In the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, partly occupied by Russian forces since the very beginning of the war, the inhabitants who managed to escape to the territories under Ukrainian control recount an atmosphere of almost total paranoia and submission. to the whims of soldiers and civilian officials installed by Moscow.
Russia has imposed martial law in four regions of Ukraine which it claimed for annexation in September. None, however, is entirely under Russian control and fighting is still raging there.
The impossibility for the independent media to access these territories prevents the verification of the information coming out of them.
But what the locals on the Ukrainian side say contrasts with what is portrayed by the pro-Kremlin media aimed at the Russian public.
"It was incredibly scary. The whole city is full of armed foreigners," said Anton Ovtcharov, 44, a former engineer at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe under Russian control.
- Pay in vodka -
In Katchkarivka, a village on the western bank of the Dnieper, Lioudmila and Oleksandre Chevtchouk, say that Russian troops broke into the inhabitants' homes, looking for their mobile phones in particular.
According to them, the Russians feared that the locals would communicate their position to the Ukrainian forces.
"They went from house to house with their weapons. They threw all the phones in a bucket and left," said Lioudmila, 56.
"We were burying our phones. Everyone was doing it. Those who didn't do it in time lost them," she says.
Irina Mykhailena, a mother of two, says soldiers stopped her and her daughter in the middle of a street in the city of Berdyansk.
"They searched her bag, looking for her phone. On the same day, my friend's 12-year-old daughter was walking down the street alone and was also stopped. They also searched her bag," said the real estate agent. 43 years old.
"We had to erase all our messages. God forbid if we said something against Russia. No one felt safe," she continues.
Those who managed to flee claim that the Russian soldiers were ready to lead them to the Ukrainian positions, in return for payment.
"Before, we could give them vodka, but now you really have to pay," said Olga, 57, who declined to give her last name.
"The Russians took you away and then came back to take your belongings," said this resident of Dudtchany, since partially reconquered by the Ukrainians.
- "Psychological pressure" -
Oleksandre Chevtchouk explains that his friends gave the keys of their car to the Russians so that they let them pass. "We then saw the soldiers driving around in this car," he said.
According to the couple, the soldiers also exerted "psychological pressure" on the inhabitants to evacuate to Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
Nina Bezgouba says she fled her village of Nizhny Serogozy two weeks ago when the Chechens, soldiers with a sinister reputation, flocked there, fighting alongside the forces of Moscow.
"The Chechens are taking over our houses. I would say that currently 60% of the population (in the village) is Chechen," she said.
According to Irina Mykhailena, the occupation authorities have confiscated profitable businesses such as resorts and hotels in Berdiansk, on the Sea of Azov. "They come with the commander, point fingers and say they want this or that and it's done," she says.
But not everyone surrenders without a fight.
Oleksandre Gorbonosov says that with his friends, they poured sugar into the fuel tanks of the Russian army to make their machines, even briefly, inoperative.
"Then we understood that it was useless. They would simply go to the farmers and threaten to burn their equipment if they did not give them fuel", explains this native of the city of Energodar.
"I fled when the Russians understood where we lived. They have so many informants," he laments.