In Ukraine’s north, residents of Trostyanets reeling after brutal Russian occupation

Cities and towns across northern Ukraine are being freed by Ukrainian forces as the Russians redeploy to the east. One such city is Trostyanets, northwest of Kharkiv, the site of pitched fighting until its liberation two weeks ago. Special correspondent Jack Hewson and videographer Ed Ram traveled there, and found a city destroyed and its people reeling.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Cities and towns across Northern Ukraine are being freed by Ukrainian forces, as the Russians redeployed to the east.

    One such city is Trostyanets, northwest of Kharkiv, the site of pitched fighting until its liberation two weeks ago.

    Special correspondent Jack Hewson and videographer Ed Ram traveled there and found a city destroyed, its people reeling.

  • Jack Hewson:

    The scars of battle in the recently liberated town of Trostyanets. Civilians try to resume daily life amid the ruins of their community.

    The town will take time to rebuild, but the wounds of trauma will take longer to heal. On the outskirts of the town, we meet Luba Kryuchko, mourning the loss of her grandson.

  • Luba Kryuchko, Trostyanets Resident (through translator):

    This is our cemetery.

  • Jack Hewson:

    The 14-year-old boy and her two neighbors were killed as Ukrainian and Russian forces battled for the town just days before its liberation on March 26.

  • Luba Kryuchko (through translator):

    I wish he could be just alive. It doesn't matter that the flat is ruined. We can rebuild it. But I wish my grandson was alive. That would be the best thing that could happen.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Luba shows us the destruction to her home. She was hiding in her basement when the artillery rounds struck. But her grandson and neighbors were not so fortunate.

    As she emerged above ground, she discovered a horrifying scene.

  • Luba Kryuchko (through translator):

    The woman was lying there without her head. Look at what has happened. Her head was blown off and all her bones blown apart there in the basement too.

    And here was my grandson's body. He did not run to the basement in time. We were in the basement, and all of the body fragments got blown up in there also.

  • Jack Hewson:

    On the way up to Luba's apartment, we meet Victor. His son was critically injured in the blast, but when they tried to take him to hospital, they were stopped by Russian troops.

  • Victor Jukov, Trostyanets Resident (through translator):

    We got to the checkpoint at the crossroads between the hospital and the school. We were stopped the shot in the air and searched the car. I said: "We're going to the hospital with my injured son."

    They said: "Ride, but we will shoot you in the back. You can go, but we will kill you."

  • Jack Hewson:

    There is a giant tear in Luba's bedroom from the strike. But her grandson's death and the serious injury to her son have left a bigger emotional hole in her life.

  • Luba Kryuchko (through translator):

    I don't know how to explain. It's hard — hard, of course. He lives with me, a child.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Until Luba finds the money to repair her apartment, she's sleeping on her neighbor's sofa.

  • Luba Kryuchko (through translator):

    We had everything, everything, until some man got weird ideas in his head that he should destroy everything. That is all.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Luba's home was struck as fronts shifted around the town's edges. When the time came, locals say Ukrainian forces took five days to retake Trostyanets.

    At the train station, the focal point of the battle, there is evidence of some of the fiercest fighting.

    This is or perhaps was the city's train station. And it's been used as a base by the Russians while they were here. You can see the scale of the fighting that's gone on here. There's so many pockmarks in the concrete. There's boxes of Russian armaments around, and the snipers positioned on top of this and seven tanks, according to locals.

    The Ukrainian military are already clearing the charred remnants of Russian artillery units, emblems of an embarrassing strategic failure. The town was only ever expected to be a stepping-stone to victory in Kyiv. But as advances stalled, Russia's presence in Trostyanets became an occupation.

    After a month in hiding, emotions run high. Residents are now reliant on humanitarian aid.

  • Larisa Skylarova, Trostyanets Resident (through translator):

    They shot down people just for nothing, people that were just walking in the street with their children if they had not quickly run away. They went around with guns and kicked us out of our houses.

  • Anon, Trostyanets Resident (through translator):

    I knew about the situation outside and did not go out. I was scared. You can see what happened to the city.

  • Larisa Skylarova (through translator):

    They went into houses and beat people. They took and broke phones. They did what they wanted. They were barbarians.

    God says you should love your enemy. It is impossible. I only have hate.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Locals say that the Russian troops were civil at first. But after a couple of weeks, the disappearances and atrocities began.

    Anger at Russian violations is pouring out across the liberated towns of the north. Luba's life has been changed forever.

  • Luba Kryuchko (through translator):

    I told you that I have enough of this for the rest of my life. Until I'm dead, this pain, the hate, nothing else, the hate and anger, that is what I feel. I wish I could kill them myself, those who came here. That is all.

  • Jack Hewson:

    As more alleged atrocities are uncovered, Luba is one of many burying their loved ones across Ukraine, a country reeling from its loss.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jack Hewson in Trostyanets, Ukraine.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And a note: Our coverage of the war in Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

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