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In eastern Ukraine, tears of relief in a village taken back from the Russians

On the face of this 64-year-old woman, deliverance.

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In eastern Ukraine, tears of relief in a village taken back from the Russians

On the face of this 64-year-old woman, deliverance. She kisses and hugs her brother, Leonid Kandaourov, four years her junior, and her sister-in-law Lidia, whom she finds after more than six months of separation.

Nestled in fields of sunflowers, Troitské is only 80 kilometers from the Russian border, in the Kharkiv region, and had been occupied by the Russian army since February 25, the day after the start of the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Before the war, Olga and her husband Alex Vachtchenko, 65, regularly went to cultivate their vegetable garden in this small village with a few rows of houses and a lake full of fish and ducks.

Inside their dacha, three rooms, a brick oven and a small attic where onions are stored.

- "Creepy" -

Olga was not there the day the Russian army arrived, but her friend, Anna Kryvonossova, 65, can testify.

"For three days, Russian tanks passed here, on this road," she told AFP.

"It was terrifying. The soldiers, posted on the tanks, pointed their weapons at us, at our houses. It was a real occupation," she says. "They entered our homes, checked our documents, searched everywhere, absolutely everywhere."

The Ukrainian counterattack began with frightening explosions heard from the nearby town of Shevchenkove. Then mysterious tanks with pivoting turrets entered Troitské.

Shortly after, the arrival of infantry from the 92nd brigade of the Ukrainian army reassured the inhabitants: the town, like most of the Kharkiv region, had been retaken after a dazzling counter-offensive. launched in early September.

Anna's husband, Nikolai Kryvonosov, is now free to welcome journalists to his home, homemade hooch in hand. The 67-year-old mustachioed toasts: "To our victory! Let Putin die and go fuck himself!". Then he downs his glass in one go.

During the occupation of the village, the Russian army used Troitské as a transit route to supply its men on the front. She had no base there, but had fortified a workshop for tractors there which will now be converted into a Ukrainian checkpoint.

In this region with a Russian-speaking majority, Troitské has proved to be a fervent defender of Ukrainian sovereignty, even though Mr. Putin has never ceased to affirm that he wants to save the inhabitants from the Russophobic yoke of the power in place in kyiv.

Residents proudly claim to have called their relatives in Kharkiv, the regional capital that remained under Ukrainian control, to transmit Russian positions to Ukrainian intelligence.

Families interviewed by AFP also claim to have kept their Ukrainian flags at home, despite the Russian presence.

- Party -

By September 7, the counter-offensive had pushed the Russians further east. About ten days later, Olga and Alex found their dacha.

Upon arrival, Olga threw herself on her bed: "This is my house, this is my bed!"

Leonid and Lidia, Olga's brother and sister-in-law, remained during the occupation. The Russians had confiscated the weapons of this former ranger.

With the Moscow army gone and their relatives returning, the couple prepared a party. On the table, cheese, sausage, tomatoes and cucumbers. In the glasses, homemade alcohol.

Next door, Leonid's hunting dogs revel in the spectacle.

The toasts to "victory" are linked. Olga and Lidia sing the Ukrainian anthem: "Neither the glory nor the freedom of Ukraine are dead yet".

Then their tears stream down their faces when they show themselves the videos sent by their sons, who are fighting on other fronts.

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