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“Do You Want Me To Cut Off Your Finger Now?”: Russian Occupation of Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi

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On September 27, the Ukrainian army liberated the village of Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi, Kharkiv Region, which had been under Russian occupation for six months. After the Ukrainian flag was raised in the settlement, law enforcement officers found the bodies of two tortured men in a brick-making shop. One of the victims had bruises on the neck and chest, the other had bullet wounds to his chest and groin, as well as a broken skull. It is not the only Russian war crime committed there, however. 

23-year-old Valeriya left Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi on the eve of its liberation, having lived under occupation for five months. All this time, the woman lived in the basement in fear for her life and the lives of her relatives. She told her story to journalists. 

Valeriya explained that she left the village when all hell broke loose, and her 12-year-old sister developed nervous tics, and part of her hair turned gray. And the journey itself was a challenge. For the sake of safety, they had to leave through Russia. 

When Valeriya and her friend tried to enter the territory of the Russian Federation to continue their journey to Finland, the Russians began to intimidate and humiliate them: “Do you want me to cut off your finger now? I don’t give a f*ck”, “What do you have against living next to Mother Russia? When will you all be shot?”, “I’ll take you to the forest as a corpse”.

Despite the fact that the woman is safe now, she recalled with fear the months of life under occupation. She understands that she made the right choice. As Valeriya learned from the locals, after their departure, things became even worse in Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi. Civilians were dying, and the survivors were hiding in complete darkness in basements because of battles and attacks on civilian objects: hospitals, kindergartens, and houses: “Shops, of course, were closed. Food was not being supplied, and I was afraid that people could just start dying of hunger. I know that dogs dragged around the bodies of the dead out of hunger and ate them. The city was in ruins.”

Valeriya recalled that at the beginning of the invasion, the Russian army entered the city without a fight. The invaders occupied the police building and the train station, set up checkpoints in the city, and moved into abandoned houses:

Many of them came on APCs and tanks, they drove right down my street, near my house. They looked at us and some of them smiled, it even seemed that it was a good-natured smile, but it made me uncomfortable”.

Russian invaders completely blocked all communication with the outside world in Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi. And if someone found a way to restore it, they immediately cut the antennas and wires:

In general, we were deprived of communication with the outside world, so we could not even call an ambulance if we felt sick.”

For several weeks there was no water and electricity in the village, but since Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi had important railway infrastructure for Russians, the utilities were restored. Eventually, Russian television was turned on to spread propaganda.

During the occupation, according to Valeriya, there was no heavy shelling in the village, but volleys were heard almost every day, and an air defense system was operating near her house. Planes were flying between the houses. They flew so low that you could see people inside. Because of this, there was a constant impression that they were about to start dropping bombs on civilian houses. 

During the occupation, Valeriya left the house only four times. All the rest of the time she was hiding in the basement and was in de facto captivity. She managed to leave only on the third attempt. She lived off her own garden.

The locals also had their own farms. This saved many from starvation. However, there was a shortage of medicines. People who needed vital medicines had to travel to Russia.

The woman did not see the Russians openly torturing people, but she heard about looting and knows about the cases when the invaders came to the market and demanded people to surrender their goods for free. 

Once Valeriya had to ask the invaders for help. The woman’s neighbors were heavy drinkers, which often led to fights. Moreover, drunk neighbors broke into the woman’s yard. The police did not function in the city, so Valeriya could only turn to Russians.

The answer was: “Well, let them fight, just ignore it”, no one helped, of course.” Valeriya recalled.

Diana Zubar

This article was created by Bihus.Info as part of the project “EU Urgent Support for Civil Society” implemented by ISAR Ednannia with the financial support of the European Union. The content of the article is the sole responsibility of Bihus.Info and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union.

After the occupation of Kherson, Russian criminals began to terrorize the local population. In particular, to kidnap people. Thus, in August, the Russian military kidnapped a kindergarten teacher Olena Naumova. The woman used to run a TikTok channel and ridicule the attempts of Russians to introduce the "Russian world" in Kherson. 

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