Local officials in the Kharkiv region say the Ukrainian flag has been raised in settlements close to the Russian border, confirming the continuing retreat of Russian forces in the area.
Oleksandr Kulik, an official in Derhachi northeast of the city of Kharkiv, said that the Ukrainian flag had been raised by local residents in the town of Kozacha Lopan.
Kozacha Lopan had been occupied by the Russians since March and was an administrative center for occupation authorities. It is five kilometers from the Russian border and has been extensively damaged during the conflict.
Social media video provided by the Derhachi city council also showed residents of another settlement — Tokarivka — raising the Ukrainian flag there. Tokarivka is also close to the Russian border.
Viktoriya Kolodochka, the head of the Tokarivka district, said Sunday: “The village was de-occupied this morning. People heard the roar of Russian military hardware. The Russians began to gather on their own in the morning and began to flee.”
Kolodochka, who is not in the town but maintains contacts there, told CNN by phone that the Russians had left a lot of ammunition behind.
She also spoke of the months under occupation, which she described as “very scary.” She said the occupying troops were from the Luhansk People’s militia, who she said behaved like gangsters. They searched for people who had been in the security forces, confiscated phones and ransacked houses. She alleged they also beat and intimidated local residents.
“They took people to the basement of the school, beat them, electrocuted them, forced them to dig trenches, forced them to give information about people who worked in Ukrainian state bodies. But they didn’t kill anyone,” she told CNN.
Kolodochka said there had been no humanitarian aid until August when occupying forces provided some sugar and flour. She said people mainly survived on their own garden produce. She said she had left the town in April, but her parents had stayed behind.
“There are people left [in Tokarivka] who are very, very much waiting for our military,” she said. “People really need help. There are ten paralyzed old ladies. There are people with diabetes and asthma. They survive as best they can. Medicines are very much needed.”
As for those who had died during the occupation, Kolodochka told CNN: “There are people buried in their yards — we just buried them in their yards.”
She added that there was still great uncertainty about what will happen. “People are still scared. Will they stop shooting? Is it true that the Russians have left? Or not? They are waiting for Ukrainian military so much.”
But she insisted: “We will survive everything to be at home.”