Kharkiv: Russia’s withdrawal from another key Ukrainian city reveals new evidence of atrocities

Kharkiv: Russia’s withdrawal from another key Ukrainian city reveals new evidence of atrocities

The first – three cars laden with a priest, dogs and worried frowns – rushes through the village of Staryi Saltiv from the north, fleeing the violence while Ukraine pushes Russian forces out of Rubizhne. “We don’t even know what’s happening,” said one driver. “We didn’t stay to find out.”
Ukrainian officials said this week they would advance further towards the Russian border and liberate tiny villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, before the invasion began. The Ukrainian advances threaten the symbolic embarrassment of driving Kremlin forces back to their own borders, while posing a strategic threat of cutting off Russia’s supply lines to Ukraine and its forces further south in the Donbass region. Progress has been rapid over the past few weeks.

The second convoy speaks of what Ukraine found in Russia’s wake – five vehicles riddled with bullets, two burned to ashes.

On May 4, Ukrainian officials said, that convoy was trying to leave the city when it came under fire from Russian troops. The bullet holes are concentrated on some of the driver’s doors. Children’s clothing and toys lie in the area around the vehicles. Ukrainian officials said four civilians, including a 13-year-old girl, were killed when Russian troops opened fire on that convoy.

CNN escorts from the Kharkiv Territorial Defense Force say that a tank shell hit one of the cars and explain how its front part is twisted beyond recognition.

Moscow says its forces are not targeting civilians, a claim contradicted by evidence of apparent atrocities observed by CNN here and elsewhere in Ukraine.

A short walk up the road, out into the forest and hills nearby, are the remains of a Russian convoy. In the trees lie the remains of an armored personnel carrier whose tracks were torn off by a bazooka, our escorts say. Sleeping bags, prayer books, grenades and rations litter the sheets in which the Russian troops slept outside the village. Two Russian bodies had been found there days earlier and have since been buried.

According to Ukrainian officials, a convoy of vehicles was trying to leave Staryi Saltiv when they came under fire from Russian troops.

At the top of the hill is another, rarer piece of wreckage – the remains of a Russian T90M tank destroyed days earlier, apparently by a Carl Gustav recoilless rifle supplied by Sweden. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry released video, filmed by a drone of the tank destroyed in the apparent attack, showing the vulnerability of Russia’s latest armor to NATO’s hand-held weapons. The tank’s turret has been removed and ball bearings from its shells lie in the ashes.

Ukrainian counterattack to cut Russian supply lines continues. Ukraine’s General Staff said on Friday that Russian forces “did not conduct offensive operations towards Kharkiv. The main efforts were focused on preventing the advance of our troops to the territory of the settlement of Veseleā€, another village less than an hour’s drive from Staryi Saltiv in normal times. The Ukrainians recaptured a number of villages in this area east of Kharkiv.

As Russian forces continue to withdraw, three bridges in the Kharkiv region were demolished, according to satellite images obtained by CNN on Friday. It is likely that Russian units destroyed the bridges to protect their supply lines from further Ukrainian advances.

Children's clothing and toys lie in the area around the vehicles.

Elsewhere in the Kharkiv region, the Russians appear to be using artillery sporadically but with deadly effect. On Thursday, shelling in the city of Derhachi killed two people and destroyed the humanitarian center and medical facilities, according to the local administration.

In a village near Staryi Saltiv, locals seem less aware of the details of their occupation and liberation. A man, Viktor, is standing at a well and filling tin buckets because there has been no electricity or water in his street for weeks. Only three of its neighbors remain.

“What calm? My heart is about to jump out of my chest,” he said. “Everything around us explodes. There is a hole in the garden from a shell hit. The roof was pierced by a shell, the fence is gone. It’s really difficult. We sleep with our clothes on. They land nearby. There isn’t hiding place.”

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