Troops from the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic have been branded “bandits and thugs” by a volunteer who witnessed the aftermath of the occupation in Kharkiv Oblast. Sergii Mokriev, 34, who heads the Sigma Software Social Initiative, told Express.co.uk of the horrors left behind in places like Izyum when Russian forces retreated last month.
He said: “First there were Spetsnaz and marines from the far east [of Russia]. But the most terrible occupiers were from the LPR and DPR, the self proclaimed republics. They were the bandits, the thugs.
“They did not steal or create havoc when they were in their headquarters, but in the surrounding areas, [they] broke everything, everything [was] stolen or trashed.”
The soldiers were especially concerned with civilians who had stayed behind following the occupation.
One woman told Mr Mokriev the separatist soldiers believed her husband was revealing Russian positions to Ukraine.
“They told her: ‘Well, your husband is snitching on our positions’, they started checking their phones. She deleted everything from her phone, but because she was nervous [the LPR and DPR troops] checked her phone, not her husband’s. He had not deleted [the information] on his phone, they got lucky,” Mr Mokriev said.
He said the same woman recounted seeing “bodies in the cellar” of the building where she was being interrogated.
Nearly 500 bodies have been recovered so far from mass graves in the areas surrounding Izyum.
Mr Mokriev added: “You can see it in people’s eyes. There is a very, very severe psychological trauma if you look in people’s eyes.”
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Much of Kharkiv Oblast was liberated following a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive which began in early September. It saw Russian lines collapse in the north and recapture thousands of square miles of territory by Kyiv’s forces.
Izyum – which had a pre-war population of 45,884 – was captured by Russian forces in the early days of the conflict and was used as a logistics hub, many of the buildings have been destroyed and many residents fled.
Ukrainian forces have continued to make gains in the region as well as in the south of the country, where the Russian installed local government in Kherson City has begun evacuations in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive there.
Kherson was the first major city to be captured by Russian forces in the war and has been illegally ‘annexed’ by Putin following a sham referendum in the region.