‘We have nothing’: Izium’s trauma after Russian occupation

IZIUM, Ukraine – The school was a shambles. Its six-month life as a Russian base and mechanic shop ended in August with a Ukrainian missile attack.

His years of teaching the youth of Izium were over, but he had one last gift for the residents who needed it most: the wood from which his lattice work, his chalkboard, his Furniture and beams of

A handful of elderly residents – some equipped with gloves, strong woven bags and hand tools – came to dig out firewood from the rubble by Monday. It will be many more months before meaningful electricity, gas and running water are restored, and the cold has already set in.

The city in eastern Ukraine was among the first to be captured by Russian forces after the war began on February 24, and became a command center for them. By early March, Izium was isolated — no cellphones, no heat, no electricity. Residents did not know what was going on in the war, whether their relatives were alive, whether Ukraine still existed.

He was freed on September 10 in a swift retaliation. Passed through Kharkiv region.What else Continuing south near Khorsan.. But residents are still reeling from the confusion and trauma of their occupation, whose brutality gained worldwide attention after last week’s discovery. One of the largest mass graves of the war.

“We have nothing. We are fetching wood to heat water for tea and make porridge. Look at my hands! I am 75 years old and this woman is older than me. We are afraid of winter.” “My grandchildren went to this school and I’m robbing it,” said Oleksandra Lysenko, standing in a pile of bricks.

Nearby, a man loaded a broken car hood onto his bicycle. He planned to use the section, with the spray-painted letter Z that has come to symbolize the Russian military, to cover the open window frame.

When the war broke out about seven months ago, half of Izium’s roughly 40,000 inhabitants fled, some of them into Russia themselves. The rest were hunting in basements or behind the thickest walls they could find. Russian soldiers provided some food but rarely enough.

The battery-operated radios discovered that the only signal was a Russian propaganda station, which fed them lies about how Ukrainian cities had fallen, how their government had abandoned them, and whether the Ukrainian army would ever return. If they come back, they will be prosecuted as accomplices. .

The retaliation was so swift that the Russians abandoned their weapons and their armored vehicles, sometimes resorting to stealing clothes and cars from residents to avoid detection. it was Russia’s biggest military defeat Since withdrawing its troops from areas near Kyiv more than five months ago.

Ukrainian soldiers have begun hastily collecting brass buttons, or patches emblazoned with the Russian flag, from officer’s uniforms. They are also collecting Russian military equipment, which fits well into Ukraine’s arsenal, and refurbishing abandoned vehicles that have not rusted.

Russian occupiers have scattered countless landmines, which Ukrainian soldiers are painstakingly detonating one by one. Every few minutes until sunset on Monday, their powerful controlled explosions rocked Izium, about two hours’ drive on straight country roads from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

It could also be that there is another world.

“Is Kharkiv still Ukraine?” one woman hesitantly asked a visitor in the first few days after Izium’s release.

Now there’s a weak cell signal — just enough to send a text or make a phone call, for those who have a way to charge their phones.

But expectations were running high Monday morning for a more basic form of communication. By the time the mail truck pulled into a closed market parking lot, more than a hundred people were waiting for the first postal delivery since February.

“I’m happy that Mel is working. It means life is getting better. We’ll live and hope for the best,” said Volodymyr Olizarenko, 69. He already knew his What’s in the adult child’s box: Warm clothes for his brother.

But there will be difficult days ahead.

A site that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said contained more than 440 graves was discovered last week in a forest on the northern outskirts of the city, and investigators are exhuming the bodies to begin the serious work of identification. Russian authorities have distanced themselves from responsibility for the site.

In the southern suburbs, where the heaviest fighting took place, the entire village of Kamianka is vulnerable to explosives. Of the 1,200 people who lived there, only 10 remain.

Almost every yard is littered with bombs and bullets. A Russian rocket launcher rusting away in someone’s driveway, the weather is just starting to take its toll on the white Z. And as the sun sets, the only sound is the barking of dogs abandoned by their owners.

Natalia Zdorovets, the mother of a family of five, which makes up half of the village’s population, said they stayed because it was home. On March 5, he lost contact with the outside world.

“We were in a vacuum. We were cut off from the rest of the world. We didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t even know what was going on down the street because we just lived here,” he said of the ducks, chickens, and chickens. , said pointing to a yard full of cats and dogs.

About 2,000 Russian soldiers settled in homes evacuated by terrified residents. Then suddenly, a week ago, the village fell silent. The family knew nothing until Ukrainian troops arrived.

“We cried and laughed at the same time,” Zdorovets said. “We weren’t ready to see them. We hadn’t heard the news.”

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