Volunteers rush in as liberation of Izyum reveals grim humanitarian situation
By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Sep 14 (EFE).- Local authorities and volunteers in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine are rushing to help the population of Izyum restore destroyed buildings amid a dire humanitarian situation and high civilian casualties.
Maksym Strelnikov, member of the local council in the city of Izyum, says he fears the scale of disaster in his city could be even worse than Bucha or Irpin.
“It took the Russians a month to do what they did in Bucha but they stayed in Izyum, with its 45 thousand residents, for more than 5 months,” he tells Efe.
Strelnikov adds that about 1,000 residents may have died during the spring battle alone, which saw more than 80% of the Izyum’s buildings heavily damaged.
“People died in the streets and were buried hastily in the central park and yards,” says Strelnikov, adding that a large number of people likely died under the rubble of the residential blocks that collapsed under Russian tank fire.
He says that even more people suffered from the shortage of hospitals and pharmacies that were either destroyed by the Russians or shut down as life in the city collapsed.
“There is no gas, no water, no electricity or central heating in the city,” Strelnikov says, adding that restoring heating and water supply is tricky as many pipes burst in the early spring when the temperatures fell below zero.
Although the city of Izyum remained closed on Tuesday while the Ukrainian army secured its hold, volunteers from Kharkiv rushed to the newly liberated settlements with their cars packed with food and hygiene products for local residents.
“The situation there is difficult,” Andriy, a volunteer, tells Efe. “There is not enough food and no medicines at all.”
Andriy says the roads leading to Izyum are still littered with the bodies of Russian soldiers and their destroyed military equipment.
“We gave a lift to someone who wanted to go back to his home in Izyum where the Russians stayed during the occupation. He was eager to get inside but we stopped him just in time: there was a grenade trap,” he says.
A resident of Izyum who preferred to stay anonymous describes living under Russian occupation as “darkness and a nightmare”.
“Life felt worthless. Everything depended on the mood of the people with machine guns and impunity, disorder and robbery were everywhere,” he tells Efe.
“They broke into homes and garages looking for cars, food, alcohol and any valuables they could find. Some people had sacks pulled down their heads and taken into the basements,” he says.
The head of the regional Kharkiv police investigative unit, Sergiy Bolvinov, said Tuesday that about 40 people had been held in the basement of the Russian army’s local headquarters in Balakliya, another liberated town.
Bolvinov said the inmates had suffered beatings and electrocution. He added that several locals were killed at the Russian checkpoint on the last day of the occupation.
While electricity was still being restored, coverage by one of Ukraine’s top mobile network operators returned in the city center of Kupyansk.
Andriy recalls how it felt like the whole town gathered in the city center to try to call someone and say: “We have survived.” EFE