Local officials in the Kharkiv region say the Ukrainian flag was raised in settlements near the Russian border, confirming the continued withdrawal of Russian forces from the region.
Oleksandr Kulik, an official from Derhachi, northeast of the city of Kharkiv, said the Ukrainian flag was raised by residents of the town of Kozacha Lopan.
Kozacha Lopan had been occupied by the Russians since March and was an administrative center for the occupation authorities. It is five kilometers from the Russian border and was badly damaged during the conflict.
A social media video provided by Derhachi city council also showed residents of another settlement – Tokarivka – hoisting the Ukrainian flag there. Tokarivka is also close to the Russian border.
Viktoriya Kolodochka, head of the Tokarivka district, said on Sunday: “The village was cleared this morning. People heard the roar of Russian military hardware. The Russians began to gather alone in the morning and began to flee.
Kolodochka, who is not in the city but maintains contact there, told CNN by phone that the Russians left a lot of ammunition behind.
She also spoke of the months under occupation, which she described as “very scary”. She said the occupation troops belonged to the Luhansk People’s Militia, which she said behaved like gangsters. They searched for people who had been part of the security forces, confiscated phones and ransacked houses. She alleged that they also beat and intimidated local residents.
“They took people to the school basement, 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 killed nobody,” she told CNN.
Kolodochka said there was no humanitarian aid until August, when occupation forces provided sugar and flour. She said people mostly survive on produce from their garden. She said she left town in April, but her parents stayed.
“There are still people [in Tokarivka] who are waiting very, very strongly for our military,” she said. “People really need help. There are ten crippled old ladies. There are people with diabetes and asthma. They survive as they can. Medication is very necessary.”
As for those who 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 is still great uncertainty about what will happen. “People are still scared. Will they stop shooting? Is it true that the Russians are gone? Or not? They are waiting for the Ukrainian army so much.”
But she insisted: “We will survive everything to be home.