NOVA BASAN, Ukraine – Residents of the frightened and starving Nova Basan, a town east of Kiev, came out of their cottages and farms on Monday to describe the horrific ordeal of Russian occupation – living under detention, threats and harsh curfews. They were kept under house arrest for more than a month without any communication from outside.
Nova Basan, about 60 miles east of the Ukrainian capital, is one of the towns and villages recaptured from Russian control after the war in the last week of March, and is now alive again.
“It was terrible,” said Mykola Dyachenko, an official in charge of the administration of the city and surrounding villages. “People didn’t expect that.” He said he was among about 20 people held captive by Russian forces for 25 days during the occupation.
She looked tired, her face waxy and pale. He asserted that his confession had been obtained through torture, and that his confession had been obtained through torture.
During interrogation, his interrogators shot him in the head with an assault rifle, he said. Her eyes were covered with sticky tape but she heard and felt the sound of gunfire above her head. “It was stressful,” he said. “They were trying to get information from me that I was not sharing.”
Two others were described as being captured by Russian troops, who beat them with the butt of their rifles and punched and kicked them. One was described as having his weapon suspended. Another, Alexei Bridgallin, 38, a construction worker, said he was held in a chair with a grenade in his leg for 30 hours and was shot in the head during interrogation.
Prisoners were moved around and kept in granaries and cellars and fed only two potatoes a day, with only one toilet break per day, Mr Bridgallin said.
The detainees said they had escaped from their temporary prison because Russian troops were preparing to withdraw last Wednesday. Five days later, Mr. Bridgallin said he still had pain in his legs and was having trouble sleeping because of the contraction.
The community’s administrator, Mr Diachenko, said he did not yet know the level of civilian casualties and said he had just begun organizing search teams to examine residents. On Monday, he was on his way to investigate reports of the February 26 execution of six people by Russian troops in a nearby village, he said. He said it happened shortly after Russian troops arrived in the area.
Mr Diachenko said he also knew of the killing of a civilian in his car at a gas station when Russian troops first entered the city. And, he said, an injured member of the regional defense was detained with him but was taken away and has not been seen since. The Kremlin has denied Russia’s involvement in the atrocities.
Despite the fear and rude behavior of the civilian population, in the end the Russian soldiers may suffer more casualties than the civilians. The Russian withdrawal was part of a planned withdrawal announced by Moscow a week ago but ended in a chaotic and bloody retreat after a fierce tank battle last Thursday, participating soldiers and volunteers and city residents said.
On Monday, Ukrainian troops piled up the bodies of dead Russian soldiers in a trailer pulled by an army jeep. According to participating soldiers and volunteers, a Ukrainian tank was shot down at a Russian checkpoint guarding the main entrance to the city, killing the soldiers.
“This is the first lot we’ve picked up,” said the senior sergeant. Andrei Soroka, 38, a Ukrainian soldier in charge. “It’s half past nine,” he said.
He said four of the armored personnel carriers were killed in a tank explosion in Ukraine. Others among the dead Russian soldiers were a captain found in a nearby building and an 18-year-old constable in the garden of a bullet-riddled house, Sergeant Soroka said.
A wrecked tank and armored vehicle remained on the road during the battle, while a Ukrainian tank fired on a Russian vehicle. They were the tail end of the Russian presence, who had started packing and leaving the city the day before.
Alexei Seredicuk, commander of a volunteer battalion that took part in the fighting, said Russian troops had suffered a major defeat in the city of Lukanyevka a few days earlier and had failed to retake the city. “They were frustrated and they started to move out of several places,” he said of the Russian troops. This led Ukraine’s military command to follow the retreating army, he said.
“The military command has made a very wise decision, first to create a chaotic way for their withdrawal and second to cut off their escape route.”
He said the battle of Nova Basin was chaotic because the Russians had to fight on their way out and the Ukrainians tried to cut off their escape route. In the fighting, a Russian armored vehicle crashed into a shop line and the other fell off the road, he said.
“Most Ukrainians did not believe in this operation,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. We’ve created a real mess with just a few people and a few cars. “
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While he was speaking, soldiers were pulling a Russian armored vehicle that crashed into a shop line. A group of men, retired taxi drivers, examined the damage, while a line of women waited for the first sale of fresh meat for more than a month.
On Monday, it has been four days since Ukrainian troops regained control of the city, but many residents have just begun to leave their homes. The relief on their faces was heartwarming.
“I’m shivering at home,” said Maria Rudenko, 82, who nodded nervously at a street corner before approaching a food aid vehicle. “I was so scared during the shooting that I was scared to walk.”
During the occupation, Russian troops searched homes and confiscated cellphones and computers, and ordered people to stay indoors, residents said. With communication and utilities shut down and people unable to go to the store, they start to get hungry and scared.
“Sometimes I would sit for three nights without a candle,” said Mrs. Rudenko. Most areas of the city were without electricity and gas was still off. “Everyone fled here and I was released. I had only potatoes and some cucumbers to eat. “
Further down the street on the southern edge of town, three female friends begin to cry as they collect bags of food from a group of volunteers.
“Every day was hard but the hardest was when we were released,” said Olha Vodovichenko, 70. “Everyone was hiding inside and we were praying.” The shelling began at six in the morning and continued until seven in the evening.
When everything calmed down, Ukrainian troops were already searching for Russian troops left in the city. A woman named Tania said one of them asked her if there were any enemies nearby. “I was shaking and I said, ‘Who are you?'” He said. “He said ‘ours.'” He cooked borscht in two large pots for the whole Ukrainian unit.
Ukrainian troops also told 8-year-old Olha Maysak that the town had been liberated. “The boys came to tell us at 6 pm,” he said.
But his neighbor, Mrs. Vodovichenko, did not realize that it was over. He woke up at 7am the next morning and heard some people talking outside.
“He said we are independent, we are independent,” he said. “That’s how I knew.”
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