These small villages in eastern Ukraine, north of Kharkiv, lived under Russian occupation for five months. Now, these thousands of inhabitants have been liberated thanks to the counter-offensive of the Ukrainian army, so they can tell their story.
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The freedom found in the village of Stansya may be summed up in this: a discussion between neighbors in the courtyard in front of the small red brick houses, taking the time to enjoy the September sun, finally getting out of the darkness of these five months of Russian occupation. “At 5 p.m., the curfew began. Forbidden to leave the house, forbidden to turn on the lightsays Marina. Total darkness ! If they saw a small light in the window, they fired without warning.”
And that’s what these Russian soldiers did, one evening in March, a few streets away, according to Marina: “They entered a house where there was light and they shot a man and a woman because a night light or a candle was lit.”
The inhabitants therefore lived in the dark, also without gas, without electricity, and always in fear. “During the day, we could just go out in the yard. We had to hurry to feed the chickens and dogs and quickly get homesays Valentina, Marina’s neighbor. There were bombardments every day.”
“We lived in fear, total fear, fear deep inside”Marina, resident of Stansya
The two neighbors head to the end of the courtyard, behind the vegetable garden thanks to which the inhabitants were able to feed themselves. There is a small factory, a grain silo and, at the top, an observation post. “Here’s the gatehouse. They were up there. The soldiers were watching usValentina explains. We were constantly under surveillance.” The inhabitants were cut off from the world: no means of obtaining information, apart from a Russian propaganda newspaper also distributed to the inhabitants. Son name: Kharkiv Z.
In the nearby village of Nova Hnylytsya, franceinfo collected the testimony of a woman who suffered sexual violence from a Russian soldier during the occupation. In the courtyard of Natalia’s little house, today, there is only one dog who barks when strangers invite themselves to her and her brother’s house. The second dog was killed in June by pro-Russian separatists during the occupation. They suspected Natalia of being a Ukrainian spy. She is sure that she was denounced by her neighbor Nina.
A month after this episode with the dog, it was Natalia that the Russians attacked. On the evening of July 24, the leader of the separatists in the village entered Natalia’s court. His name is Olexander, son nickname “the Old”. “He told me ‘I want you, you’re like this, you’re like that’testifies Natalia. I replied that I was not a prostitute. He told me “if you refuse me, I will rip your head off”. So what do you want me to do… He had a Kalashnikov, grenades. I gave in. He undressed me, he put me on my knees and I had to fulfill all his wishes. That day, I wanted to kill myself.”
It is thanks to her daughter that Natalia did not end her life. His daughter who also advised him to file a complaint with the Russian authorities, but his attacker “the Old Man” was never worried. He stayed there, in the village, opposite Natalia’s, because he was his neighbor just opposite. He had settled in concubinage with Nina, the neighbor – Nina who lives with her son, a thirty year old named Valera. During the Russian occupation, these three had become omnipotent here. But all that is over.
The day the Russians left, Natalia went to see Nina and she said to her: “Your power is over. Mine is just beginning. Wait and see.” Today Nina and her son shave the walls. Natalia and her brother Vitali have only one thing in mind: revenge. “If I could, if I had a gun, I would first break his legs and then I would shoot him and his whole family”, explains Vitali. Natalia has only one obsession: “Punish! The traitors to the fatherland must be punished! Forgive them? No, I will never forgive… Never!” Here, some pro-Russian inhabitants preferred to leave the region to cross the border. Cohabitation is impossible, there are things that cannot be forgotten.