HRAKOVE: Overturned electricity pylons, cables strewn on the ground; Gutted houses and cratered roads, the village of Grakove in eastern Ukraine bears the scars of the bitter Ukrainian counter-offensive.
“It was scary,” the 61-year-old said Anatoly Vasilievrecalling the battle this week when Ukrainian troops recaptured Grakove from the Russians.
“There were shelling and explosions everywhere.”
Vasiliev stood in front of the local church, whose bell had been damaged by a projectile.
Some of the Russian soldiers “took phones, but I managed to keep mine hidden so I could communicate with my family,” he said.
Ukrainians announced significant territorial gains in the east Kharkov Region.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that 30 towns and villages had been taken over there.
Among the debris scattered in Grakove and in front of the houses still inhabited, dogs and cats search for leftover food.
Only about 30 of the village’s 800 pre-war inhabitants remain.
The road leading to Grakove from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and regional hub, is lined with carcasses of cars destroyed in explosions or crushed by tanks.
Disarmed mines are strewn along the side of the road, waiting to be picked up. A tow truck carries away a captured Russian military vehicle.
In the direction of the opposition, two armored cars take troops to the front. Artillery fire echoes in the distance.
In the village, the police and a team from the Kharkiv region prosecutor’s office exhume the bodies of two men in their thirties.
Officials suspect a war crime here: the remains bear signs of torture and execution.
inhabitant of the village Sergiy Lutsay Told AFP Russian the soldiers had forced him to bury the bodies at gunpoint.
“They came to my house. I was with my 70-year-old father,” he said.
“I was afraid they would threaten him. They told me to come and dig a hole.”
This was, he said, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
An official from the prosecutor’s office said the bodies would be sent for medical examination to determine the cause of death.
Sergey Bolvinovdeputy police chief of the Kharkiv region, said Lutsay told them that the victims “had injuries to the back of their heads and their ears had been cut off”.
Lutsay did not confirm details to reporters.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of a series of war crimes in towns and villages outside Kyiv that his forces resumed in March.
Ukraine reoccupied the territory when Moscow withdrew its forces after an unsuccessful attempt to capture the capital early in the invasion.
“This is not the only evidence of atrocities committed by the Russians,” Bolvinov said.
“There are two other sites like this in the village. We will investigate them.”
Police warned reporters not to stray from roads or investigate abandoned buildings as clearance work was still in progress.

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