear”, loose Natalia, 28, without wanting to give her name.

They arrived in Kharkiv in about fifty cars, exhausted, as if emerging from a nightmare, after two months of occupation of the village by soldiers from Moscow, and the last two days of shelling and fighting in the locality.

Ukrainians who arrived in Kharkiv after fleeing the village of Ruska Lozova, April 29, 2022 AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF.

“We stayed in the basements without food for two months, we ate what we had”, explains Sviatoslav, 40, his eyes red with fatigue. He doesn’t want to give his name either.

Upon their arrival in Kharkiv, they were grouped together in a parking lot on the outskirts of the city.

When smokers see a pack of cigarettes, they rush to ask for some, explaining that they haven’t smoked for two months.

Rouska Lozova, about 5,000 inhabitants before the war, is 18 km north of Kharkiv. The village is crossed by the M20 highway, which leads to the Russian border and then to Belgorod.

“We were at the front line. On the sixth day, the electricity and the water were cut off (…) We went back to our apartment after a week and there was an armored personnel carrier troops under our window. We were very scared”told AFP Tatiana Efimovna, 69.

Tatiana Efimovna (l) and Petro Nilolaivich arrived in Kharkiv after fleeing the village of Rouska Lozova, April 29, 2022 in Ukraine AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF.

“There was a boy riding a bicycle, they (the Russian soldiers) stopped him, put a bag over his head and tied his arms. Someone asked what they were going to do to him. They replied: + We will control it +. It was humiliation above all. Their soldiers inspected the houses and apartments “, she adds.

The Ukrainian army called Rouska Lozova a “locality of strategic importance”. “It was from this village that the enemy carried out targeted fire on civilian infrastructure and living quarters of Kharkiv”according to the Land Forces Command.

“Two Scary Nights”

The north-eastern districts of Kharkiv, the second city of Ukraine – nearly 1.5 million inhabitants before the war – are hit daily by Russian rockets, causing the death of civilians.

Svitlana Perepilitsa and her dog Bairaktar upon their arrival in Kharkiv after fleeing the village of Rouska Lozova on April 29, 2022 in Ukraine. AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF.

The village of Rouska Lozova has been liberated after heavy shelling and fighting over the past two days.

“We had two nights that were scary, like hell… The penultimate night, we thought the sky was burning, the whole village was burning”says Svitlana Perepilitsa, 23, who holds a small dog in her arms.

According to her, “The Russians didn’t come on the first day (of the war). For a few weeks, we were in a bit of a ‘grey zone’, it wasn’t them or us. When they entered the village, they told us cut off from Ukraine”.

Ukrainians who arrived in Kharkiv after fleeing the village of Ruska Lozova, April 29, 2022 AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF.

Did they force people to go to Russia? “They threatened us with a huge bombardment because they were going to attack Kharkiv. People just didn’t know what else to do, so they got on buses and went to certain parts of Russia,” adds the young woman, referring to families with children “stressed, panicked”.

When Ukrainian soldiers entered the village, after two months of Russian occupation, Svitlana Perepilitsa remembers having them “seen on our street from the window, and I cried, but they were tears of gratitude because I was really happy to see them”, she smiled.

Ukrainians who arrived in Kharkiv after fleeing the village of Ruska Lozova, April 29, 2022 AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF.

This Friday morning, “It was calm (…) we didn’t know if there would be an evacuation or not (…) My father saw that cars were driving. We took our things, our dogs and we left” , she explains.

Before being able to leave freely from the place where they were gathered on their arrival in Kharkiv, the inhabitants had to undergo a short interrogation.

“They asked me about Belarus and Minsk, because I was born in Minsk and lived there for 23 years. I said I liked being here in Ukraine,” explains Tatiana Efimovna, without being able to specify who had conducted the interrogations.

Ukrainians who arrived in Kharkiv after fleeing the village of Ruska Lozova, April 29, 2022 AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF.

Before leaving, Svitlana Perepilitsa indicates that her little dog was born on the second day of the war and is called “Bay, short for Bayraktar”, from the name of the Turkish drone with which the Ukrainian army is equipped.

“He is very brave, so now I have my own little Bayraktar to protect us”she adds.