Recaptured Ukrainian village left with wrecked tanks, corpses and questions

  • Burnt out tank bodies strewn across the fields of the village
  • Villagers clean up, count dead, while Russian occupiers retreat
  • Kharkiv city is facing increased bombardment

HUSARIVKA, Ukraine, April 15 (Reuters) – Broken tanks in the mud, destroyed buildings and grieving families mark a recaptured eastern Ukrainian village whose residents are considering the price both they and their former Russian occupants have had to pay.

Last month, Ukrainian soldiers recaptured Husarivka, an agricultural village with a peacetime population of 500-600 about 150 km southeast of the city of Kharkiv, after heavy fighting following the Russian invasion on 24 February.

As Russian forces withdraw after failing to take major cities, including Kiev and Kharkiv, to focus their offensive against the Donbas region in the southeast, residents of the surrounding areas begin to clean up after weeks of occupation.

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79-year-old Nadezhda Syrova said young soldiers had gone house-to-house asking for food, echoing reports of poorly disciplined and ill-supplied Russian forces from other locations in northern and eastern Ukraine where the Russians have withdrawn.

Some of the invading Russians said they were at a training exercise or there to purge Ukraine of bandits and “Nazis”, she added while standing on a piece of land near her house.

“Where do you see bandits and Nazis here? We are just normal, peaceful people. Ukrainians,” she said.

In fields across the village sit burnt-out armored personnel carriers and two smashed Russian air force ships abandoned in the mud surrounded by dirt, including gas masks, computer printers and soaked footwear.

In the village itself, a wrecked Russian tank, already rusting, rests on the road with its deflected tower next to it.

A Ukrainian soldier said the fighting continued for about three weeks with his side using anti-tank weapons, including artillery and foreign-supplied Javelin missiles, and eventually drove out two Russian battalion tactical groups.

“We bypassed the enemy from right and left, got into good positions and destroyed their equipment,” said the soldier, who spoke to reporters on condition that he could only be identified by his nickname Parker.

He said his unit had captured a Russian officer and two scouts from an engineering unit trying to plant mines around the village to stop the Ukrainian attack, and had to fight counterattacks from what he described as Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups.

“Three times we fought attacks as they tried to get in,” he said.


It was not possible to confirm his account independently, but at least a dozen wrecked armored vehicles, including tanks with the characteristic “Z” marks from Russian forces, remained in the village and the surrounding fields.

Ukrainian authorities say their forces have killed nearly 20,000 Russian troops and destroyed hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers since the invasion began. Other estimates are much lower, but Western officials estimate that the number of Russian deaths runs into the thousands.

Ukraine also says hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have been killed while under Russian occupation. Russia has denied attacking civilians, but locals in Husarivka said several local people were killed or disappeared.

Three bodies, burned beyond recognition, have been found from the basement of a house and taken away to be examined for possible signs of torture, they said.

The state of Husarivka matches accounts in a number of villages east of Kharkiv, a predominantly Russian-speaking city near Ukraine’s northeastern border, which was the target of President Vladimir Putin’s army from the early days of the war.

Although Russia no longer threatens to enter the city, Russia has stopped a partial blockade and subjected it to days of increasingly heavy bombardment.

Residential buildings and infrastructure in Kharkiv have been hit, causing dozens of casualties, with more than 60 artillery and rocket attacks in one night this week. On Friday, Reuters reporters heard that mortar rounds hit the northern areas of the city.

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Additional reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis; Edited by Andrew Cawthorne

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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