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‘We are afraid’: Ukrainians on frontline as Russia strikes back in the east

On the outskirts Kupiansk, the first explosions were heard.

Because there was no electricity or running water, a small group of tired residents waited in line to get water from the local well. They each had a few plastic bottles.

The boom of the outgoing fire from Ukraine reverberated around them and was followed by the crackle of an incoming round landing further in the city.

“It is scary,” stated Vira, 72, a woman. “Ofcourse we are afraid.”

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Image Ukrainian forces try to retake Kupiansk

Ukrainian forces seek to retake the city as part a major counter-offensive within the northeastern Kharkiv area that has seized large swathes land from Russian hands.

However, unlike other areas liberated recently such as Izyum or Balakliya the Russian forces will not give up Kupiansk.

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It has made the city a frontline. Russia is shelling Ukrainian positions from the east, while Ukraine uses return fire to push them back.

Image Villagers wait for water in Kupiansk (Ukraine).

Kupiansk’s centre looks and sounds like a battle zone. There are buildings that have been destroyed, twisted metal, and concrete pieces littering the streets. Local residents must contend with the constant thud of in- and outgoing fire.

Two women emerged from a basement in one building to a street that was shattered.

One of them was willing to talk. One of them agreed to speak. She was clearly angry and blamed Ukraine for the destruction. However, she did not mention the role of Russian forces – perhaps a sign of how not everyone opposed Russia’s long-term occupation of the city.

Image DNA evidence is collected by investigators in the interrogation room at the police station.

“How do we live? Take a look. She waved her arms at the destruction and said that there were no jobs or money.

“Nothing to eat. No electricity, water, or gas. Two weeks ago, I didn’t wash my hair.

Sarcastically, the woman added, “How are you living?” This life was something we used to fantasize about all our lives…

Image It is not all in this region that supports the Ukrainian forces

Officially, Ukraine began the operation to reclaim all areas of Kharkiv under Russian control on 6 September. It was directed at Russian positions in occupied territories.

Kupiansk, a railway hub with tracks that lead southeast to the Donbas (a key focus of the Russian invasion) and into Russia.



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Russian forces had gained control of the city, allowing them to more easily resupply frontline forces in Donetsk or Luhansk regions which make up the Donbas.

This made it strategic for the Ukrainians to reclaim the area.

Kupiansk residents spoke of the period 9-12 September as being “loud, scary”, in their city during the Ukrainian attack.

Image A woman is separated from her family because of the fighting

Olena Dmitrieva (55), who lives in an apartment block with a view to the centre of the city on a grassy area at the edge of the city said that there was “a lot of shelling by the Ukrainian side.”

“I lived on the fourth floor. These jets, explosions, it all was horrible. It was shaking, we thought it might fall now.

She stated that her grandchildren and children live on Kupiansk’s eastern side, nearer to the Russian lines. It was impossible for her to visit them.

“God, why is this punishment being applied to us?” She wept, asking God why?

Image Buildings and homes were destroyed by the shelling

According to the governor of Kharkiv, five people were injured by Russian shelling in Kupiansk Wednesday. One of them was a boy aged 13.

Despite the ongoing fighting, Ukrainian police officers and prosecutors are already in the city gathering evidence about possible Russian war crimes.

Kupiansk’s deputy procuror Oleksandr Sienko visited the main police station Wednesday.

An entrance to the building had a Russian flag and a broken Russian police sign.

The interior contained a sinister-looking wall painting of a letter Z – the emblem of the occupation – which was darkly painted.

Image A torn Russian Flag outside the central police station

Investigators searched through several grimy cells that contained people who were believed to have been held in dirty, cramped conditions. A room was thought to have been used by forensic experts for DNA samples.

They had to remain alert for the possibility of Russian attack.

We were instructed to cover if we hear the drone buzzing. It could be a Russian drone looking for targets to fire artillery guns.

The deputy prosecutor stated that it was difficult to work in a war zone.

It is harder than being at the frontline, being without electricity and lighting. This complicates our investigation. We are gathering evidence on Russia’s treatment of people. This is the place where aggression used to exist.”

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