Servicemen and northern Ukraine residents recall life under occupation

17 April, 10:16 AM
The village of Yahidne after liberation from the occupiers. Chernihiv Oblast, April 8, 2022. (Photo:REUTERS/Marko Djurica)

The village of Yahidne after liberation from the occupiers. Chernihiv Oblast, April 8, 2022. (Photo:REUTERS/Marko Djurica)

The 58th Motorized Infantry Brigade named after Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky is based in the town of Konotop in northern Ukraine. From the first day of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine, the unit defended the Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts on a 230-kilometer stretch.

Iryna Lopatina, a Radio NV reporter, spoke with the servicemen and local residents about the month they spent defending the north of Ukraine and resisting the Russian occupiers.

Konotop, Sumy Oblast

“Do you even know where you are? This is Konotop! Every second woman here is a witch! You won’t even be able to get it up tomorrow!”

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That's how in early March, residents of Konotop in Sumy Oblast responded to the occupiers’ proposal to surrender the town, located 70 kilometers from the border with Russia.

The fact that the Russians were never wanted here and are not wanted now is evidenced by a billboard at the entrance to the settlement with the inscription "F**k off back to Russia!"

Nonetheless, the regular Russian army tried to approach Konotop on the first day of the full-scale war on Feb. 24. Then came brief battles, one of which — near ​​the railway bridge — lasted 2 minutes 36 seconds.

"Their equipment burned down, they changed direction. The town was bypassed. Their goal was the Kyiv-Moscow highway and the road to Kyiv, recalls a fighter of the 58th Brigade with the call sign Viber.

“I believe they thought that we were luring them to the main forces, gave battle, retreated to the main forces. In order not to fall into the trap, they decided to bypass our unit on the flank and, if circumstances changed, give us a fight on the flank. We managed to retreat in time."

Sakhny, Sumy Oblast

Russian columns entered and occupied the villages neighboring Konotop. Among others they entered on Feb. 24 was the village of Sakhny. The invaders drove 20 locals into the basement of a four-story building and did not let them out. The Russian military parked their equipment around their homes. When asked why they came here, the Russians said they had orders, says local resident Nina:

They wondered, "Why don't you have horses in the village?" And I say, “What do we need horses for? We all have tractors, rototillers, and minitractors. And he goes, "Wow, what a life you have." They were surprised that we have asphalt, and (lighting). They were amazed at everything."

The woman said that she had argued with the Russian occupiers over history:

"One came to me: 'You started rewriting history!' I told him: "Kyiv is 1,700 years old, and your Toadburg is 300. What more do you want?" He says, "We will set you free." I ask, “Do I have a bag of sugar on my shoulders? What will you liberate me from? You have already set me free from my home. Anything else?"

However, the Russians did not stay here long. On the fourth day, they left Sakhny and went on. At the same time, taking shoes, clothes, socks, tools, and even men's underwear out of local homes. They left behind piles of rubbish, and dug pits around the buildings where they planned to build fortifications, as well as mines.

"I say, 'So you came, we were 'liberated ', you sh*t all over, mined, f**ked us over and left?" “Liberators my ass!" recounts the local woman, expressing her outrage at the occupiers.

Yahidne, Chernihiv Oblast

Soldiers of the 58th Brigade cleared the village of Yahidne in Chernihiv Oblast after the Russians left. It was there that the occupiers imprisoned several hundred people in a small school basement. The prisoners were forced to go to the toilet in front of everyone else.

The basement of the school where the inhabitants of the village of Yahidne hid. April 6, 2022 (Фото: REUTERS)
The basement of the school where the inhabitants of the village of Yahidne hid. April 6, 2022 / Фото: REUTERS

"Many died. On the first day — almost 10 people,” a member of the brigade says. “They were locked in this school basement. It had been whitewashed, stuffy, and very humid. And there were so many of them that they were almost standing (the entire time). Old women with poor health died. When the air raids began, shelling, mortars, everyone understood that it was our lot and said: ‘If only they had hit us, so that they (the Russians) would be hurt.’"

The brigade soldiers describe the torture of the civilians by the Russian army an atrocity, and remember with pain the stories of the rape of women in front of relatives, or the flight of children to basements at the sight of a Russian tank.

And then the north of Ukraine was liberated.

“They run out to you, offering their last piece of bread... and say: ‘Finally! You freed us!’ the brigade serviceman recalls his unit’s reception by locals.

Drutske, Chernihiv Oblast

It was the fighters of the 58th Brigade that prevented the encirclement of the city of Chernihiv.

"At first, our morale was low with all the fighting and losses. But when you drive through the villages, people come out, bring you some lard, potatoes, onions, you eat and wow!” recalls a former history teacher turned warrior, who has the call sign Czech.

“When we were keeping watch at night, they (brought) us coffee, the boys drank one after the other. This is the motivating thing. You realize that you are ready to fight for these people. It’s these very people that you want to save. They really did motivate us. The transformation of your patriotism begins, thanks to these people: from something abstract (written in a textbook, said in school) to the fact that you understand that you are fighting for those people, for the way they live, so that they can stay alive.”

Most of all, Czech remembered two elderly women from the village of Drutske in Chernihiv Oblast — Tetiana and Ulyana. The latter he calls his guardian angel: when the soldiers entered the village, the women gave them everything they had.

"She was up at 0400 f— already cooking something so that the boys would come and eat in the morning. This really struck my heart."

The soldier promised that after the victory they would come to Tetiana and Ulyana of the village of Drutske to thank them for their kindness. Hopefully, this meeting will take place soon.

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