In Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russians: threats, the hunt for local politicians and military, the theft of telephones

Of Lorenzo Cremonesi

The testimony of Andriy from Kherson: there are times when they round up men and boys to threaten them or shoot civilians and others when they don’t care to raise Ukrainian flags

In general, Russian soldiers think about waging war, avoiding attacks by our troops, eating food, even at the cost of stealing from shops and our homes, and finding gasoline for their vehicles. At this stage they seem to me little interested in Ukrainian civilians. But the situation changes from area to area. There are some locations where they shoot directly at civilians and others where they ignore our protests and they do not even bother to lift Ukrainian flags from public buildings and abandoned checkpoints. The story comes by phone from the fifty-year-old Andriy Malovana who was trapped in his home in the part of the city of Kherson, close to the Crimea, where the Russian battalions have controlled the territory for at least a week with the aim of continuing the offensive towards Odessa.

Trapped in Kherson

We received his number from his wife Yulia, 47, who we met with her two children at the Kiev train station while she was waiting for the train to Lviv. With Andriy, therefore, let’s try to shed some light on the jumble of news, some terrifying, which now circulate among the Ukrainian population frightened by the bombings and inevitably confused by the propaganda of the two sides. On the popular Ukrainian news site Nashkiev Russian troops are explicitly accused of sexual crimes.

The hunt for local leaders

I know that on our social networks there are stories of violence against Ukrainian women and massacres of civilians at the hands of the Russians. But we have no concrete evidence of sexual violence here. Rather, we know that the Russians are after our local political and military leaders.

There have been incidents of Russian soldiers who rounded up the remaining men and young people and threatened them for a couple of hours.
mThey were then released, Andriy’s story continues.

The seizure of cell phones

What seems to have been established, and is repeated by almost all the refugees who have left the areas in Russian hands, is that laptops and especially cell phones are methodically seized. The Russians place their tanks in the middle of the houses to try not to be spotted. Their soldiers break into Ukrainian apartments, hide among civilians. They take laptops perhaps to prevent us from reporting their GPS position to Ukrainian troops, or more simply for the purpose of robbery, says 67-year-old Halina Yurcenko, who fled the occupied areas north-east of the capital and is now trying to take the train for Rivne. The same happened to a Polish photographer in the village of Irpin, near Kiev. She had gone to no man’s land to retrieve his car that she had abandoned a few days ago during a rocket launch. At a checkpoint, the Russians took away his camera, which was immediately destroyed by machine guns, then ripped off his mobile phone before letting him return to Kiev.

Families divided

Andriy also confirms the problem: to avoid the kidnapping we simply leave the house without a mobile phone and without documents. The Russians are looking for our identity cards to send their agents into the midst of our populations, create accidents, destabilize, at the moment of battle. The greatest difficulty for Ukrainians, however, remains the inability to communicate with loved ones who have remained in the occupied areas. In the sixth floor apartment of a Soviet-style barracks in the eastern districts of the capital, the Sokol family does not know what happened to their 67-year-old aunt Ludmilla in the city of Izjum, 120 kilometers south of Kharkiv: We know that her house been hit. But we have no news of her and our cousin Sergej. We haven’t heard from them since March 6th.

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