At the entrance to the once resort and crowded town of Sviatohirsk, Donetsk region, stands a half-ruined high-rise building. This “arrival” is fresh – on September 24, the Russians struck the town after they had retreated. Apparently, out of anger, says local resident Diana, who lives in a nearby building.
“They immediately began to evacuate the people who were in that entrance – the military were taking them out from the windows. One woman, may she rest in peace, was killed right in her apartment. It hit her apartment, she is still lying there under the slabs. They can’t get her out,” says Diana.
The young woman and her parents spent the whole occupation here – about three months. On September 12, the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberated the Russian-occupied part of Sviatohirsk – the left bank of the Siversky Donets River.
“When our people returned (transl. – the Ukrainian Armed Forces), most people were happy, because finally silence came,” says Diana, “Plus they brought us food, they even gave us financial assistance. People need to live for something, to eat something. We just ran out of everything.”
Diana’s family is from Donetsk. They moved to Sviatohirsk 8 years ago, when the military actions in Donbass started. They were already well acquainted with the shelling, so now, when the front line approached, they decided not to evacuate – they thought it would pass.
“At first we thought that they would not come here, and then it was impossible to leave, the city was closed, because there were active military actions around,” says the young woman.
According to local authorities, after the shelling and occupation of Sviatohirsk, in particular, its private sector was destroyed by 90%.
But the locals suffered not only from constant shelling. Those who survived the occupation told the journalists of Slidstvo.Info about how the Russian military treated the residents of the city.
“HE WAS HURTING ME AND LAUGHING”
Russians, who captured the left bank of the city in June, hid their equipment among the houses of locals. To avoid being seen from above, because the opposite bank of the city, which is located on a hill, was controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“They rushed here with tanks, and then they started shooting at them from the hill and they hid behind our houses. They trampled gardens and destroyed houses all around – the tank is a big machine,” a local resident Volodymyr says, “I know that they (Russians – ed.) were in one house near the kindergarten – there was an “arrival” there, they were burned there. They moved to another house – and there was an “arrival”, they burned it. Wherever they were, all the houses were burned down”.
In the area, which locals call “Sakhalin”, because of its remoteness from the center, the Slidstvo.info journalists counted about ten units of burnt Russian military equipment – near the church, in the streets and houses.
On June 4, Russians drove one tank right into the yard of one of the houses, breaking the fence. 81-year-old Tamara lives here.
“I was in the garden then, because the house was shaking a lot from the attacks: the chandelier was bent and I was scared and did not know where to hide. So I ran to the garden. I sat there among the trees, under the fence and saw a soldier coming towards me. I said to him: “My dear, you did not have to break the fence with a tank, you would have told me, I would have opened it for you, you would have come in”. That’s all I managed to tell him, I don’t remember anything else. He shouted at me, beat me, knocked my teeth out, and did something incomprehensible. And what can I do? I am 81 years old, I am an old man. He was hurting me and laughing. Is this an adequate person? He was either on drugs or drunk, I don’t know,” Tamara recalls.
“HE POURED COGNAC INTO MY MOUTH AND STARTED HITTING ON ME”
“Some Russians were more or less normal,” recalls local resident Diana, whose family moved to Sviatohirsk from Donetsk, “but half of them either did not communicate with us or were rude to people, got into fights, there were even attempts at rape”.
They also tried to rape her, the girl says. According to her, a Russian soldier noticed her while she was receiving humanitarian aid. Later he came to her house with a bottle of cognac and threatened her with a machine gun.
“He forced me to drink it, that is, he poured cognac into my mouth and began to hit on me. I barely managed to catch the moment – I locked him in the house and ran to call for help. He threatened me with a weapon, saying: “Well, put yourself in my position, I am a man”. And I was crying, running around the apartment, hiding from him. He broke everything at home – ironing boards, “butterflies” for drying clothes, and tried to put me on them”, the young woman recalls.
According to the young woman, there were even cases of abductions right off the street: “They took away those suspected of ‘separatism’. Separatism is if you are for Ukraine. They did not explain anything, just put them in the car and took them away. I personally saw once how a man was taken away. He sat with them for 3 hours on a bench, then they put a bag on his head and took him somewhere. He was not seen here again”.
“WE HAD NO MILITARY HERE”
Despite what some locals had to go through, in Sviatohirsk you can meet people who still consider Russia a brotherly nation, and the war – a conflict between politicians.
“We had no military here, we did not see those Russians,” Raisa convinces the journalists of Slidstvo.info. She lives two houses away from 81-year-old Tamara, a woman who was beaten by a Russian soldier.
“The rulers are to blame for this war, not ordinary people. We Ukrainians all have relatives in Russia. For example, I live here, and my brothers are in Russia. So are they my enemies now? No! They are people like me. Do you remember how during the civil war in 1918, there were “whites” and “reds” in one family, and the third one was an anarchist. What kind of government will there be? I don’t care what it will be called, as long as there is no war,” says Raisa.
Raisa survived the occupation together with her 93-year-old mother. She says they survived by a miracle. Sometimes it seemed that the house would just fold like a box and bury them under it. They ate what they could find in the local store at the beginning of the full-scale war and old supplies.
The woman says that Sviatohirsk is not an ordinary town, it is a holy land. Because Sviatohirsk Lavra is located here.
“They say that during the fighting on the river the icon of Seraphim of Sarov (Russian ascetic of women, glorified by the Russian Church in the face of saints and venerable – ed.) floated there. Remember, there was another case in history when the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God also floated to Moscow. Now this icon will be served,” says Raisa.
“They say that during the fighting on the river the icon of Seraphim of Sarov floated there. Remember, there was another case in history when the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God also floated to Moscow. Now this icon will be served,” says Raisa.
As we speak, a woman is grazing goats near her house. There are three of them left, another one was blown up by an anti-personnel mine a few days ago. There are dozens of them here. Sometimes locals simply collected them in buckets from their gardens with their hands, until the Ukrainian military explained how dangerous they were.
“But I thought they were toys, beautiful ones,” Tamara says, “I was surprised: I think there are no children here, but toys are lying around. So I picked them up and put them on the edge of the garden, and then the military came and blew them up. There is a hole left”.
But not for everyone the acquaintance with “petals” passes without consequences. There have been some fatalities,” says Raisa, “Kurinni’s son was injured in a mine explosion. He went to the city by this road and got blown up. He was killed. His wife was left pregnant. The daughter was born after his death”.
Now it is quiet in the town. Locals are gradually returning to normal life. A week ago, the only bakery in the city started working – you can buy bread and some other products there, and humanitarian aid is actively brought in. However, there is still no heating, water, electricity and gas in the city, so some people are thinking of moving to relatives in other regions of Ukraine for the winter.
The video has English subtitles.