In the Ukrainian villages east of the capital Kyiv, where Russian forces have retreated, residents are slowly disappearing and the new reality they face is nothing but catastrophe.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward has been touring a couple of villages occupied by the Russians for more than a month. He said they found “endless accounts of horror, executions, arbitrary detentions and more.”
One local school was taken over by Vladimir Putin’s invading army, used as a base, and destroyed after being looted by troops.
There are blood stains on the main entrance where the principal of the school wonders how such a horrible thing could have happened.
“We are for education. Education is the future. Our students, ”the woman told Ward. “It is a shame that our occupiers do not understand this. Why steal everything? This is a school.
A chalkboard in a classroom ward formerly occupied by the Russians said, “Excuse us, we do not want this war.”
Nearby, the bodies of six Ukrainian men were found in a local cemetery, officials say, on the first day the Russians arrived.
“We dug too fast so they wouldn’t shoot us,” one woman told CNN. “But there was gunfire and heavy shelling.”
Among the dead were a couple of brothers, Igor and Oleg. Their mother survived, but is now mourning.
“They are very nice guys,” he said. “I want to see how they are again.”
A Ukrainian mother told Ward that her daughter was taken away on March 25. Two weeks later she had no idea where she was, or whether she had survived the Russian invasion.
“They said they found information about their forces on the phone,” Mom told Ward. “They told me she’s in a warm house. She’s working with them and she’s coming home soon.
But as Ward revealed, “Victoria never came home.”
Among the definite risk of death, The ward said Ukrainian residents clung to each other, and with their sense of pride, a woman found comfort between the blue and yellow lines.
“We had it, we had it,” the woman tells Ward, showing her husband the Ukrainian flag given for military service. “We hid it.”
Now that the Russian forces have retreated, the flag may be hidden and come out. The village was destroyed, but for now, it is free again.
See reporting on Ward Grounds: