By ELENA BECATOROS and LEO CORREA – Associated Press
KOZACHA LOPAN, Ukraine (AP) — There are still bodies on the battlefield, lying where they fell on agricultural fields or inside burnt-out tanks as Ukrainian troops swept through the territory occupied by the Russia in a major counter-offensive this month.
In this northeast corner of Ukraine, the Russian army has been pushed back across the border into Russia after occupying the area for months. But artillery shells are still whizzing through the air, fired from inside Russia and landing with echoing blasts and billows of black smoke on Ukrainian territory.
Despite the shelling, a small group of soldiers meanders along a rutted mud track to where a dead Ukrainian fighter lies, spotted by a drone used to search for bodies and shallow graves.
People also read…
“It’s a risk. We are always risking our lives and at any moment there could be shells coming from the territory of Russia,” said Vitalii, a National Guard commander whose men are searching for the bodies of soldiers from the two sides and He asked to be identified only by his first name for security reasons.
The dead Ukrainian is lying on his back with a bulletproof vest and helmet, a cap underneath to block the sun. The body has been there for a long time.
They document the scene and lift the remains into a body bag before heading further along the track towards a charred Russian tank. It only takes one member of the team to remove the body bag containing the remains of the Russian found inside.
Autopsies will follow, and details of the sites recorded and passed on to investigators investigating possible war crimes, Vitalii said.
The nearby village of Kozacha Lopan, whose outskirts are less than two kilometers (just over a mile) from the Russian border, was recaptured by Ukrainian forces on September 11.
Vitalii said the team is also searching for graves of possible victims of what authorities say was a makeshift prison where inmates were abused.
In the damp basement behind the local supermarket, metal bars cordon off one corner of the room to form a large cell. Dirty sleeping bags and quilts show three places to sleep on styrofoam sheets for damp bare earth floor insulation. In the corner, two black buckets served as toilets.
A few yards (meters) outside the barred cell, three dilapidated chairs stand around a table, cigarette butts and empty pumpkin seed pods strewn on the ground around them.
In a statement posted on his Telegram channel on Saturday, the Kharkiv region prosecutor’s office, in whose jurisdiction Kozacha Lopan is, said the room was used as a torture cell during the occupation of the area by Russian troops. .
The prosecutor’s office said Russian forces had established a local police force that ran the prison, adding that documents confirming the operation of the police department and instruments of torture had been seized. The press release states that an investigation is underway.
Claims of what happened in the room could not be independently confirmed.
Burial sites have been discovered in some areas where Russian forces have been pushed back, including in the town of Izium, where Ukrainian officials say more than 440 graves have been discovered near the town’s cemetery. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said they contained the bodies of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, showing signs of violent death, some likely due to torture.
All along this border zone, where fierce fighting has raged, the villages bear the devastating scars of the war: bombed and burnt houses, roads dug with craters from exploded mortar shells, crushed cars lying on the side of the roads.
In the days following the Russians’ hunt, residents returned to see what remains of their homes.
“Three days before we decided to leave, it was like hell here” of all the shootings, said Larysa Letiucha, 56, in the nearby village of Prudyanka. “He was flying everywhere. It hissed and exploded. We hid in the basement and…our door was blown off.
She left with her family in April and returned to check on her property days after Ukrainian soldiers recaptured the village.
“I saw a horror. I still can’t pull myself together,’ she said as she recounted her first sight of what was left of her home. “We have lived here all our lives. We were building it, doing renovations. Our whole life has been invested here.
The windows are blown out and the ceiling is leaking from which a patch is missing due to an explosion. In the small house that his parents built on the same land, the entire back part is missing. Shrapnel and debris litter the house.
“Our houses are comfortable even though we live in the village,” Letiucha said. “It’s a horror. I don’t even know when we are going to renovate and rebuild all this.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.