STORY: Newly freed from Russian occupation, residents of Balakliia, Ukraine, in the Kharkiv province, wept as they received humanitarian aid on Tuesday – their city newly reclaimed and liberated by Ukrainian troops after what some described as months of horror.
With Ukraine’s flag flying in the city once again, people clamored for supplies, and spoke of all they endured.
“The Russians stripped my husband to his underwear. Here, on the street, one had to undress completely. They look at you, turn you around. Look for any scars, tattoos. Whether one served or not. They took people… it was horror here.”
One local resident said she wept when she saw Ukrainian armored vehicles drive, victoriously, through the city.
“I could not believe my eyes. We knew that it was very hard to take our town – there are bridges all around, you can’t approach it. The Russians had GRAD [missiles] on all sides of town – they were shooting all the time. Many of us still jump up from the sounds of hissing or explosions. I dropped the cup and my cats hid away. All of us are stressed. I look into the mirror and I realize that we got older.”
But some paid the ultimate price for freedom. This woman’s son died in gunfire as the Russians were fleeing.
“I screamed so that the whole Balakliia could hear, I thought the sky would break. I screamed at Putin. I cursed this war, I cursed Putin. But no one will give my son back.”
Others who survived live with the memory of being jailed in this small cell, shown to Reuters by a Ukrainian police officer.
“People made marks on the walls – how many days they spent here. As you see, there are marks on the wall.”
They carved prayers on the walls as well.
Since the beginning of September, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
Now, Ukraine has set its sights on freeing all territory occupied by invading Russian forces and there are indications of more U.S. military aid on the way to back Ukraine's mission.