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Shrouded in secrecy: Ukraine’s push south reveals devastation left behind by Russian invaders

Although the details of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to retake Kherson from the Ukrainians were known, they were not seen.

Since over two weeks, the entire frontline has been kept closed to all. In fact, it has been hidden in secret.

After many days of negotiations, the military agreed to let Sky News access the Kherson frontline and to show what had happened and what is still happening.

The northern campaign liberated towns have been exposed as possible war crimes, but they have also experienced a return to normal life.

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Crimes ‘have been committed’ in Ukraine – Ukraine’s latest

As I drove through Vysokopillya’s outskirts, my first impression was that this battle is hard and far from over.

Regular checkpoints are not an option for soldiers who are still in danger.

Learn more about Ukraine

Although the Ukrainians may have retaken Vysokopillya and pushed them down the road, they are only three miles away. In battlefield terms, that’s a small change.

It’s simple.

A few people are seen moving about on their bikes through the streets, pushing their bicycles along streets littered with glass, rubble and shrapnel and lined by streets full of shelled homes.

Apart from the boom and thud of artillery, the centre of town is almost silent.

Unexploded rockets’ fins look like the metal fronds from a pot plant, buried in the ground.

It’s beautiful to see, but deadly.

Bizarrly, the Russians are holding a referendum to decide if the Kherson region should be part of the Russian Federation.

Vysokopillya residents would have also been required to vote up until 5 September.

The people we spoke with dismissed the referendum as absurd, and they certainly don’t believe it.

Image Halyna insists that she will not participate in the Referendum.

Halyna, 65 years old, was hard to miss as she walked down the street with her dog and bicycle, wearing a bright red dress.

She appeared traumatized, but she wanted to talk about her life and the referendum that took place just a few miles away.

“The referendum?” Before I could finish my question, she replied. “I wouldn’t vote for that!” “I don’t need any Russian world.”

“People there lead normal lives in Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities, but I don’t want to live in their villages.”

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They said that they would not leave Russia. Residents who have stayed and returned to their homes speak of fear, as well as systematic looting.

Image Ukrainian flag flying at Vysokopillya

We filmed the Russians retreating down the road and a van that looked like it was loaded with motorbikes, which we believe had been stolen, as it burned.

Bohdan, one of the residents, spoke to me at the gate of his home, which was also badly damaged by bombing.

He said that stealing and looting were standard procedures for Russian soldiers.

The 71-year old said that they were stealing all things, cars and bicycles.

They towed the car and left nothing behind if they couldn’t get it started. They destroyed, burned, and broken everything.”

Image Vasyl, Nadiya are back to Vysokopillya

Vasyl and Nadiya, husband and wife, lived together under occupation.

They were able to leave, but have since returned, but are still dealing with the trauma of what they went through.

“They beat people and abused them. It was horrible. Nadiya said that they wouldn’t allow us to leave our homes.

“They shot at us with machine guns as soon as we attempted to flee. We were afraid that we would see their weapons and machines, they even had grads there. So we hid in the basement because we were scared to leave.

“It was so humiliating, I have no words to describe it Vasyl added.

Russians used the local hospital as their headquarters. A blue car, with the now-famous ‘Z’ on its side, is parked in front of it.

A few rows of graves have been added to the cemetery in honor of those who were killed during the liberation and occupation.

Volodya Kostenko led us inside. He told us he was part of a group that buried the dead.

He wept softly at the graves of his family.

Volodya had used his trailer and car to transport the bodies. He said that he had brought 13 bodies to the cemetery and buried them all himself.

Many of the people who died were old or sick. He revealed that one family was killed by the Russians.

He doesn’t know why.

He spoke and then he fell to his knees, walked away, and began to cry.

This war will be remembered by few.

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